Angry White Men and the Affirmative Action Debate
If you listen very carefully--in between the deafening war drum beating at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue--you can almost make out the chant reverberating on capitol hill; "ding dong the witch is dead!" Yes, Trent Lott is gone and racism is dead!
Immediately after Lott's faux pas in January, we heard conservatives feigning horror and disapproval over his callously racist (and revealing) public remarks. Following was a flood of conservative tears over the revelation that Ole Trent's voting record exposed a systematic and consistent aversion to anything remotely resembling affirmative action.
And yet, in less than a month with the shock and horror subsided, our president brandishes his sword (which is close at hand these days) and vows to shred affirmative action programs that give opportunities to minority students who might otherwise be overlooked because it violates the Constitution. And now our president is worried about violating the Constitution?
After 250 years of legalized slavery and another hundred years of Jim Crow, America has wiped out racism and discrimination in just thirty years! I guess that's why we call ourselves a Superpower. We can leap over hatred, shame and systematic oppression in less time than it takes to build a star-wars defense system--that works-and at lesser cost.
If you were able to tune in to Donahue on MSNBC a few weeks ago you could have witnessed a public debate on affirmative action called "angry white males and affirmative action". But more than a substantive discussion, you could have seen white privilege at it's best (or worst depending on your point of view).
The panel of experts included :
Tim Wise writer/ white anti-racist activist and author of book about affirmative action titled: Little white Lies: The Truth About Affirmative Action and "Reverse Discrimination"
Rev. Jesse Jackson Religious Leader, Veteran Civil Rights/Human Rights Activist, founder Rainbow Coalition and Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).
Peter Roff, UPI columnist and former political director of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC and who claims responsibility for "training more than 15,000 Republican candidates in four years"
DeRoy Murdoch, an African American syndicated columnist who was once quoted by Mona Charen as saying republicans "always postulate the good intentions of our opponents while seeming secretly dubious about our own goodwill." And he once stated republicans are "too nice".
In spite of the notoriety of several guests, the star of the show however was a young, haughty, pale-face white student from University Of Michigan who was sitting in the audience and appeared to have forgotten to take his hyperactivity medication. This young man/boy disrespected and interrupted nearly every person on the show (including Mr. Donahue) without a trace of self-consciousness.
The coup-de gras was when the young man/boy (let's call him "Skippy") shouted at the satellite image of Reverend Jesse Jackson demanding to know "who do you think you're talking to? We can all think for ourselves." "Skippy" was upset because Jackson asserted that eliminating affirmative action programs for minority students would set us back to the late 1800's (which if you know your history is an accurate statement). "Skippy" didn't have a well-reasoned rebuttal to Rev. Jackson which would illustrate why he was incorrect but seemed to "know" that what Jackson was saying was hog-wash. The only response he could muster (on prime time television) was to berate Jackson as if he were an ignorant school-boy. Although Skippy refrained from using the n-word, his tone left me wondering how far away it was from his repertoire.
For a moment, it appeared that Donahue might give "Skippy" a time-out or threaten to take away his game-boy if he didn't stop his rude behavior--the eye-rolling and impatient snorting was probably getting on Phil's nerves too. But as is so often the case with white-privilege, "Skippy" was tolerated, indulged and ultimately, encouraged.
What was revealing is that it obviously never occurred to "Skippy" (or the other anti-affirmative action panelists for that matter) that Reverend Jackson's life-time achievements as a black activist, scholar and statesman indeed designated him one of the more credible persons in the room to speak on the matter. The other panelist --and the most knowledgeable about affirmative action-- was Tim Wise who was burdened with the enormous task of squeezing logic and fact into the conversation.
In spite of any substantive data put forth by Wise or Jackson, the blustering of "Skippy" and Mr. Roff --with no apparent analysis--dominated air-time. Between Skippy, Roff and Murdoch the only reasoning put forth was repeated louder and more frantically each time: "no one should be admitted to college because of the color of their skin." And each time the refrain was sung, the audience, filled with "angry white men" applauded as though a home run had been hit out of the park.
Sitting next to "Skippy" was an intelligent, concise and confident young African American women and the class president at University Of Michigan. Although she was far more knowledgeable and eloquent on the issues of affirmative action and the effects of racism than her fellow student, it was challenging for her to be heard.
In spite of the huffing and puffing of the testosterone vessel seated next to her ("Skippy" couldn't bear for anyone else have the floor) she persevered in a confident and respectful tone. Speaking from practical experience this young woman pointed out that she entered University of Michigan because of affirmative action and that her parents were recipients as well. She also shared that if it were not for the program her parents, most likely, would not have received an education.
Her personal story was not only glossed over but interrupted with the broken record response : "no one should be admitted to college because of the color of their skin." Period.
Affirmative action programs were designed to counterbalance 250 years of slavery and another 100 of Jim Crow laws that prevented blacks from getting an education and receiving equal treatment in all facets of life.
Who, in good conscience could possibly insist that 350 years of white supremacy, unearned privilege and oppression could be reversed by 30 years of bare-bones affirmative action programs?
Apparently, none of the anti-affirmative panelists seemed aware of the white supremacist system that has endowed exclusive privileges to card carrying members (whites). And isn't it funny that so few are able to make the leap of logic that our very own president (who couldn't get into a college in Texas) was admitted to Yale because of his daddy? Is this not the grand Poo Bah of affirmative action? Although white skin has historically been required, it is now possible to buy into the system--on a limited basis to be sure. Money talks and this is evidenced by the growing number of middle and upper-class conservative blacks who claim (or feign) no identification or memory of inequalities or injustices which would require affirmative action. They too are espousing the boot-strap method and burning down the affirmative action bridge--the very one that most likely led them where they are now. It seems the rewards granted to those afflicted with racial amnesia far surpass those of holding the door open for those following in your footsteps.
What was apparent at the end of the grueling hour of the Donahue show and what the angry white men (audience and panel included) successfully demonstrated is this: if you are hostile, arrogant and relentless (and a white male) you will be heard no matter how shallow your arguments are or how limited your knowledge. For many, it was the perfect illustration of how and why white male privilege has existed for so long and will survive until there is a massive revolution in both thought and action.
"Skippy" learned his lesson well that day. He learned that he has the right to speak, shout and roll over anyone who gets in his way and he will be tolerated, rewarded and even applauded--even when he has nothing of substance to say.
It will be something to celebrate the day affirmative action is no longer needed. When racial and gender equality has been achieved and the system of white supremacy has expired.
If conservative whites and blacks are huffy about Affirmative Action, wait until they do the math. Affirmative action x 1000 = Reparations.
Ding dong the witch isn't dead yet!
Molly Secours is a writer/speaker/activist and a contributing writer to the book "Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations". She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org