Professor William Clyburn
CROSS CULTURAL COMUNICATION
11 May, 2000
MY STAND ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
When I began to collect research for my term paper, I was sure what to focus on. Every time I visited a medical facility, I noticed a color line separating the health care professionals. It seemed apparent to me that the majority of orderlies were African American and the majority of the doctors and nurses were Caucasian. I believed this was the case because of prejudice in the human resource department. I felt, especially here in Sarasota a very segregated community, that African Americans were not getting the same opportunities as their Caucasian counter parts. With this thought in mind, I proceeded to interview the director of a local mental health facility. With a pen and pad of paper in hand I proceeded to probe the inner most depths of this racially instigated problem. What I found was equal hire for equal skills. According to this head of staff, it did not matter if the candidate was black, white, green or purple; the best person was hired for the job. So why was it that so many of the lower educationally demanding positions was filled by African Americans? That is when it hit me like a ton of lead. EDUCATION is the essential factor in all of this. This revelation led to many other questions. For instance, why do more whites
attend college than blacks? Why do more blacks that attend college drop out than whites? Why do those blacks that finish college have lower grade point averages?
In the pages to follow I will attempt to explain why this situation is the way it is today. I will attempt to walk in the shoes of the people who live with this mystery, the black college student.
Over the past four decades, African American College students have been in the spotlight more than any other American student has. This is because they are not just students any longer but they are the governments attempting to make up for so many years of horrible treatment spurned on by racial bias. The government has instituted programs such as affirmative action, which allows minorities an equal chance to get a good education in elite schools that they probable would not have the chance to attend. Nonetheless, the national college drop out rate among blacks students in the 1990’s is 20 to 25 percent higher than whites. Among those that finish college, their grade point average is two thirds lower than of whites. Why? One reason may be society itself. Do we automatically lower are standards when it comes to black students. Too much coddling and handholding in order to make ourselves feel better? Alternatively, does society not do enough, neglecting them to the point of failure? On the other hand, is it the black culture itself? Poor motivation, lack of family and community support, economic deprivation. In recent years, society has come to view the middle class black family as not being deprived because of race. Why should a son of a doctor be taken over a poor truck drivers son simply because he
is black? This is a big question in the case of affirmative action. With all the opportunities afforded the black student, why the low-test scores and the high drop out rates.
Claude M.Steele, a professor at Stanford University, in his article Thin Ice
“Stereotype Threat” and Black College Students, describes the threat of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, or the fear of doing something that would inadvertently confirm that stereotype as the main reason for below average results. He goes on in his article to describe a verbal test given to both black and white students measuring ability. The results were dramatically different favoring the white students. His explanation is in matters of race we often assume that when a situation is objectively the same for different groups, it is experienced the same way by each group. This might especially seem true with standardized cognitive testing. However, for black students, difficulty with the test makes the negative stereotype relevant as an interpretation of their performance and of them. They know that right away they are perceived as having limited ability. When groups are not stereotyped the way they do not experience the extra intimidation. Something other than ability was involved and Steele feels it is the negative stereotype threat.
However, what about motivation or maybe the black students skills were less than the white students were? Steele then reasoned if the intimidation factor was lessened then the results would be different. Again, they brought black and
white students together only this time the test was said to have no bearing on ability. As if someone turned of William Cross’s anxiety spotlight the black students scores rose to meet their white counterparts. This one simple instruction had a profound change on the meaning of the situation. Steele contends with black students negative stenotypes apply in many situations, even personal ones. Why did that person treat me that way? Why did the white girl not return my telephone calls? Is it because of race or something else about him? He cannot fully dismiss the question and this raises even deeper ones, such as will his race be a boundary to his college experience, to his emotions, to his relationships, to his life? With time the black student may weary of the extra vigilance theses situations require and of what the psychologists in the same article, Jennifer Crocker and Brenda major have called “attritional ambiguity” of being on the receiving end of negative stereotypes. To reduce this stress he may learn to care less about the situations and activities that bring it about-to realign his self-regard so that it no longer depends on how he does in the situation. We have called psychic adjustment “misidentification”. Pain is lessened by ceased to identity with the part of life in which the pain occurs. This withdrawal of psychic investment may be supported by other members of the stereotype-threatened group to the point of its becoming a group norm. Nevertheless, not caring can mean not being motivated, and this can have a negative affect on school life,
disidenification is a high price to pay for psychic comfort. Some refuse to pay it
and just quit.
