In Living Color
Jana King in her essay “In Living Color” talks about the difference among races, the discrimination that used to be perpetuated by the Whites against other communities, the measures taken by the US government to nullify that discrimination and finally about “affirmative action” and its effectiveness. I agree with the author and believe that “affirmative action” is counterproductive because merit of a person is ignored in favor of the color of the skin. Accepting the differences between people based on their skin color emphasizes one’s recognition of the difference and thereby his latent racist feelings.
In her opinion, within the purview of America’s political and judicial and social milieu it is seen that race is more about background than skin color, the reason why President Obama is not considered to be truly black since he has white ancestors while President Clinton was considered more black than white since he was from a working class, single parent background, enjoyed playing the saxophone and eating fast food; all features attributed to the black community.
On the other hand the whites are not considered a separate race at all; they seem to be the benchmark against which the other races are measured. To prove her point the author refers to the comment made by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison “In this country American means white. Everyone else needs to hyphenate.” Although segregation is legally banned, “functionally we are an incredibly segregated society” says Bryan McCann, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies. And to encourage ethnic diversity many institutes have introduced various codes including ‘affirmative action.’
“Affirmative action” was introduced in the early 1960s by President John F. Kennedy to provide better opportunities to minority groups. It was a means to provide equal access to all. Initially the discrimination list was defined on the basis of race, religion and natural origin and later included gender as well. The opposition to this code believes that “affirmative action” benefits the blacks with slave ancestry and punishes the whites descended from slave owners and that America was no longer racist since slavery was abolished and everyone had the right to vote.
I completely agree with the author Jana King’s thesis. “Affirmative action” cannot be defined in such a simplistic fashion. It has various other connotations. Its basic purpose was to provide a person hailing from any background an equal chance as opposed to others who were from backgrounds that allowed them better opportunities. But unfortunately most people believe that this code is not very effective and it has been found that the largest group to benefit from this initiative was the white woman.
An outcome of the Civil Rights Movement, when the “affirmative action” bill was first introduced it was hailed as path breaking and that it would hugely benefit the minorities. Its intention was to create a level playing field for all. Its use was basically in the education and employment sector. In education it meant allowing access to all groups that were historically excluded or underrepresented like minority communities and women and thereby it was emphasized that the employment sector should also open its door to the new graduates. Although initially it did help it has been found that even today a disparity remains with the whites maintaining the majority.
Practically it was found that in fact “affirmative action” perpetuated segregation since the bill could not guarantee the result. Even today in spite of the evolution of time and mindset data reveals “For example, the National Asian and Pacific American Legal Consortium reports that although white men make up only 48% of the college-educated workforce, they hold over 90% of the top jobs in the news media, 96% of CEO positions, 86% of law firm partnerships, and 85% of tenured college faculty positions.” (http://www.civilrights.org/resources/civilrights101/affirmaction.html)
While supporters of this code say that these programs have more than doubled admission of minorities in colleges, the graduates have benefitted with better jobs and the programs have helped the socio-economically depressed class avail of facilities enjoyed by those economically better off; the detractors claim that the programs actually perpetuate reverse discrimination where the merit of the student has no role to play. “Affirmative action” policies have also seemed to have lowered standards in the education sector.
Finding the correct middle path where everybody is treated as equals, where their success depends on their merits and not the color of their skin and where discrimination has no role to play is the ideal society that America and Americans have to strive to achieve.