Thursday, October 30, 2008 Leave a comment
Originally published October 30, 2008.
After centuries of exploitation, an arduous and bloody struggle for liberation in the United States, and a perpetual battle against discrimination, it’s finally happened. As we draw nearer to Election Day and watch Senator Barack Obama still campaigning fervently, it’s apparent. Racism has been eliminated.
Yep, that’s right. Now that a black man has been successfully nominated by a major party for the presidency, now that he’s run a powerful campaign, and now that he just might win that spot in the Oval Office, racism’s gone. Everyone is equal now. Yes, if one black man can make it to the top, everyone can!
So goodbye, affirmative action! While we’re at it, why don’t we just get rid of the technicalities of equal opportunity employment and nondiscrimination statements, too? After all, Barack Obama has gotten rid of racial prejudice. That must mean that we’re done with discrimination, no matter who it pertains to. Thanks, Barack!
If nothing else, the Obama campaign has shown the United States the exact opposite of my jokes–that is, how very racist we still are. From mainstream news media’s attempts to focus only on Obama’s “racial appeal” in the beginning of his presidential run to accusations that he isn’t “black enough,” from the disgusting suggestions that he and his wife are clearly black supremacists to the recently derailed assassination plot of two white supremacists, it is incredibly hard to believe that the Illinois senator’s success has eliminated racial prejudice.
That said, it’s also ridiculous to suggest that Obama’s accomplishments render affirmative action unnecessary, especially when people still have so many misconceptions about it: that affirmative action pertains only to racial minorities (wrong), that it is used to meet population “quotas” (wrong) and that its implementation means the selection of a candidate based solely on his or her race (you guessed it: wrong).
Let’s clear these up quickly. Affirmative action deals not only with race, but with gender, disability status, and veteran status. It isn’t used to meet diversity quotas, which are illegal. Most activity related to affirmative action deals with recruitment and outreach to qualified candidates (keyword: qualified) in underrepresented communities. Building on that, the policy can be used (not “is always used”) to consider a single, identity-based criteria as a deciding factor regarding a qualified individual.
The whole idea behind affirmative action is to ensure that we make an active effort to create truly equal opportunities for all people. Sorry, but just stating that a university or employer doesn’t discriminate doesn’t make it true. The policy is a means of rectifying this issue.
Because of mainstream misinterpretations of affirmative action, it’s easy to say that the issue would never have been brought up in response to Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that it applies to her, too. It’s certainly not being brought up against Sarah Palin now. If Clinton were in Obama’s position now, would we make any assessments about policies perceived to protect the interests of women?
Gender isn’t listed as an identity criterion in federal hate crime law. A wage gap between men’s and women’s earnings still exists. We’re kidding ourselves if we really believe that the placement of any woman in the White House means we’ve completely shattered that oft-mentioned glass ceiling. With gender inequity so obvious, it seems highly unlikely that anyone would have suggested some repeal of anti-discrimination legislation. Or maybe our silence has nothing to do with gender. Maybe it’s simply because Clinton and Palin are both white.
It’s not as though there’s been no change in attitudes about social identities, especially race, but let’s hold off on throwing confetti and proposing toasts to the “end of prejudice.” The appalling assumptions about affirmative action that still stand are testament to why we need it in the first place: people apparently can’t wrap their heads around the very real existence of qualified minority candidates applying for jobs and institutions of higher education, or that racial minorities can and do get selected without the implementation of affirmative action. Perhaps one day, we’ll reach a point when the policy is obsolete. For now, we still have a long way to go.
Chelsea is a senior in English and music and has a dentist appointment on Halloween.