Affirmative action fair
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, January 31, 2008
In his Viewpoint column (“True diversity,” Jan 29), Greg Yatarola argued against affirmative action, claiming that “not all blacks and Hispanics are disadvantaged. In fact, when they marry and form stable families, they move into the middle class about as well as everyone else.” I’m having some trouble understanding this claim.
There’s the suggestion that “stable families” are the key to achieving middle-class status – a claim that was roundly debunked almost immediately after Senator Moynihan made it in the ’70s. More fundamentally, Yatarola seems to be assuming that being disadvantaged or advantaged is a matter of wealth or economic class. That is, racism – the disadvantages faced by African-Americans and others – is nothing more than classism – the disadvantages faced by the poor. Racism, strictly speaking, does not exist. If this is the assumption Yatarola is starting with, then the conclusion that affirmative action should go probably follows fairly quickly: affirmative action was created to fight racism, but racism doesn’t exist, therefore there’s no reason for affirmative action. But this assertion that racism is nothing more than classism is, sadly, false.
Barack Obama, for example, is a wealthy, politically powerful African-American. If Yatarola is right, racism would play no role in Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination. He would not, in particular, be attacked using stereotypes of African-Americans. And yet, last week, Rick Murphy, a columnist for a Long Island newspaper called The Independent, published just such an attack. (The publisher has since taken his column offline, but – should you wish to see the ugly face of American racism firsthand – you can view Google’s cached version of the page at http://tinyurl.com/2p2bs7.)
Yatarola suggests that “The simple, obvious solution would be to favor those applicants who can actually show some degree of hardship in their backgrounds, instead of trying to infer it from their races.” But if a wealthy, powerful African-American like Barack Obama has faced the hardship of racism, it’s a safe bet that most African-Americans face the hardship of racism. Affirmative action, in the various forms which it currently takes, infers hardship from race because race is a reliable indicator that one has suffered hardships.