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The Continued Need for Affirmative Action

In a move that surprised many, including myself, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided not to strike down the practice of colleges using race as a factor for selecting students earlier this year, at least for now. I, for one, am pleased with this outcome because this practice, known as affirmative action (AA), which is not a racial quota system (quotes have been illegal for 35 plus years), is still very much needed to break the institutionalized cycle of poverty minorities still disproportionately find themselves in and to provide all college students with a better education.

20121015_Affirmative_Action_studentsDealing with the latter point first, the administrators at the universities who argued to keep AA in place said that the educational experience at a university is significantly enhanced for everyone when a school is made up of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. My personal experience has confirmed the truth of this for me. As some of you might know, I went to law school. It was tier one school (George Mason) and had very competitive admission standards. It was VERY conservative and VERY white, something in the range of 90-95% white. While, on my own merits I had more than a fighting chance of getting in, I more than got in. I was given a fellowship to attend which I can admit I did not deserve on the basis of just my grades. However, the school had a hard time attracting minority students, especially blacks, and wanted to sweeten the pot to get me to go there.

It worked, and I decided to go there despite the school’s conservative and homogeneous make up. I don’t want to sound more arrogant than I usually do, but I think the school got its money’s worth out of me. It wasn’t that I excelled as a student. It was just that I came from a very different background than many of my wealthy, white, conservative-republican classmates. Both in class and in private discussions, I challenged the prevailing views on many different issues. Having to defend their points of view was new for some of them because they had come from such an insulated world and were, quite frankly, trying to stay there by going to this law school. On the other side of the same coin, I had come from a very diverse and liberal undergrad where almost every debate took place on the liberal side of an issue.

While I can’t say any of our discussions resulted in anyone having a change of heart on an issue, we did force each other to think harder about our points of views and to refine and improve, and to think more critically about them. Personally, I found this very stimulating, at times frustrating, but overall extremely beneficial as it gave me a better appreciation for the other side of many arguments. It broadened the range of friends I had and deepened my understanding of a previously mysterious segment of society. There is no doubt that I got more out of being around people who viewed the world differently than me than I would have gotten out of attending a school where everyone echoed my previously held beliefs.

Aiming to create this type of environment, which should be the goal of every university, many universities in the US found that race is still the easiest and best way to assure intellectual and experiential diversity because America is still such a segregated place. This aim is especially laudable when you consider that recent studies have shown that public schools today are more segregated than they were in the late 1960’s. The majority of high school students in America attend schools that are 90% one racial group or another. So, clearly race is still a big factor in how people experience our society and creating a multi-cultural environment at the college level provides the additional bonus of introducing Americans to each other since we are so resoundingly failing to do this at the grade school level.

For me, however, the social and academic benefits of a university having a diverse student body are just the icing on the cake. The real reason AA is still needed is to address the historical and institutionalized inequalities in American society by allowing promising students that have been disadvantaged a chance to go to a top school where they will be challenged and given an opportunity to reach their full potential.

Some want to pretend certain realities don’t exist in our country, namely that schools are hugely unequal in terms of outcomes and that segregation has ended, despite the 90% stat I just shared. The biggest deniers of these realities are our courts which have been dismantling the programs set up to integrate the country long before the job was done. Schools in states like Washington have been barred from considering race when creating school districts and busing has been banned in others. The result has been the re-institutionalization of our historically unequal education system that our country has never come close to fixing.

povertyThis issue is summed up in one SCOTUS ruling in which the court said it was OK for school districts to draw funding directly from their local property taxes and keep that money in the district. The Court thought this was better than doing something crazy like funding a school based on the number of students it has. Instead, schools in rich neighborhoods get more money by virtue of being in rich neighborhoods and schools in poor neighborhoods get less. And without arguing the underlying causes of these income gaps, the fact remains, though the Court didn’t care, that blacks and Latinos are disproportionately poor and, therefore, are more likely to go to poorly funded, poor performing schools. If that doesn’t sound like the makings of a vicious cycle, I don’t what does.

This, however, is where many people who argue against AA take issue. While most don’t deny the connection between poverty and poor performing schools, they do question the connection between race and poverty and correctly point out that since the 60’s millions of minorities have moved out of poverty and into nice neighborhoods with decent schools. These minorities, they argue, don’t need AA but still benefit from it. Many of my conservative friends argue an AA program set up on socio-economics would be fairer. It would recognize being poor for the handicap it is in our society and apply to poor whites who are equally harmed by our unfair schooling system and keep the children of an upper-class minority family from receiving an undeserved advantage.

