Affirmative action is still a necessary remedy

September 11, 1995|By Jack L. Levin

ALTHOUGH SOME citizens hold that affirmative action should be scrapped, and many others believe it needs serious fixing, still others respect it as the remedy which has ameliorated, if not cured, America's outrageous and time honored discrimination against blacks, other minorities and women, and has helped millions of qualified American citizens to obtain jobs and scholarships they would never have had the slightest chance of getting without it. It has moved a considerable part of the tax-absorbing underclass into the tax-paying middle class, and thus strengthened the nation.

Why then is it politically correct to trash it? Why is any attack on it virtually guaranteed to get a white-male crowd roaring with approval?

Why did Gov. Pete Wilson of California, who often voted in favor of affirmative action, change his tune?

One such prejudice is that, in this land of the free and home of the brave, there is not such a thing as racism despite its ubiquitous presence. The racial millennium has not yet arrived. A black person entering a room, employment office or enrollment office full of white folks is perceived first not as another person, but as black. The skin is the first and, in too many cases, the last impression. Every word spoken, every thought or attitude expressed by that person is colored black in too many white minds, a fact which is denied by all. This is racism in the sense of RTC sharp awareness of differences. In America, only the blind are truly colorblind.

Similar prejudgments apply to women. Although the second income has become essential in many families, prejudice persists that a woman's place is in the home.

Another popular prejudice is that racial discrimination is ancient history. "Why should we at the end of the 20th century," it is argued, "be expected to make amends for 200 years of mistreatment of blacks in America?" Lincoln ended slavery 133 years ago. But many in the present generation have been involved in the inhumane and humiliating treatment of African-Americans in our own lifetime. They have tolerated and perpetuated such practices as denying blacks the right to be educated in decent schools, to drink at public water fountains, to use public restrooms, to eat in restaurants, to try on clothing in stores, to live in decent houses and neighborhoods and to apply for decent jobs.

Still another prejudice is a lingering belief in white male superiority: It is inconceivable to some that any African-American or woman could be better qualified than a white male for almost any job. As they see it, that is how God intended it to be.

All of this is not ancient history. It was not 200 years ago, but last year when a returning black soldier, responding to an advertised job opening, was told by telephone that he qualified in every respect and that he should come in to work. Upon arriving at the job -- when his race became apparent to the prospective employer -- he was told, "Sorry, but the job has been filled."

It was not 200 years ago, but today when a black tester couple applying for an apartment was told, "Sorry, but no vacancies," and a white tester couple, who entered the rental office immediately after the black couple left, was accommodated.

It was not 200 years ago, but today when law-abiding citizens are attacked and driven out of certain communities and intimidated by hate organizations.

It was not 200 years ago, but today that black children are punished for the alleged sins of their parents by drastic cuts in welfare.

It was not 200 years ago, but today that minority citizens living in "red-lined" inner-city areas have to pay higher rates for insurance than whites in adjoining areas.

It was not 200 years ago, but today that blacks are invisible in most corporate management offices and board rooms, despite the fact that many experienced, highly educated blacks have well-earned by now the right to be there.

Still hiding in the dark recesses of some closed master-race minds is the weird conviction that there really is no white-collar job for which a black could possibly be better qualified to fill than a white.

A favorite prejudice among hard-pressed, low-income whites struggling to meet rising expenses is that blacks have not only equaled, but also have surpassed them in economic standing. While there are blacks who have made it, the vast majority of black America has not achieved economic equality. Some 48 percent of whites own their own homes, as compared with 24 percent for blacks; and in rented homes, the figures are 52 percent white and 76 percent black. Among young males aged 16-19, 18 percent of the whites are unemployed as compared with 40 percent of blacks -- more than twice as many, and therefore twice as susceptible to crime.

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