By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
SATURDAY NOTICE: CHECK OUT THE PLANET ON MONDAY. WE HAVE A STORY ON WHAT’S GOING ON AT “THE BORING BROADSHEET?” THERE ARE OMINOUS SIGNS. IS THE END NEAR? IS THE BB READY TO FOLD ITS NEWSPAPER? ONLY THE PLANET HAS THIS STORY.
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FRIDAY, APRIL 4, 2014) — This concludes the third of our three-part series, written by Tanner Colby and reprinted from Slate. It’s a discussion the leftwing Democrats that have the strangled political process in Berkshire County do not wish to have, but it’s one that THE PLANET has forced. Appropriately, this runs on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a day we remember only too well.
By TANNER COLBY
Special to PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
Today, the statistics on black and white inequality are so unchanging that they can be recited by rote: The black unemployment rate holds steady at double the white unemployment rate; the median net worth for black households is about 7 percent of white households; annual per capita income for blacks is 62 cents for every dollar of per capita income for whites.* When presented with these figures, supporters of affirmative action typically use them as evidence that conservatives kept affirmative action from working. Others say the statistics are proof that affirmative action didn’t really work that well to begin with. But there’s always the third option to consider: that persistent racial inequality is, at least in part, the result of affirmative action working exactly as it was intended to.
It’s not an accident that affirmative action and Nixon’s “law and order” campaign are both rooted in the same historical moment: the backlash to civil rights. Liberals want to believe that affirmative action is a social good and mass incarceration is an unalloyed evil. The left wants to enshrine the former and abolish the latter. But affirmative action and mass incarceration are just two sides of the same coin: one program to manage the aspirations of the black middle class, one to contain the anger of the black underclass. Both are forms of social control, and neither has anything whatsoever to do with repairing the real damage wrought by slavery and segregation.
If we ever want to start fixing these problems, we can start by being honest about what affirmative action really is. Some advocates are doing just that. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes candidly about the symbiotic relationship between affirmative action and mass incarceration, saying “perhaps the two are more linked than we realize,” and asking blacks to consider if they’ve been “bought off” by a bribe. The consensus is starting to crack, a little. But to judge from the rhetoric that still surrounds the issue, most progressives are nowhere near ready to admit the truth: that the liberal establishment pinned the economic hopes of the civil rights revolution on a program set up by a president whose racial philosophy was based on the idea that blacks make great athletes and Asians are good at math.
The latest idea, floated by those who’ve started to admit the shortcomings of race-based affirmative action, is to replace it with class-based affirmative action. But that’s an equally unpromising idea. The nature of affirmative action is that it skims. It elevates the best and the brightest of a disadvantaged group while doing nothing to eliminate the root causes of that group’s disadvantage. Just as cherry-picking all the black kids with good SAT scores hasn’t brought about the end of racism, cherry-picking all the poor kids with good SAT scores isn’t going to do much to end poverty.
As big a detour as it’s been, you can’t just get rid of affirmative action. There is a separate and unequal economy that depends on it. Racial preferences may have taken black America into a socioeconomic cul de sac, but you can’t just tear up the road and leave people with no way to get out. Fortunately, the one thing the left does have is the leverage and the political capital to end affirmative action in the right way. Right now, the Democratic party and the racial justice movement are sitting on a junk heap of racial preference programs that aren’t doing anyone much good, and they lack the substantive programs they need: a true, New Deal–style reformation that repairs the infrastructure of our cities, ends mass incarceration, provides access to early education and paid family leave and job training and other programs that put all of black America on more solid footing. Since Republicans seem to want affirmative action gone so badly, if it were me, I’d be out horse trading. Just as the Obama administration is letting Washington and Colorado opt out of federal marijuana prohibition, let state and local governments opt out of affirmative action mandates, but only in exchange for opting inon universal pre-K and other things that working families actually need.
If conservative politicians and judges are allowed to end affirmative action for the wrong reasons—a very real and immediate possibility—it’s safe to say that race relations in our great land will not improve. The onus falls on liberals to end it for the right reasons and to use that opportunity to replace it with something meaningful. Otherwise the status quo is never going to change, and America will keep on wandering in circles well short of the Promised Land.
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That concludes our three-part series on affirmative action. We hope it had stimulated thought and discussion to something that, distressingly, seems to be an unthought-out assumption, that this policy is to be unquestioned and is unquestionable.
THE PLANET thinks otherwise, in solidarity with all the citizens of Pittsfield, especially my black brothers and sisters.
“I am not to be denied, I compel, I have stores plenty and to spare, and anything I have I bestow.” — Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself.”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.