Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Is Affirmative Action Still Relevant?

In a recent opinion piece in the Post, Shelby Steele posits that Affirmative Action Is Just a Distraction. His post-racial position is interesting, but I don't completely buy it.
We blacks know oppression well, but today it is our inexperience with freedom that holds us back almost as relentlessly as oppression once did.
Some who read the piece might think that Steele believes that discrimination no longer exists. I would like to believe this, but I simply can't. I agree that discrimination is not the dominant problem facing black America, but I am quite sure that discrimination exists as well. Oppression held back our forefathers, but we still don't live in a world without discrimination.

On the other hand, Steel says:
Today's "black" problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination.
Amen, brother. Discrimination still exists, but I don't think it is what holds us back. For instance, It's sad that the black New Haven fire fighters didn't score higher on the test, but why did they score so more poorly than their white counterparts? Could there be differences in preparation? Educational level? What about the test?

Could there be racial bias in the test? I suppose so, but what does that look like? I'd like to see an item analysis of the test. What is it that the blacks and Hispanics missed? Were there questions about NASCAR? Was there a swimming component to the test? Were there questions about how to maintain a Prius? In this day and age, I am genuinely interested in what racial bias looks like on a test in a way that is not class/socioeconomic bias. If the only result of Ricci v. DeStefano is for blacks and Hispanics to collectively sigh "oh well, racism is alive and well," then we have all missed an opportunity to learn from a failure. We all need to dig down and figure out the real causes of our squandered opportunities.

Blacks in America have lots of soul-searching to do. What's holding us back? In general, it is not overt racism, but what subtle racism holds us back? How can we help ourselves move forward? Now that the overt racism has faded, I think we need to keep an eye out for more subtle bias, but mostly we have to take the ball and run with it. I am not saying that there is no such thing as racism. I am saying that we need to move forward and take responsibility for our own development. Today's blacks need to seize the opportunities for which our parents and grandparents fought.

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