Affirmative action an apparatus toward equality in America

It is disheartening to hear some of the diatribe about affirmative action. Some pontificate as if to convey something revealing and insightful, but most circulate myths, misconceptions and misrepresentations. In a so called "modern university," situated in a "modern society," de facto racial segregation exists, making one question: what is meant by "modern?"

The fact is, racial segregation, discrimination and bigotry do exist and significantly affect the lives of all people. While many heroic people have fought many years to dispel the idea of "separate but equal," the fact is there are people in this country who speak of equality (because the law requires them to do so), but whose actions reflect separatism. We are all equal on paper by law. The idea of equal opportunity is ingrained in many of our documents: the Constitution (do not forget, the Constitution had to be amended to compel its own principles); state and federal statutes, enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; any and every corporate policy; educational institutions, etc.

However, this "idea" is not practiced. Hiring practices do not reflect equal opportunity. Bank loans are not available to everyone equally. Homes in certain neighborhoods are not accessible and rental opportunities are contingent. Our justice is not equally distributed; her blindfold has been replaced with a dollar sign. Education is not equally accessible; state and local resources are not equally distributed. Remember, these observations were (are?) examples of what was once the law of the land practiced and enforced by our "justice" system. That is racism, institutionalized. Institutional racism, although purged from the public's perspective, is practiced clandestinely; secretly in board rooms, quietly in offices and openly in living rooms.

Critics say that affirmative action means the "active and aggressive recruiting" of minorities. I wonder if the term "minorities" includes women? Consider for the past couple of decades, the prominent benefactor of affirmative action plans have been women (predominantly white women) not African Americans, not Hispanics, and not Asian Americans. Can you say "glass ceiling?" Women have used affirmative action plans to break through the corporate glass ceiling a method that has proven to be rather successful. I as have many before me suggest that those who oppose affirmative action read the law. It does not expressly state "enforced quotas," "racial preferences" or that its goal is to lead to a "color blind" society. Besides, if opponents can pursue this "active and aggressive recruiting" jargon, why not add nepotism as a practice that undermines equal opportunity? How about the "old boys network" that is so ubiquitous in American business friends who hire their friends, who hire their friends, and so on and so on.

African Americans, or anyone for that matter, who have felt the pain of discrimination, do not want anything in spite of, instead of, or at the expense of, anyone else. We all want to get to the starting gate before the race. Alas, not everyone can leave the gate at the same time, if in fact they are allowed to approach the gate at all. Some are held back or tripped. Some are loaded with unwanted and excess weight. Some are not told the course of the race, and thus, run astray, finish late, or cannot finish at all. Affirmative action assures everyone access to the gate. Affirmative action will not allow anyone to be tripped, held back, or loaded unwanted weight. Affirmative action requires that everyone is told the course so it can be run on the merits. If you finish fine, if not, that's fine too. What is important is that everyone be given the opportunity to run the race. The race is for jobs, housing, quality education, fair competition, and a future - a piece of the so called "American dream." The reality is that we do not live in a "colorblind" society. Americans discriminate based on race. Period. Given that fact, we will never live in a colorblind society. Affirmative action is a tool to fight discrimination and provide for a fair race.

A "fair chance" should be the rule and not the exception, and racial harmony (color blindness, if you must) is a laudable goal by anyone's standards. Those who assail affirmative action are misguided. Affirmative action does not "fight racial discrimination by discriminating based on race." Affirmative action is the process that will get everyone to the gate before the race and allow everyone to run. We, as African Americans, are responsible, and we want the responsibility for our future. We can perform appendectomies, design bridges, or write computer operating systems. We keep our word, take care of our families, hope for safe and clean neighborhoods. We can write novels, do mathematics, or study the unified theory of relativity. We want, and demand, the opportunity (the equal opportunity) to do so.

David H. Benton is the president of the Black Law Students Association.

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