This column is intended to outline some of the arguments against Proposition 209 and in support of affirmative action policies. It is my attempt to support and further the efforts of The Dartmouth Coalition for Equal Access and Opportunity, the sponsors of Wednesday’s protest and rally.
Proposition 209 claims to prevent discrimination, and undoubtedly many of its supporters believe this to be true. However, in reality, Proposition 209 allows California to avert its eyes and do nothing in the face of discriminatory hiring or admittance practices at state institutions.
Discrimination against minorities and women still exists in this country, despite the progress made by the civil rights and women’s movements. By outlawing the programs meant to counteract existing discrimination, Proposition 209 allows existing discrimination to continue. Even if one were to argue that the programs in place were not working, Proposition 209 offers no alternative programs to address the problems of discrimination.
Furthermore, Proposition 209, despite its claims to equality by preventing “preferential treatment” on the base of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin, actually penalizes minorities and women. It does so first by continuing to allow “preferential treatment” on the basis of one’s status as a legacy at a college (legacies are primarily white men) as well as on many other qualifications slanted toward white men (campaign contributor, connection to powerful officials, geographic location, etc.).
Proposition 209 does not prohibit preferential treatment based on “bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” The Proposition is very vague as to what bona fide qualifications are, but I can think of some historical examples. Women have been denied high level jobs because they were thought incapable of performing adequately during certain times of the month. Or how about the argument that a woman should not teach a class because she might become pregnant, leave, and interrupt her students’ learning process? Of course these arguments sound ridiculous now, but they are not very old arguments. Indeed, they are not entirely out of circulation.
Now I would like to turn my attention to affirmative action in general. In attending the CuAD debate and discussing the issue with various students, I have found that many people believe affirmative action leads to the admittance or hiring of under-qualified applicants.
This is simply not true.
The goal of affirmative action is not to benefit the under qualified at the expense of the qualified white male. Affirmative action attempts to encourage qualified minority or women applicants to apply for a position, and then attempts to guarantee that their application will be given equal consideration. Quotas do not play a major role in affirmative action, and in the UC system they do not play any role at all due to a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned racial quotas in admissions to state-supported universities. (It should also be noted that the Court expressed its support of other forms of affirmative action in this decision.) Affirmative action consists primarily of outreach programs, tutoring, scholarships, and goals and timetables for equality of representation. These mechanisms are in place to counteract the discrimination that still exists in our society.
Another argument against affirmative action is the idea that it creates racial tension and the perception of discrimination against white men. If anything, affirmative action reduces racial tension. One way to overcome racial tension in this country is through the interaction of whites and minorities, leading to the end of misconceptions. Affirmative action helps accomplish this interaction by promoting diversity in the work place and on college campuses.
Finally, and I can think of no way to put this nicely, there is no discrimination against white men. At the very least, any discrimination against white men has no debilitating effects due to the much larger effects of discrimination against minorities and women. Misconception of this fact is not a solid basis for legislation.