Revisiting Affirmative Action

I was reading the archives of The Atlantic Monthly when I came across an article called Black Nationalism On Campus. It’s an interesting read, but this passage in particular jumped out at me:

Many whites see being black, once you’ve made it out of the ghetto, as a big advane: they think blacks are constantly getting little breaks that whites don’t. Many blacks have exactly the opposite view: race will always be an extra burden. The cost of housing is higher for blacks. The risk of crime is higher. Nearly every social relationship with whites eventually arrives at a chilling moment of revelation of the hard inner kernel of racism. At work the assumption of inferiority is ever present; affirmative action underscores it, but is the only way even to get in the door.

I don’t claim any special insight here, but this is really poignant. I will say, however, that anyone identifying with the “white” outlook should read Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsackl.

Speaking of which, never use the term “Political Correctness”. It reinforces conservative frames and thinking. Instead, use the terms “respect” or “sensitivity”. “Political Correctness” reinforces both disgust with government and disgust with embracing diversity. Instead, it is more about realizing that our words and phrases can hurt others, and being good enough people to act accordingly.


8 thoughts on “Revisiting Affirmative Action”

  1. Well, I agree with you, to an extent. “Political correctness”, right now, encompasses everything from corporate censorship to people not using the N-word.

    When people attack political correctness, then, you don’t know if they’re using it as a cover for racism or because they hate calling their secretary an “executive assistant”. That’s why we have to realize that “political correctness” is a loaded term with negative connotations, and that’s by design. Conservatives coined the word to conflate their bigotry with their disgust of government. We have to fix that.

  2. My thought on this is that political correctness and sensitivity or respect should not be called the same thing because they are not the same thing. Sensitivity and respect are represented through understanding the differences between you and others and keeping them in mind to avoid offense or conflict.

    Political correctness is more institutionalized, an effort by larger bodies (be they corporations, government offices, etc.) to enforce certain standards of speech so that more “offensive” things are not said. This does nothing to help the struggle against racism because it simply builds resentment and, quite frankly, makes those who perpetrate it look ridiculous. When the government attempts it, it’s quite simply unconstitutional. So while it is key to understand the difference between the respect and sensitivity and political correctness, I think it would be a poor choice to use one term for the other.

  3. Ben, are you saying that people are spending too much time getting offended over words when they should be trying to fix the system of institutionalized racism, inequality, etc?

    I’m sympathetic to that argument, but i think that it’s important to note that people using hate speech, misogyny, etc contributes to structural bigotry. Bill O’Reilly is an institution that perpetuates and reenforces the white-male power structure.

    So in the end, I’m going to have to paraphrase Lev. “Is it really the ‘diversions’ that are opening up the struggle against racism to mockery? Or is it just racism?”

  4. There are times when we place limits on what is “appropriate” speech, for example, but to no real effect. When racism is institutionalized on such a concrete level, it only makes the struggle to overcome those setbacks look less serious when we focus on words (like when someone gets fired for saying “nappy headed hoes”). Follow the money, and follow matters of life and death. Political correctness too often gets us caught up in mere diversions, taking attention and energy away from the real injustice.

  5. Is it really the political correctness that is opening up the struggle against racism to mockery?

    Or is it just racism?

  6. Ben, I confess that I don’t quite understand you. My point is that the term “political correctness” is one to avoid. Your point seems to be that the act of “political correctness” can sometimes go too far. I don’t see how these two positions are mutually exclusive.

  7. I have to disagree. There is definitely a point at which political correctness goes too far, and actually serves to undermine the struggle against racism by opening it up to mockery. I think we all have experienced instances of this sort of thing.

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