A second reason I believe falls mainly on the affirmative action movement. Affirmative action today is very different from what it was supposed to be when it was instituted over thirty years ago. In a world, so racially divided affirmative action was to desegregate schools by giving minorities a chance to attend and receive a good education. In this sense, it sounds like a good idea. Giving minorities an opportunity they would not have received under other circumstances, I am all for that. Nevertheless, this is not what it is today. In the article, The Colin Powell Test. Written by Meg Greenfield, she explains what has happened to the dream. She explains, “Roughly three decades of interpretation and subsequent implementation, by no means internally constant, has left the landscape strewn with policy and person decisions taken in the name of “affirmative action” that can be used anecdotally to prove any point you want.” Instead of affirmative action being a tool used to give minorities a chance it is something used to fill quotas, to fill a certain amount of seats with a certain mount of minorities. This is so near sided because in its attempt to provide minorities with an education they have not taken into account one huge factor, QUALIFICATIONS. Leave it to our society to make a good idea a bad one. Now a young black student can work his or her butt off in school and do all that they can to make sure they have a chance for a good education, only to be denied entrance into the school of their chose because the first fifteen seats had to be
filled by minorities and by god they were. Affirmative action is about equal rights and equal opportunity not preferential treatment. Take the court case of Sarah Wessman a fifteen-year-old who had been denied admission to the prestigious Boston Latin school, one of Boston’s top public schools, because she was white. In the article, Does “Diversity Justify Quotas? The Courts Say No, by Terence J. Pell, Boston Latin had used a complicated admissions plan, developed in 1996 with the help of outside consultants and civil rights lawyers. The school fills its first forty-five seats without regard to race, evaluating applicants based on an exam score and grades. However, its remaining 45 seats are allocated according to a quota based on ethnic composition of the applicant pool. The year Sarah applied, the allocation was thirteen blacks, eighteen whites, nine Asians and five Hispanics. According to the article “the Boston Latin quota aimed to comply with the late Lewis Powell’s opinion in the landmark case of Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke. Powell had suggested that “intellectual diversity” was an acceptable rational for considering race in admissions, though “racial diversity” was not. Diversity is not a justification for the use of racial preferences. As long as the school has a certain amount of blacks, everything should be all right. Nevertheless, is it all right? Not when you have worked so hard your whole life to fulfill \your dream to pursue your goals and it is snatched away from you because of a racial quota. Preferences no matter how well intended will breed resentment. Define affirmative action, I mean if it means a program that provides equal opportunity for all this who striving to better themselves and would not have that opportunity other wise then I am all for it. If
it means preferential treatment to those who do not need it then I am against it. Greenfield benefited from affirmative action in the army but was not shown any preference. She goes on to state, “if a history of discriminations made it difficult for certain Americans to met standards, it is only fair to provide temporary means to help them catch up and compete on equal terms. Affirmative action in the best sense promotes equal consideration, not reverse discrimination.” Schools trying to achieve a racial mix are not doing any student justice. That is why the courts reversed the decision of Boston Latin and the admission of Sarah and she was admitted. Even Powell realized, if race is to be one element of intellectual diversity, then race can be no more plus factor in assessing the contribution that a particular individual will make to the diversity of an entering class. It can not elevate the chances of an entire group without becoming racially discriminating itself. No more racial mixing for the sake of quotas but lets give minorities a good education based on equal opportunity. Affirmative action began thirty years ago as a demand for previously segregated institutions to desegregate. Affirmative action does not produce people, given a fighting chance people produce himself or herself. That is why I believe many minorities are not given the chance and so they fall by the way side. Another reason for them to give up the fight before it has begun. Another reason for minorities to accept their so called fate in life and not strive fore more.