AffirmativeActionAtYaleHowever, the injustices minorities face in America go far beyond our school system and don’t all disappear just because of money and, despite what most people in America seem to truly fail to understand, segregation didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. It happened in our parent’s life time. Neither of my parents went to college which was in no small part due to ongoing effects of segregation in their respective home states of Mississippi and Virginia in the 1960’s. So, given there is a clear connection between how well a child does in school and the level of education their parents have, we can see one of the historical results of segregation that’s still directly impacting people today. Furthermore, every college I know of has a legacy program in which it gives preference to applicants who had family members attend. Obviously many minorities don’t get to avail themselves of this program, but these programs are typically not complained about by the people who oppose AA.

Regardless, I don’t have a huge issue with an AA program that is based on socio-economics instead of race. It seems like a reasonable fix that more directly addresses the educational inequalities in our country in a way that will help the people who need it most: the poor. There is also a lot of research that shows the real dividing line between who does and does not go to college is an economic one more so than a racial one.

Alternatively, George W. Bush, while still governor of Texas, did something pretty amazing – in a good way (I know! I’m shocked, too!). He got rid of AA and replaced it with a system in which the top 10% of students from each high school were guaranteed admission to one of the state’s public universities. The number of minority students has never been higher. This is a completely race neutral, and, I would argue, very fair system because it overcomes any historical or inherent injustices in the education system. However, it is still being challenged by wealthy families who argue that kids at good schools face tougher competition to make it into the top 10%. In other words, because the schools they go to are so much better, it’s harder for them… Am I the only one whose heart goes out to them? For me this confirms one thing I’ve always suspected about people who argued against AA: It was never about them wanting a more meritocratic process.  It was about their sense of entitlement and the idea that someone got something they felt was theirs. These people will view any system of admissions that leaves them out as being unfair. (Keep in mind the whole reason extracurricular activities and legacy programs were added to the college application process in the first place was to water down the role grades play and thereby reduce the number of Jews getting into Ivy League Schools.)

The idea that opposition to AA is unprincipled was recently confirmed in a study in which it was shown white students’ support or opposition towards AA was largely dependent on whether or not they were told it would benefit them. The majority of whites living in California who were told AA would be used to help minorities opposed it, but a majority of those who were told it would be used to help whites attend public colleges in California that were predominately Asian supported it. But let me be clear here, I don’t necessarily think this clearly unprincipled stance is a white thing as much as just the normal self-interest motive most people have. However, it does undermine the idea that people opposed to AA are doing so out of some sort of deeper principle.

Regardless of where we go from here, it is unbelievably important that something is done to break the cycle of poverty in this country and that requires including people that have previously been excluded for racial and/or economic reasons and giving them a chance to reach their full potential. College is a great place for everyone to expand their group of friends and meet, with any luck, some people who will go on to do big things. If minorities and underprivileged people aren’t in these top schools, this, by default, means they will not be able to lift themselves up or benefit from one of the best ladders to success: knowing other successful people. Some form of AA is still needed if we’re ever going to stop the perpetuation of a permanent underclass in America.

Brian M. Williams
Brian is the author of the recently published travel memoir "Stranger in a Stranger Land: My Six Years in Korea." (Click this profile for more information.) He's also a law school grad with Southern charm and Virginia roots. He recently returned to America after nearly seven years traveling and working abroad. He loves dive bars, international travel and foreign accents. He's particularly good at small talk and was the first person to notice there's no "I" in "team."
https://www.facebook.com/StrangerInAStrangerLand/

12 thoughts on “The Continued Need for Affirmative Action

  1. “While I can’t say any of our discussions resulted in anyone having a change of heart on an issue, we did force each other to think harder about our points of views and to refine and improve, and to think more critically about them.”

    I really believe this sentiment is so important for Americans to understand, particularly our youth.

    We are all products of our environment; our thoughts and values shaped by our parents, peers, and personal experiences. We also inevitably tend to gravitate towards those who share similar values and experiences.

    Once inside this bubble, we forget that the values shared by those within our bubble are a result of all having grown up in a very specific environment. This social amnesia not only prevents us from being able to empathize with the values held by different groups, but oftentimes restricts our ability to even recognize that other groups may have had vastly different personal experiences that shaped those values.

