Affirmative Action

I’ve been thinking a lot about a particular email thread. Perhaps I’ve mentioned that, for at least a decade, I’ve been corresponding with a group I call the “Five Knuckleheads” (I wasn’t the one that coined the term). Long time friends, and my brother. Two staunch conservatives, my brother and myself somewhere in the middle — he probably more conservative than I – and, well, I think we might have actually permanently lost our staunch liberal. I miss him, because it make me the “liberal representative” of the group.

I don’t consider myself liberal. I consider myself staunchly and relentlessly centrist. I have lots of liberal friends who consider me rather conservative. But, since I have no conservative friends that consider me conservative, I guess I’m probably liberal.

Recently the issue of affirmative action came up in our group, with the most vocal conservative making the statement (and I’m paraphrasing): “Democrats (that is, liberals) advocate for differing standards of academic acceptance and excellence for black than for whites. Therefore they must believe blacks are inferior to whites.”

I challenged him to introduce me to a single liberal who would say “yes, that’s what I think.” Just one. I went on to say that, if he could not, then he has no basis for an argument supporting this idea of liberal racism, because he can’t find anyone who agrees with what he’s claiming to disagree with.

This led to several other spinoff thoughts, which is what I’ve been giving a lot of thought.

Then I realized that I was finding myself in the position of defending affirmative action on behalf of all liberals.

Here’s the thing. Well, two things.

First, I’m not in favor of affirmative action. I’m rather conservative on this issue. I’m angry with myself for being maneuvered into a position where I feel I need to defend it.

Second — and most importantly — arguing ANY individual issue is not really my mission. My mission is understanding; understanding other people’s points of view, and helping others do the same. I started chiming in on this thread originally to try and help my conservative friend consider that if there isn’t a single liberal on earth that actually believes blacks are inferior to whites, and yet liberals in general are in favor of affirmative action, then maybe, just maybe, there might be something else going on here.

I failed gain. People tend to just double down on their original arguments when I try to get them to look for a different solution. Perhaps they don’t even want to admit that there’s a misunderstanding at all — at least not on their part. Not understanding is uncomfortable. it feels yucky. We are driven to eradicate it — even if we’re wrong.

So. Affirmative action.

Let’s start with the statement that affirmative action is a form of reverse racism, because it gives preferential treatment based on race. Liberals might disagree. The might say it finally levels the playing field, after many years of racist practices and even policies, resulting in a much steeper climb for minorities to get into top colleges (for instance) than for whites.

Maybe. But I think a reasonable argument can be made that affirmative action results in accepting minority candidates, in some cases, that are less academically qualified than their non-minority counterparts, in favor of helping meet admission standards for diversity.

IF that’s true, then it’s easy to see how conservatives call this reverse racism, and that, either liberals don’t agree (but can’t explain why), or they reluctantly agree, but they approve of it — in light of other circumstances.

That is, it can be argued that liberals — as a class (perhaps not individually) — would agree that a “certain degree” of reverse racism is preferable to a lack of diversity in colleges.

This, then, comes back to a recurring theme for me — a belief that conservatives and liberals tend to have the same values. Just in different priorities. Sometimes very slightly different. All reasonable people value equal standards. All reasonable people value diversity. However, which is more important, and at what cost? That’s the rub, and worth understanding.