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The Content of Their Character

August 16th, 2004
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Aug. 28, 1963

Look up that quote in a search engine and at the top of the list you will not see sites that have a full transcript of the speech, but rather a majority of conservative sites arguing against Affirmative Action. And quite frankly, I am sick of hearing conservatives use the famous Dr. King quote to attack Affirmative Action. It is a disingenuous and dishonest attack. The right-wing claim is that since it judges people by the color of their skin, it is in itself discriminatory and hypocritical. Here is just one example:
Affirmative action is the 100% polar opposite of King's dream. Affirmative action judges individuals based only on the color of one's skin and certainly not by the content of their character, their achievements, qualifications or anything else. Affirmative action is a step backwards by justifying the very racism it was established to thwart. There is no doubt about it: affirmative action creates discrimination. Those who argue for a color-blind society while supporting affirmative action are presenting a hypocritical belief. It appears that supporters of affirmative action are comfortable with discrimination, provided it is directed towards white men.
The rather glaring flaw in this argument--like in almost all conservative arguments against "Affirmative Action"--is that it completely ignores the constant presence of racial discrimination by whites against minorities. By conveniently disregarding any preexisting racial bias and treating what they call "Affirmative Action" in a vacuum, they make the case that since things such as quotas use ethnicity to decide immediate favor, it is racist and therefore hypocritical coming from those who state that they oppose racial discrimination. What conservatives ignore, of course, is that quotas (which is what we're really talking about here, not Affirmative Action; see this post) are a reaction, not an action purely unto themselves. To address a reaction and yet fully ignore the action which prompted it is nonsensical. Imagine that a conservative Japanese person argued that America was wrong because it attacked Japan during WWII, killing millions of Japanese people and conquering the country. What would an American say in reaction to that? Naturally, the reply would be, "you attacked us." Taken out of context, an American invasion of Japan seems unjustified. Add the component that the Japanese attacked first, and there's your justification. But in the conservative argument against quotas, the initial action is removed from the equation, making it seem unjustified. Additionally, the claim will be made that the liberal ideology precludes the idea of taking action based on ethnicity. This is true only if there is no justification; in the context of quotas, where there is a preexisting discrimination that must be redressed, the conservative claim is utterly false. If that were not the case, then America could have been justifiably criticized for entering WWII. Dr. King's statement about his dream of how people should be judged is a hope for the future nature of society free of racism, not for the nature of redress in a society filled with discrimination. King was calling for the end of racial discrimination, not for the end of redress in a discriminatory society. In a society without racial discrimination, quotas would indeed be a wrong thing. Today, they are not.
Recommended reading: Rush, Quotas, and the Discriminatory Double Standard, which explains the nature of Affirmative Action and quotas and their differences, why they are justified, and how they are unfairly attacked.
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  1. Enumclaw
    August 16th, 2004 at 14:36 | #1

    Bah. Affirmative action (which DOES essentially equal quotas- how else are you going to possibly track whether it’s working or not?) *is* discrimination, plain and simple. Whether the initial discrimination is there or not, fighting it with more discrimination seems to be a rather silly tactic.

    Additionally, AA is shortsighted because it lumps all whites and all blacks together. (Let’s face it, white/black is usually where we’re talking about AA; the Hispanic-Americans are generally too busy working their asses off to worry much about it, and the Asian-Americans are just kicking ass and taking names so they don’t want/need it.)

    It assumes that all whites are racist bigots who’re busily discriminating, and therefore penalizes them- whether they’re racist or not, whether they’ve benefitted from racism or not.

    It further lumps all *blacks* together, whether they’re someone who’s suffered from racism or has lived a charmed life, growing up filthy rich.

    AA was a good idea for the time, and helped provide a big boost up for a growing black middle class. However, the time for AA has come and gone. When AA gives bennie points to Colin Powell’s children over the kid of a single white mother who works two part-time jobs and still can barely keep the child in shoes, there’s something seriously wrong with the system.

    Racial quotas, whether AA-initiated ones that try to get the level of representation in a given field/school to the same level of the general populace, or racist-initiated ones that try to keep whites on top and blacks in their place, are just wrong and don’t work.

    What we need to do is find a way to hammer/clobber racism if/when it actually DOES happen, and to move our sights towards the things that’re really holding back the black underclass- rampant family disorder, crime, poor job prospects, and Republican-rich-guy-driven economic policies.

    Paul

  2. Luis
    August 16th, 2004 at 16:03 | #2

    Bah. Affirmative action (which DOES essentially equal quotas- how else are you going to possibly track whether it’s working or not?) *is* discrimination, plain and simple.Did you read the associated article, “Rush, Quotas, and the Discriminatory Double Standard”? A lot of this is covered there. And you know that I am speaking of workplace AA and quotas, which would be washed out with whatever AA is being referred to in any specific public debate, yes? Essentially, AA is a set of rules and guidelines. It is not connected to quotas. It tells you, for instance, simply to let everyone know about open positions, how to hire only based upon relevant data, how to pay everyone equally, promote them equally, and so on. AA, through the EEOC, only tells you how not to pay attention to race, gender, religion etc.