    In my opinion, as long as AA or some derivative continues to expose college students to those outside their bubble, the exercise of critical thought that presumptively follows such exposure justifies any argument against its use.

  2. I would like to start off by stating that I am a white, blue collar American male. I sit right in the middle of the political spectrum. I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative for I believe both sides have ideas and programs that can benefit our country. The second that I claim one political party over the other is the second that I close the door on opportunity. There are several things that I would like the reader to remember while going through this article. 1. There are exceptions to every situation and rule. 2. I am apologizing for nothing. 3. If this comes across as racist or bashing the poor, that is not my intentions. I am merely stating what I have experienced and witnessed.

    I understand that Affirmative Action is supposed to assist minorities in essentially leveling the playing field. To give them the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else. That being said, lets get into the nuts and bolts of the situation.

    I’m going to use the area that Brian Williams and I grew up in as a model. We’re both from rural Botetourt County. We both attended a blue collar, white majority high school. I would say roughly 95% white. Maybe more. I am going to use other names in this article and I haven’t asked for permission, however, see rule #2. Brian had the same opportunities that I was afforded. All of the black students had the same opportunities. And you know what? They have all turned out great. At least the ones that I was friends with and know of. Brian is doing his thing over seas and I’m sure if you were to ask him, he would state that he is doing well. The Thompson brothers, Allen Brown, Eric Poindexter, Meredith King, all of them have become well rounded people who are contributors to society. They are successful. Not only financially, but they build, maintain, and develop relationships, they are socially responsible and proud of where they are from. There are many different kinds of success and progress, not just financially. And I still stay in contact with them. Oh, and the Greene brothers, I don’t know where they are or what they’re doing, but I can assure you they are successful at it.

    There are two things they all have in common. #1. They are all black. But more importantly is #2. The common characteristics they share. I know from personal experience they all have a good blue collar work ethic. They are driven. They have good character and were raised by good parents. They have backbone. They are resilient and forward thinking. They can adapt and overcome. I am proud to call Brian and the other black men and women I went to school with my friends. Now, throw out #1. What you have left is the same characteristics that some, not all, of the white students had where we went to school. We all turned out as productive, dare I say happy, people. Race had nothing to do with it.

    So if a rural school like Lord Botetourt or James River can produce minorities who are successful, where is the problem? Let’s turn to the inner cities. Let’s use William Fleming High School as a model. You’ll have to forgive me, I’m unable to find exact numbers on this high school. But I think it is a fair representative of the problem. Now, WFHS is a predominantly black, low income school. So how do we level the playing field? The city decided to dump millions into this place. New school, state of the art stadium and facilities, computers for everyone. Those are to name a few ways we thought we could improve the situation. However, nothing has changed. The dropout rate is still the same. 1/3 of the students won’t make it. The teen pregnancy rate is still well above average. There are multiple fights daily at the school. I know these things to be fact for I’ve spoken to teachers who work there. Has the rate of students who attend college afterwards gone up? I can’t give you exact numbers. But I’m willing to bet the farm it hasn’t. And if it has, not substantially enough to warrant the money spent in the first place. My girlfriend teaches 6th grade math in Botetourt County. One of the new teachers just transferred in from Roanoke City Schools. She stated that they are far more technologically advanced in Roanoke City than in Botetourt County. Has throwing all that money and effort around paid off? No.

    Okay, so if providing them with education opportunities is not the solution, then where does the problem lay? How about their home life. Is it not structured enough? Let’s work on that. We now provide free housing to families. We pay for their heat, air conditioning, and electricity bills. We provide them with free public transportation to anywhere they want to go. We pay for their medical bills as well. We provide them with a monthly check. We pay for their food. And if they should happen to run out, we have multiple food banks they can visit at no cost. We provide their babies and children with clothing. We have built them a foundation for success. Hmmm, still haven’t found the solution. By the way, I’m in the inner city everyday for my job. I was at the Roanoke housing authority last month with a client and we were trying to get him housing. The wait was six months for a single bedroom. Two years for a two or more bedroom. I asked the woman why the wait was so long. She looked me in the eye and said, “Because they never leave. They stay in there generation after generation.”

