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Perpetuating Racism Through Affirmative Action

By Garrett A. Price iii

IF I were a racist, I could not conceive a more efficient manner, in the long run, of keeping Blacks impoverished than by maintaining the current system of welfare and affirmative action. And, indeed, if I were a racist, I could not be happier with the results.

Two decades after the enactment of "correctional" legislation--civil rights, affirmative action and welfare--Blacks are worse off than they were before. Unemployment, percentage on public assistance, unwed mothers and dropout rates among Blacks are all up, passing 1960s levels.

Welfare and affirmative action programs are effective ruses masking the true solution to the problem: equality of opportunity. Many observers are asking themselves how Blacks, who make up 75 percent of all welfare recipients, could have taken such a large step backwards given the billions of taxpayer dollars pumped into the cornucopia of programs grouped under welfare, not to mention the preferential treatment of affirmative action.

The simple answer is that the notion of preferential treatment for Blacks is an illusion. Affirmative action is a poor substitute for true equality of opportunity; without it, quotas, set asides and welface create nothing but false conceptions of preferential treatment, reverse discrimination and resentment among those taxed to support such programs.

Affirmative action's damage to Black assimilation--notwithstanding the principles it violates--is in large part caused by the conception it creates. America likes to think of itself as a meritocracy, where hard work and talent are the only characteristics upon which social advancement is based.

Prior to desegregation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Blacks themselves claimed a meritocracy was all they expected from society--an equal chance. Affirmative action in many ways matches many of the pre-1960s policies: it systematically rewards some and discriminates against others on the basis of race.

In a society supposedly made of equal citizens, how can a program designed to reach that goal claim that the life positions of Blacks (and women) are more important, more worthy of advancement than others, specifically white males.

The net result of such programs, combined with Black demand for them, is a conservative backlash. These policies have fostered the idea that Blacks will eternally require more preferential treatment (i.e. are innately inferior) and that Blacks will never develop the work ethic of American political culture, among other of its aspects. In the workplace and the university, affirmative action leaves the nagging suspicion among all involved that Blacks are taking the place of more qualified whites.

Justification for preferential treatment is highly problematic. One argument asserts that 400 years of enslavement entitles Blacks today to societal advantages, similar to the damages awarded to Japanese-Americans interred during World War II.

It must be noted that only those who were actually interred received compensation, so, since no American Black alive today was enslaved, none can rightly claim damages on behalf of those who were.

To say these programs are justified because there are whites alive today who have benefited from past Black enslavement is equally problematic since affirmative action programs do not distinguish between the rich white from the Deep South and the poor white from Alaska.

On the reverse side, affirmative action does not differentiate among Blacks whose life prospects have not been affected by slavery. Sons and daughters of wealthy Blacks benefit just as well as poor inner-city youths. The proper role of affirmative action is to seek out qualified minorities actively and promote them when they are indeed best suited for the positions in question.

WHERE affirmative action suffers in principle, welfare suffers in practice. There is no doubt that any civilized society is responsible for the welfare of its citizens. And here is the true task of welfare--to make sure that its recipients and the children of recipients are guaranteed equal opportunity.

Here too is where it fails miserably. Welfare amounts to free money, a completely un-American free lunch. When the money is gone, nothing has changed. Welfare does not require its recipients to go to school or acquire job training. Nor does it provide incentives for limiting the size of aid-dependant families. Welfare's structure, in fact, encourages people who cannot feed their current family to add more aiddependant children to the public dole.

Welfare should be structured so as to encourage aid-dependent persons to become self-sufficient citizens, for both adults and youths to obtain vocational and educational instruction which would free them from the cycle of poverty.

But without some kind of child care system, such programs would be infeasible for women. Without improving the public education system, society is doomed to produce generations of citizens incapable of taking an active part in society. The fact is that, without such key elements, welfare does much more harm than good.

Equality of opportuntiy at its most basic level--a uniform education system that does not abandon any of its charges and a Justice Department that enforces the legislation it is sworn to uphold--is what is required.

Americans should not accept the current unjust and impractical scheme that divides our society, wastes billions of taxpayers' dollars, perpetuates the existence of a permanent underclass and masquerades as advancing the best interests of minorities and society as a whole.

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