I realise I could be opening a casn of worms here, and laying myself open to a certain amount of cyber-abuse, but so be it. This article by Neil MacDonald has brought to mind a discussion I had not too long ago with Kevin, the progenitor of this blog.
The following quote: ‘More than 30 years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote a line that became the battle standard for affirmative action. “In order to treat some persons equally,” he said, “we must treat them differently.”It was an elegant, even poetic way of expressing an uncomfortable truth: that, sooner or later, promoting or admitting someone on the basis of race is going to involve shoving aside or passing over someone else for the same reason.’ describes what, I think, is the endpoint to Affirmative Action if you blindly follow it to it’s logical conclusion.
Before I go too much further, I want to emphasize that I do NOT have a problem with equal rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or any other quality used as a basis of bias by some parts of society. The movement(s) that brought about Affirmative Action were necessary, and have done society-at-large a great good; by starting to erase boundaries that were neither justified, nor conducive to good and civilized society.
Two things bother me most about Affirmative action: The first is that it seems to come down to filling a quota. While it increases the numbers of minority of people in the workforce, and therefore exposure to equally qualified individuals of all races and creeds… It really stops short of actually changing the attitudes that made Affirmative Action necessary in the first place. Those who were likely to dismiss qualified individuals from positions on the basis of irrelevent racial or gender-based criteria, now simply have changed their tune to “You’re just here to fill a quota.” The second is that ultimately, some people are being hired/ promoted over equally qualified people based on race, gender or creed, the very thing that Affirmative Action is supposed to combat. This seems to me to be somewhat oxymoronic, circular and self-replicating. It can never be a permanent solution – because it’s implementation ultimately produces new categories of under-represented and discriminated against people.
During the converstaion with Kevin, he argued, quite eloquently, that the current legislation(s) surrounding affirmative action does more than enough to provide avenues for individuals to compete on merit, and not on the basis of any other criteria. But does it really? If one person can be moved ahead by ticking the visible minority box, how is that equal? Is opting? demanding? to be treated specially, and/or given special consideration not voluntary segregation (albeit priviledged segregation)?
The example Kevin used was the hiring practices and workplace policies of the federal government of Canada. I couldn’t argue against that case, effectively, because they do sound reasonable, and it appears, ostensibly as if anyone can challenge them if they feel they’ve been dealt unfairly. Ok, perhaps he’s right in that specific case. Given ponderous governmental bureaucracy, I’m really not sure how effectively the issue is managed one way or the other. But, how about the private sector? Charges of discrimination are infinitely more difficult to prove there, as any number of trumped up deficiencies may be invented to cover why some was discriminated against, passed over for promotion, or unfairly dismissed.
I have to admit, that when pressed, I could come up with no better a solution than MORE legislation. I suggested legal culpability be spread from the organization to the offending individual personally, and also to the person responsible for supervising that individual personally, and so on up the ‘chain of command’. And I DO mean personally culpable, not professionally; as in the individuals themselves can be charged directly, as well as the organization as a whole. I’m not sure this would work either, as it punishes the problem of personal bias, but doesn’t do anything to alter it.
Bigots top my list of people who should be given a swift boot to the head, just to see if anything rattles around inside. Ideally, I’d like to see hiring procedures that are absolutely anonymous, and discrimination go by the wayside. Individual merit should not include/ or exclude anyone on the basis of gender, race or creed.
However, humans, by nature, seem to be overly ‘clanny’. Almost xenophobic in their attitudes towards those outside ‘the group’, those that are different. Will there ever be a time when we don’t look at those we deem to be ‘others’ differently? When ones qualifications, social skill and work ethics are the only criteria for hiring/ promotion? I’ve heard it suggested many times that it is largely a generational thing, that once the bigotted dinosaurs have died out and/ or retired from positions of authority, things will be better. Then we will be able to relegate Affirmative Action to the legislative backroom, no longer needed. But I worry that this will never be the case, as intolerance can be taught as easily as tolerance, perhaps even easier.
So what do we do to completely erase bigotry? I confess I really don’t know.