    Okay, so educational opportunities and basic family needs are taken care of but it is still unfair for minorities. So, how about we offer programs and resources to them? How about Total Action Against Poverty (TAP). This is just one program of many. They can provide anyone, not just minorities, with an opportunity to get their GED and jobs. They have a Father’s First program that helps fathers learn how to open a bank account, balance a checkbook, find and maintain jobs, manage relationships, and stay out of prison. They even go to court for you to assist you in gaining custody of your child. Basically, they teach you to be a productive member of society. I know this because I have enrolled one of my clients in the program. He graduated last week. It should also be noted that out of 20 male students, he was the only white man. It should also be noted that he was the only one who voluntarily accessed the program. The rest were just out of prison and/or court ordered to be there due to being “deadbeat dads”. I asked one of the instructors if this was normal. He sighed and said, “Yea. Nobody comes to this voluntarily. Your client is the first I’ve seen come on his own free will in a while. Sometimes we get someone who comes in on their own and really wants to make a difference, but it’s rare.”

    Okay, so maybe we’re not advertising these programs and resources enough? Their advertisements are on every piece of public transportation in the city. They’re all over the billboards. They have people hired and volunteering to pass out pamphlets all over the area. They even have mentoring services which allow those in their community to give back. Rarely does it happen.

    To get away from this for a moment, I’d like to tell a small story within the article. I coached at Central Academy Middle School for six years. Football, wrestling and track. The black students/athletes there were predominately low income. They would be attending a rural predominantly white high school. James River High School. One day during track season, an 8th grade girl (who is black) stated that she “couldn’t wait to transfer to William Fleming”. I immediately pulled her aside and asked why on God’s green earth would she want to do something stupid like that. Her response, “I want to be with my people.” I went to Emory and Henry College in southwest Virginia. A small liberal arts college. Predominately white. About 1,000-1,200 students. Maybe 95% white. Most of those black students were on the football team with me. They didn’t hang out with the white students. Except for a couple. See rule #1. They had their own black fraternity for God sakes. They kept to their own. Just like the white kids. Now, Emory and Henry is one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation. That is a fact. It is all over magazines and national “top 100” lists. Their professors are constantly getting recognized, applauded and awarded. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if you offered those same black students the opportunity to attend this prestigious college without joining the athletic teams, and gave them the opportunity to attend a majority black school with less distinction, they would choose the majority black school. Why? Because they want to stick with their people. If this sounds racist, see rule #3. Now, I think it’s simple really. Ask a black man if he would like to attend a predominately white school, or if he would like to attend a predominately black school. I’m going to bet he would choose the black university. Brian stated himself that he had some hesitation to attend George Mason because it was majority white and conservative. But he decided to attend anyway. But just like rule #1, Brian is the exception. What I’m trying to get at, is that if a black student wants to attend a majority white university, he will do it on his own account. The same goes if a white student wants to attend a majority black or Asian university. By the time you get to college, you are an adult. Whether you act like one or not is a different story. We don’t need colleges padding their minority numbers and forcing students to interact if they don’t want to. If they decide they want to educate and expose themselves to other cultures, then they can do it on their own free will. Their are plenty of classes and endless opportunities to do so.

    Now, back to the problem we can’t seem to solve. We have provided low income and minority students with the best education opportunities available. We have provided their families with the basic necessities and a solid foundation for success. We have installed programs and resources to better their situations. Is it working? No. If it were, there would be no need for AA. Draw your own conclusions. Mine, is that the poor are predominantly lazy. See rule #1. Everything is provided for them. There is no need for them to improve their situation. We have created a class of people who have no drive nor ambition. It has become too easy for them. We provide them with just enough to get by. And they are okay with scraping by in life. The next issue, is that the poor are predominately minorities. You draw your own conclusions to that. I’m not getting into the whole race issue from this angle. But you CANNOT ignore it.

    Brian himself stated that his parents went through segregation and as a result, did not attend college. My parents did not attend college due to financial reasons. Alex, one of the contributors and editors, were with his parents when they immigrated here. They worked hard and were able to provide a good life for him. The point is, that all three of us made something of ourselves. It had nothing to do with race. It was from hard work and all the other characteristics I provided earlier in the article. I am proud of what I have accomplished as I am sure Brian and Alex are as well. Folks, the American minorities and the poor are out of excuses. If you can’t make something of yourself in this great country, then there is something fundamentally wrong with YOU as a person. Get some backbone, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get in the grind.