Why are people in some cultures so much more healthy, prosperous, dynamic, and better educated than other cultures? Why do some cultures have to struggle with the issues of negative stereotyping or desegregation? Why do other cultures have what seems to be all the breaks in life? Who started affirmative action in the first place? All of these questions lead back to one common denominator-the government. In his book, Race and Culture, Thomas Sowell demolishes the widely held view that minority cultures benefit from government intervention. He explains why the government has used its power to plunder minority cultures. “One of the key self-serving myths to emerge is that blacks owe their economic and social advancement to the civil rights victories of the sixties.” The fact of the matter is that the economic rise was greater in the forties and fifties than in the later decades. The government wants us to believe them when they boast of putting an end to desegregation. Sowell explains why government sanctioned multiculturalism is doomed. “Reflecting Adam Smith’s famous insight about progress being limited by the size of a market, Sowell explains that the size of the cultural universe is fundamental to cultural progress, so this conclusion has grim implications for organized attempts to Balkanize societies in the name of cultural identify or multiculturalism, as in late twentieth century America, Britain, Canada, or Australia, for example.” He also emphasizes the crucial stimulus of immigrants. He notes,”immigrants seldom brought much wealth to a new land. In fact, they frequently started in dirty, low paying jobs. Since large number of immigrants lacked political connections, they
DiLorenzo 10 went into commerce rather than government. Commerce gives people incentives to be thrifty, reliable and peaceful qualities essential for success.” This can be applied to every culture not just the America. When people are allowed to explore their cultural values freely without government intervention, they do best.
Applying this to the black culture, I am not saying affirmative action and the civil rights movement was bad. What I am saying is blacks have not advanced in this society by being passive recipients of government largesse. Political solutions are often long on immediate symbolism and short on lasting results. I have seen the struggle of the minority first hand in this country, and speaking as an observer the hardest thing to do is to trust our government with aid of any sort.
In conclusion, the national argument over affirmative action needs both more candor and less. It needs more candor as to what in practicality we are talking about, that is, what is actually occurring in our schools and workplaces and government. It needs less candor, or at least fewer attempts at explicit definition, in the area of regulation and law. Probably the term itself is in need of replacement, as well. As with so many other catchwords in our public dialogue, affirmative action has reached the point where it invariably generates an intensity of feeling, both for it and against, far in excess of any commonly accepted understanding of what the phrase means. Roughly three decades of interpretation, by no means internally consistent, has left the landscape strewn with policy and personnel decisions taken in the name of affirmative action that can be used any way you want to prove a point.
One point that is consistent throughout is unjustified preference. This can hurt the chances of any student or employee no matter what color. People should be judged on what they bring to the table not what color they are or aren’t. I believe in working hard to achieve a goal. In life, we are faced with many opportunities and we should be allowed to reach out and grab hold of whatever opportunity we chose. Without the interference of any one or organization. An example of this in President Clinton’s exchange with Abigail Thernstrom, a critic of affirmative action. “MRS. THERNSTROM: Americans believe in affirmative action. they don’t believe in preferences. PRESIDENT CLINTON: Abigail, do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no. Yes or no.” My reply to that is, affirmative action does not make people, people make people.
Sowell, T. (1994). Race, Culture, and Equality. Hoover Essay.
Pell, T.J. (1998). Does ” Diversity” Justify Quotas? The Courts Say No. The Wall Street Journal,
p.22, Section A.
Steel, C.M., (1999). Thin Ice ” Stereotype Threat ” and Black College Students. The New York
Sowell, T. (1994). Race and Culture A World View. San Francisco: Mcgraw Hill.
Sowell, T. (1997). YES BLACKS CAN MAKE IT ON THEIR OWN. TIME,
Volume 150, No. 10.
Greenfield, Meg. (1997). The Colin Test His example shows precisely why affirmative action is
not just a ‘yes or no’issue. Newsweek, Page A19.
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