Sunday, November 05, 2006

Affirmative Action

Over the last three days, I have had three interesting conversations about affirmative action. It seems I should explain with whom those conversations took place since where they come from really influences what they think (as well as myself, I guess...but you all already know me). Both are sons of graduates, one of who was a lawyer, the other a career military man. The son of a military man is one of my best friends and was raised in military communities, the other is planning on going to medical school after graduation.

The medical school kid is the first I had a conversation with. He brought up, and I don't remember how, that he did not feel confident going to a black female doctor because he saw the way that black females in particular were given preferential treatment getting into medical school, and thus, were not as qualified as other doctors. To him, this meant that it was rational to be wary of all black female doctors because they had not necessarily proven themselves the same way other medical school graduates had. I pointed out that preferential treatment to get into medical school had nothing to do with one still had to accomplish to graduate medical school, which is where the real proof of ones competence came from, but to little avail.

The second conversation was last night. Me and my friend (the son of a military man) were talking about politics and life in general (and, I should point out my arm still hurts from a nasty arm bar he put me in later...but that's a whole other story). He said that he didn't feel it was right to give one race preferential treatment over another simply because of past injustice done to a group, and that if the rules are applied equally, then everyone has an equal chance at success. I can see why it's easy for him to take this stand as he's grown up in military communities, which are as close to real meritocracy as one might get. So, due to his experience, hard work is rewarded across the board and color, gender etc. do not play into the decision making process. I used the interment of the Japanese to try and explain my position that if the government took active steps toward suppressing and adversely affecting a group of people, the government owed it to that same group to take active steps toward redressing their grievances. Back to the Japanese--according to his logic (I pointed out) after we interred the Japanese, took their property, education, land and rights, as soon as we freed them from the camps, they should have had an equal chance at success as anyone else and were owed nothing by the government. That seems, on its face, to be false.

This morning, I was at breakfast with the first kid again (the doctor-to-be). We were talking about his med school applications to Duke, UConn and Penn and what his chances were. He pointed out that his dad was friends with GEN Foley, who he knew from his lawyerly work in the military, and that the GEN would be writing him a letter of recommendation for Duke, where he now teaches (or something similar...I forget the details). He also said that his great uncle has some buildings named after him at UConn, which should help his chances there, and that his father sat on a board of directors with a guy who now sits on the admissions panel at Penn.

I kept my mouth shut and laughed silently to myself. The kid who had argued that he didn't want to go to a black female doctor because she didn't do it all on merit was now taking for granted that he would have easier access to the top medical schools in the country because of who his dad and great uncle had worked with thirty years before.

Level playing field indeed.


Blogger Alex said...

Isn't there just as much risk that a white male doctor has been shoed in through the qualification process because, due to his race and gender, he is not subjected to the same kind of critical gaze?

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see both of your points. I can see that if "due to his experience, hard work is rewarded across the board and color, gender etc. do not play into the decision making process", your friend bases his opinion on the fact that his father/grandfather were successful and like monetary success is passed down through the family name, then so is respect and certain priviliges/opportunities.

Even though that's unfair and unmerited, it's just a fact of life... like they say, "it's who you know" that accounts for a majority of peoples' success.

And I see your point... if a government puts down a group of people (purposely or not) they should make an effort to give them a fair chance. I think most reasonable people would agree with that... but I think the problem is that people want a line drawn and the question is, who draws it and where?

It's sad that this country is so racist and that we even had this problem in the first place...

1:50 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"It's sad that this country is so racist and that we even had this problem in the first place."

Apply that to the world, not just the US. This is a universal problem, it just so happens that most countries tend to be more homogenized (or just cover up their problems better) than us.

As the world power (for now), our country not only attracts more attention to itself, but add on the fact that we have a very competitive media (always eager to play on fears and basic, ugly human emotions to make money), a history (that's not so different from the rest of the world) of mistreatment of people who are "different," and you have a lot of factors that draw attention to the US.

So why am I saying this? The US, for all its shit, is just part of the larger problem (humans being humans). Things don't really change - the 20th Century was by far the most horrific, violent century recorded, even with all of the technological advancements we've experienced and the progress we've made. This century doesn't look like it's going to be any better. Compare that with the Pax Romana, and the Roman Empire's long period of peace that extended over a much larger percentage of the human population (where slavery was a part of life, gap between rich and poor was even more ridiculous, and corruption soared towards the end). No Empire or powerful nation has ever escaped the vice of luxury, the most crippling thing imaginable. People can talk all they want about how to "fix" things, but if it comes down to the fact that they are just talking, and aren't doing (which is very common), then it's all for naught anyways.

How do you fix it (the world)? In my mind, you don't. You can apply measures to control it, but then you have the classic debate over freedom v. order. And with globalization and corporations continuing to gain influence, we probably won't have to worry about that for much longer anyhow.

10:22 AM  

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