    1. Couldn’t agree more with your sentiment Paul. Also, while there is something to be said for diversity within a college/university setting, I would argue that at the end of the day, there would be less collegiate institutions whose diversity would be hurt by the removal of AA. This is because there are a lot of other factors that lead to diversity on a campus and within an applicant pool. Things like the majors offered, proximity to the home, scholarships offered, etc. all work to provide opportunities to a wide range of socio-economically and racially diverse student population.

      1. I think you’re exactly right Alex. There are many other variables that can affect the diversity of an institution without having to implement AA.

      2. Alex, i really dont get this comment and think you might not understand how and why AA is being used. When we talk about AA, we’re really talking about top schools and programs because lots of schools dont have a real issue with it. My undergrad was one of the most diverse schools in the country and AA had nothing to do with it. The issue is what about schools like Harvard and Yale or programs like Michigan’s med school that all top students want to go to? What the administrators found is that when they only look at grades, they end up with a pool of very good students with some students just barely edging each other out. Now, if all 99% of the best of the best are white, does that mean the school should say, “fuck it, we’re all white”? Admins say no. They say there is a benefit to having a diverse school and use race as a factor. Essentially it’s like adding a +5 to someone’s 100 point test. It doesn’t allow extremely unqualified people to attend, but it does give groups that tend to be underrepresented a step up. So u see, this isn’t a recruitment issue, Alex, it’s a we dont want to be all white/Asian/Jewish and if we only use tests scores we will be. That creates the issue of both a lack of diversity and the problem of only one racial group getting to go to the best schools which is a cyclical thing all its own.

        1. “We don’t want to be all white/Asian/Jewish and if we only use tests scores we will be.”
          Why do you suppose that whites, Asians, and Jews have higher test scores? They value education and hard work and they earn them. It is no secret that Universities used to put quotas on the number of Jewish people they would accept and that now Asians have become the “new Jews.” Completely unfair IMO.

    2. Paul, that’s quite a lengthy response and it’s hard to say where to start in terms of replying to it. But I guess what I will say is that you perhaps make a good argument for race based AA being outdated. Yes, there are plenty of examples of minorities that come from good families and who went to good schools and who do not need the hand up. However, your argument against the poor was, in some very real ways, not based on reality. You said that most people who are poor are poor because they are lazy. I take huge issue with this and the facts and numbers back me up. For starters, you conflated being poor with people who dont work and take government assistance. But that is not the reality. The number of people who are poor in America is significantly larger than the number of people living on welfare.There are a lot of very hard working people in America who are poor. They are working 1 sometimes even 2 jobs and barely making enough to get by. Don’t believe me, just ask a floor worker at wal-mart or McDonalds how they are doing with raising kids on their income. Two parents working full time on minimum wage will still be below the poverty line. So lets for real stop dumping on poor people and pretending only people with some extreme character issues are poor and stop pretending people receiving government assistance are living high on the hog. In one instance you made it seem like there is more than enough government aid going around and then in the next pointed out that someone you know who needs it can’t get it. They also just cut 5 billion dollars from food stamps. Being poor sucks.
      Furthermore, even if you were right and being poor was more often than not the result of someone being lazy, then what does that have to do with their kids? I don’t think a person should be held responsible for their parents bad decisions or the bad situation their parents put them in and in some ways thats what AA is about. It’s the idea that we, as a society, recognize certain things as likely being a handicap. And so yeah, if a kid from a poor neighborhood who went to schools where there were fights everyday and gang activity and people dropping out all over the place, that person probably had to deal with a lot of shit the rich kid at the private school didn’t. So yeah, maybe if that kid from the poor school has a GPA that’s just a slight bit lower than the kid from the elite private school, maybe the circumstances the poor kid grew up in should be taken into account.
      Sen Al Frankin described AA the best. He said he was talking to a baseball coach about recruiting. The baseball coach asked the Sen who he would recruit between two players. They were equally as fast, but one had perfect form and the other had terrible form. The Senator said he would take the kid with perfect form. The coach told him that was the wrong move because the kid with bad form has much more room to improve. He just needs to be taught good form. That’s AA in a nut shell. It takes kids who are pretty decently tied in academics but gives the tie breaker to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who have more room to improve once they are put into a better environment.