    Quotas, on the other hand, are a redress to a proven, pre-existing inequality. This is not “tracked” through AA or the EEOC. It is applied in government work by executive order, based upon statistics which prove imbalances exist, and elsewhere by judicial findings that, in specific cases, an imbalance exists, usually due to a claim filed by an employee or prospective employee, and only if it can be proven that the imbalance was caused due to discriminatory hiring or employment practices. Hardly easy to prove. Quotas in the workplace are extremely rare outside government work.

    If there is no discrimination in the workplace, then you could have quotas up the wazoo and they would be doing a single thing–quotas only come into play when the hiring or employment methods are out of whack–and not determined by local populations, but by populations of ethnicities, genders or whatnot within the local qualified workforce. If you hire equally, then that should be mirrored in your workforce. And remember, this only kicks in after discriminatory practices–not percentages–have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Like a company only asking for referrals from an employment agency in a white community while ignoring an equally local black community’s agency–and even then, quotas are only instituted after the company has been warned, inspected repeatedly, and yet still defies engaging in fair practices. They are not a sudden, knee-jerk reaction to a sudden imbalance in ethnic percentages. In fact, you could be employing no one but white males, and yet if you could show that your hiring practices were kosher despite the imbalance, you’re kosher and will not get a quota thrown at you.

    Now, it is possible that by “AA” you mean the self-imposed quotas, such as those by colleges. But as I mention, these are self-imposed, and as such are not held to the same standards as government-imposed AA or quotas. They also deal with societal disadvantages more often imposed by poverty, whether or not the poverty was caused by racism, so they apply less in that regard. They’re a different matter, and in my opinion, tend to be somewhat erratic and less justifiable. As far as they are concerned, I would not in the least bit mind if they were completely replaced by experiential/need-based/economic quotas–that is, kids would get extra points to admission based on the quality of the public schools they went to and the general economic standing of their family, regardless of race. I have a feeling you might agree with me on that.Additionally, AA is shortsighted because it lumps all whites and all blacks together. … It assumes that all whites are racist bigots who’re busily discriminating, and therefore penalizes them- whether they’re racist or not, whether they’ve benefitted from racism or not.Oh, come on Paul, you know better than that. And this shows that you most certainly did not read the “Rush, Quotas, …” article. Go and read it. You don’t have to be a racist bigot to discriminate. In fact, I would argue that most discrimination in the workplace is unconscious. People hire only partly on experience and training, but in a large way on comfort levels–how comfortable am I with this person or that one? How would they fit into the office structure? How would they get along with others, what possible trouble could ensue from hiring them? On a slightly more extreme–and yet not too uncommon–level, employers might look at crime statistics, in terms of theft, violence, and so forth, and associate those things with the race of the people they meet in interviews.

    A great deal of this is unconscious, and most people who have made decisions based on these subliminal or subjective qualifications would be greatly offended at the idea that they are “bigots.” Since they see quotas as you do–effectively, an outright accusation of being outwardly racist–they reel from the idea. And yet, racism is pervasive in the hiring process.Racial quotas, whether AA-initiated ones that try to get the level of representation in a given field/school to the same level of the general populace, or racist-initiated ones that try to keep whites on top and blacks in their place, are just wrong and don’t work.OK, here we go–it looks like you’re concentrating on schools, not the workplace, which was my own focus. And again, this I think is the case of opponents of the general idea (not you, the hard-core people) going after the easy targets and then trying to apply those to the whole situation.

    Besides which, as I mentioned in the referred-to post, most white people (and despite my half-Spanish ancestry, I have always identified with white culture and ethnicity–I am, essentially, white) are not aware of how much they have benefitted from discrimination. Can you prove to me that you have not (assuming that you’re white)? What employer would tell you how they made such a decision, even if they were aware that they were discriminating? How could you possibly know if it had happened, or how often? But you can look at the stats, and you can look at history, and you can infer that it is far more likely that you, as a white person (again, assuming) have benefitted from racial discrimination, than it is likely that any given black person has benefitted from quotas. It just seems like it is imbalanced the other way because discrimination is silent but quotas stand out.

    You did touch on one chink in the armor of quotas: that, in specific situations, some white males who did not gain an unfair advantage through racism may be subjected to a quota which disadvantages them, while a wealthy black person who had every advantage in life might get an unfair break from the quota. But there are some problems with that argument.

    First, the above-stated situation rarely happens, especially in contrast with the reverse. Really, how often do quotas actually apply to hiring positions? Not nearly as often as most people are led to believe. And how often will a disadvantaged white be up against a privileged black, in the rare cases when a quota applies? Compare that to the everyday preference that whites of better position gain jobs at the expense of blacks who are less privileged, and you’ve got one hell of a disparity.

    And even strong quotas, liberally applied, still aren’t enough to compensate for the discrimination that exists. Look at government employment–covered by a massive quota system over the past several decades, and yet the force of racism is still strong enough to keep most minorities in lower-ranking, lower-paying positions; if quotas are giving an unfair advantage to minorities, then racism is giving a far stronger advantage to whites.