  3. I liked your response Brian. I understand your angle. As far as the poor, I am basing my responses on my own experiences. I have lived in Atlanta due to work several years ago. Right off of Bankhead Highway. The same place Lil’ John and the other Atlanta rappers “sing” about. My workplace was one bock from the projects. For months I was shoulder to shoulder with the people who called this place home. Brian, what I saw there would turn your shit white. I won’t go into details, but I will say that our company had to hire on another guy just to watch our tools when our backs were turned because the black people kept stealing them. I was berated every day with someone begging for money or trying to hustle me. And when I didn’t hand over my hard earned money, I was called a “cracker motherfucker” or “punk ass white boy” or “infidel”. So I decided to take a different approach. When asked for money, I offered up the classifieds and assistance in looking for local jobs. I was given the same response. Then I changed tactics again. I offered up $5 for 30 minutes worth of work helping me clean up the job site. Same response. Well, they changed slightly. It became “it’s to hot” or some other excuse. The point is, they wanted a handout and were even given opportunities to make some money everyday. I couldn’t get any takers. I was there for almost six months. Not one single taker. But 1/4 of our tools ended up missing. Regarding Roanoke, for the last year I have been in Landsdowne Park, Lincoln Terrace, Melrose Towers, Hawthorne Towers, and I’m in Southeast Roanoke everyday. Part of my job requires me to enter this places and socialize with their residences. I drive through Southeast every day and every day there are entire streets of people outside smoking and hanging out in the yard. They’re all on government assistance. Of course I’m concerned about it. I want these people to be productive members of society and not a cancer to it. I cannot tell you how many times I have come across people who are working diligently…at trying to get disability. They admittedly don’t want jobs. They want the money. Jobs require responsibility. They are lazy. They are not “living high on the hog” as you put it. And that is the most disturbing part to me. They have grown comfortable scraping by. Enough so that they are now third generation welfare recipients. And I have quite a few of them actually admit this to me. When you refuse to improve your situation given opportunities to do so, I consider that a character flaw. I refuse to believe that this problem is isolated to Atlanta and little ol’ Roanoke. I’ve lived it, I continue to live it and I’ve seen it with my own two eyes. So please don’t claim that my argument is not based in reality. It is based solely on reality.

    Now, I understand what you are saying about the Wal-Mart worker and the fast food parents. I do. Because I hate those son of a bitches. Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants that is. They treat their employees horribly. They don’t pay enough and it has been proven time and again that they would rather assist an employee by teaching them about government assistance programs and how to utilize them instead of paying them more. I have huge issues with this. I agree, these people do work hard and they probably live below the poverty line. So what do we do about it? This is where our ideas differ. You would like to implement government assistance. Give them more money. Level the playing field. However, I don’t think throwing money at the problem will fix it. It hasn’t yet. If it did, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. My angle is one of action. If the employees of fast food restaurants and Wal-Mart are working their asses off and still not getting over the poverty line…unionize. Now, I know that if the word “union” is even mentioned at McDonalds, they shut the whole store down. At Wal-Mart, they immediately bring a team in to investigate and start firing people left and right. However, Wal-Mart has 11000 retail stores under 69 banners in 27 countries. In 26 of those countries, it is unionized. The sole country where it isn’t, you guessed it, The United States. So if fast food and Wal-Mart workers, which there are plenty, want more pay and feel like they are being shortchanged, then they need to step up take action themselves. Not wait for the government to come to their rescue. Because it isn’t going to happen. Hell, our country was founded by people who were being oppressed and tired of taking other people’s shit. That’s the American spirit.

    I did laugh when you made the comment, “Being poor sucks”. While I have never lived below this line for an extended amount of time, I do have some experience with it. There were several years where I was substitute teaching and coaching. I was still trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. My income was low enough to qualify me for government assistance. Eventually, I found myself at the point where I knew I couldn’t pay my bills. I had two options, get on government assistance, or make something happen. So I borrowed a lawn mower, a second hand weed eater and started putting up flyers around town in March. By September, I had my own landscaping business. You can argue that not everybody has access to the resources that I pooled. But I can’t tell you how many days I spent simply picking up sticks, raking leaves and digging holes. I didn’t ask for government assistance. I made something out of nothing. I did it because I have pride and a good work ethic. And a lot of it was just because I’m not lazy.