    And in education, as I noted, I think that it should be applied based on what schools you had no choice but to attend and what your economic status has been throughout your life. That will, as a consequence, mean that minorities will far more often than whites be given preference, but it rules out the privileged-black-versus-poor-white problem.

    But back to workplace quotas–yes, sometimes it can reverse-discriminate. But here’s the point: not doing anything would lead to a far worse outcome. Remember what Churchill said, that Democracy is the worst form of government except for all other forms of government. In the same way, quotas are the worst solution to the problem of discrimination except for all other solutions to the problem of discrimination–including taking no action at all. You might argue that in carrying out quotas, we are actively engaging in discrimination, however rare it may or may not be–but I have long held that standing by and doing nothing is not an excuse from responsibility; knowing that discrimination is present and not taking any action is in itself an active participation in discrimination. We’re discriminating either way, so I choose the way that at least goes a certain distance towards leveling the scales.What we need to do is find a way to hammer/clobber racism if/when it actually DOES happen, …Noble sentiment, but the problem is, racism is not an act that is detectable at the specific level. Outright racism is almost never admitted to and can be explained off easily (“he just didn’t fit in,” “the room was already taken”), and as I mentioned above, most discrimination is likely unconscious and unknowing, based upon near-subliminal subjective decisions. Either way, you’re never going to get proof at the case level. The only way you can prove racism is by looking at the statistics. You send out ten white men and ten black men on hundreds of job interviews, making certain that their experience, training, grooming, dress and other factors are as equal as you can make them–and without fail, the whites get twice as many callbacks as the blacks. You know that discrimination based on race is happening, but it would be nearly impossible to prove it in any one instance.

    As a result, discrimination, almost by definition, cannot be clobbered on a case-by-case basis, but rather only by generally-applied remedies such as quotas….and to move our sights towards the things that’re really holding back the black underclass- rampant family disorder, crime, poor job prospects, and Republican-rich-guy-driven economic policiesHear, hear. Fully agreed on this point.

  3. Luis
    August 16th, 2004 at 16:08 | #3

    …and to move our sights towards the things that’re really holding back the black underclass- rampant family disorder, crime, poor job prospects, and Republican-rich-guy-driven economic policiesHear, hear. Fully agreed on this point.

    –I should have added:

    …But what are we going to do about it? How exactly do we go about fixing those problems?

  4. Kemosabe
    January 17th, 2006 at 05:20 | #4

    Please take your head out of the sand (I edited myself). That WWII statement about the ‘Racism of the U.S’ is innane. Dresden was also FireBombed near the end of WWII, the Germans were caucasian. War kills people, that’s part of the definition. Look up the defination of ‘War’ vs. ‘Pillow Fight’ you’ll see a huge difference. You kill the enemy to preserve you life , and the life of those you love. Our military didn’t make the rules, we just enforce them.

    P.S. Rock On Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, you were a National Treasure

  5. Luis
    January 17th, 2006 at 08:52 | #5

    ‘Scuse me? Where did I mention racism and WWII? I mentioned WWII in terms of justification for retribution, not racism in acting against. Ethnicity and WWII were never joined in my statement, ethnicity and AA were. Read more carefully before posting next time.

  6. February 4th, 2006 at 16:17 | #6

    what bothers me is when people in the NAACP as well as some liberal and/or democrat groups look at people such as Powell, Condi Rice, or “enter name of any minority assigned to a position of high political power” who is a conservative and/or republican (especially in THIS current administration) and they write these people off as being “lap dogs” or “token hires”, or “sell outs to their race”. Is there any positive support coming from those groups concerning these people? Is it all for naught that an african american or hispanic american can earn such a high position and hold to conservative values at the same time?

  7. Luis
    February 5th, 2006 at 20:09 | #7

    First off, I don’t think that there’s evidence that what you say is true. I haven’t heard any of those labels applied to Powell, and only the sell-out label applied to Rice. Not to mention the fact that both Powell and Rice have been noted on many occasions as African-Americans who have become success stories, I believe both of whom were so noted before they entered the Bush administration.

    Second, who says that a charge like ‘selling out’ has to be false? If an African-American takes on a position in an administration that is hostile to their ethnic group, what is wrong with the charge? What, are African-Americans who succeed somehow immune, a kind of sacred cow that cannot be criticized? I think there is legitimacy to such a charge.

    Besides, in such a case, the charge is not that these people are being successful, it is that these people are doing harm to the groups from whence they came, betraying their origins. Shouldn’t they be upset over that? Or are they required to blindly cheer those who succeed, even if in their success they are harming their brethren?

  8. February 12th, 2006 at 08:40 | #8

    What are their origins? What is their responsibility to their origins? What is the message they are to give to those people from which they came? What hostility has the Bush administration forced upon the african american society and race?

    What manner, or quality, of advancement of colored people does the NCAAP stand for? What do they consider to be advancement?

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