    Back to affirmative action. I understand your frustration towards the rich and elite. I share it as well. However, this is a small percentage of our society. I’m aware that these people have a huge influence on our government and probably more institutions than I can fathom. But implementing AA in order to topple this juggernaut is hurting our middle class. The middle class aren’t rich enough to enjoy the perks of the upper class elite and they are not poor enough to access government assistance. We are left to our own devices. But that’s fine by me. As I mentioned above, where there is a will there is a way. I WANT the minorities in this country to prosper and become responsible, productive citizens. I honestly do. But I have issues with giving one man an unearned opportunity at the expense of another. I understand your argument that the minority may come from a broken home and have shitty parents. But it’s not the government’s job to raise our children. I don’t know why inner city black men take off and don’t raise their children. I wish I did. It leaves a culture being raised by women and grandparents. Their role models become addicts, alcoholics and drug dealers. At least that’s what they see every day. Yes it’s unfortunate. My heart goes out to them. But I can’t raise them. At some point, it has to be a community and cultural change to put an end to this. I don’t have the answers. But that is the best one I can come up with based on my experiences. So now we’re going to give a minority coming from this community a step up over another college applicant. Really? If it wasn’t earned, it wasn’t earned. I have a difficult time justifying one man getting an opportunity over another because of his skin color. That is racism. You can’t dance around that issue. It’s plain and simple. I find it disturbing that the same people telling us not to see color and that we are all the same, are the same people who play the race card when it benefits them. It’s like saying we’re all equal, we should all be treated the same and have the same rights and opportunities…well, but not really. Not when it suits minority agenda or movement. Now that’s playing both sides. Like I said, I’m all for equal opportunity. I want minorities to earn their spot and get a piece of the American pie. But do it through hard work. Strive to push ahead and through community change and pride. Not to be given a crutch by the government.

    I did like your comment about the pitcher. I find myself using sports in this sense quite often. However, I would like to share my own quote. “The athlete who produces is the athlete who plays.” -Me. I have coached for years and been active in sports my entire life. On my teams, I don’t care if you’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic or if you rode a tandem bicycle down here from Alaska with a moose. Teach my athletes the same. They have the same opportunity to get a starting spot. I have never once put a sub par athlete in a starting role and HOPED that he would succeed when there was an athlete who is superior standing right next to him. It has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with talent and hard work. Some of them do have a hard home life. And it sucks. But I can’t raise them. And I’m certainly not going to play little Johnny over Jimmy just because little Johnny has an absent father and an alcoholic mother. Those are issues that need to be addressed at home.

    I know I’m not going to change your mind. And I’m sure you’re aware that you will not change mine. I do like hearing your side of the fence though and it does help to make me aware of a minority outlook on the situation. This is one of topics that just keep us chasing our tails.

  4. Paul, I see where you’re coming from, and I think between your two comments you make a good case for the idea that race is not the issue, and that class is, even if you didn’t explicitly state that. The biggest difference between the blacks we went to high school with and he ones you saw in Atlanta or Roanoke are economics and being outside an urban environment. So fine, let’s remove race from the equation because you have shown that’s not a handicap in and of itself these days.

    That leaves us with the affect poverty is having on children growing up. You do a good job describing some of the cultural and environmental problems that are related to, or perhaps create poverty, but then you move away from something that seems obvious to me. If a child comes up in that bleak environment you’re talking about and only does 100 points worse on an SAT score than a kid from a good middle-class family, hasn’t that child shown amazing potential given his/her situation? I would say yes, and it makes me wonder how much more they could do if given a chance at a good education outside of that corrosive environment. I also wonder what coming from that back ground might mean in terms of what they have to share and how they see the world. There are huge benefits for a school, if not the world, in having people from these backgrounds participating at higher levels of society. Also the middle-class kid isn’t kept from going to college, just that college.

    Now we need to fix your sports analogy. You talked about “game time.” I agree with you, no one would put in the lesser player at game time just to address some social fairness issues, but that’s not what my analogy was and college is not “game time” it’s practice time. Getting a job is “game time.” The situation I asked you about was who do you want to recruit? Who do you want to take on and work with and help get ready for game time at the start of the season? That’s the question and colleges themselves are saying, give us the kids that might not have the best form, but show more room for improvement with proper instruction. As a coach, when you’re starting the season, and you come down to the last few spots to get filled, you take the kid you think can improve the most. No one is saying drop the first string players for a walk on. That’s not how AA works. AA is talking about who is the 50-53 man on the roster going to be and that’s where the hand up comes in because colleges think the kids coming from those crappy situations you described and who are already fairly competitive deserve a chance to show what they really have.

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