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« The Dysfunction of the American Black culture | Main | Insurance Reform is Needed »

A Matter of Class


When most of us think of affirmative action, we think of it as a race issue. However, it is not a race issue it is one of Class. I intend to show it as such in this writing. Most of the fanfare surrounding affirmative action focuses on black people trying to use it as a means to find equality in the work place and on college campuses. However, we ignore the fact that women and other minorities seek the same opportunity 


The white Male has long enjoyed a strong toehold on best education and jobs this country has to offer. He got his head start when women and blacks where constitutionally nonexistent. He had unrestricted access to the American dream and shared it with his family.


A woman of the time could aspire to marry well if she wanted to improve her lot in life. We taught our little girls to cook, clean, sew, and raise children in preparation for her life as a homemaker. We taught or boys to want to be policeman, fireman, and bankers so that they can provide for their families. Going to college used to be a great way for a smart woman to find a husband with a great future.


Blacks on the other hand where deliberately kept from certain jobs. Positions that could elevate a black person's socioeconomic status where few and far in-between. This was a world in which a Negro could not eat in the same dinner, or drink from the same fountain as a white person in a large part of the country. However, whether in the north or south the white male had preference when it came to jobs. If he worked hard and saved his money, he could send his sons to college thereby raising the future status of his family.


The civil-rights movement, led especially by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the late 1950s and 60s, and the executive leadership provided by President Lyndon B. Johnson, encouraged the passage of the most comprehensive civil-rights legislation to date, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibited discrimination for reason of color, race, religion, or national origin in places of public accommodation covered by interstate commerce, i.e., restaurants, hotels, motels, and theaters. Besides dealing with the desegregation of public schools, the act, in Title VII, forbade discrimination in employment. Title VII also prohibited discrimination based on sex.


In the 1960s, women began to organize around the issue of their civil rights. By the early 1970s, over 40 states had passed equal pay laws. In 1972, the Senate passed an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) intended to prohibit all discrimination based on sex, but after failing to win ratification in a sufficient number of states, the ERA was abandoned.


Most major businesses began to comply with these laws immediately hiring women and minorities. These new hires where at the bottom of the seniority list for promotions. In addition, faced a glass ceiling keeping senior executive positions out of reach. Then there was the good old boys network, they play golf and go to exclusive clubs together. They hire each other's sons and brothersinlaws, and give each other's companies juicy contracts.


The white male takes the loins share of premium jobs. If a jobs, pay rate is low and the work is hard, degrading, or risky the white male will be a minority on that job. I once worked for a company that did hospital laundry. The job paid just a little more than minimum wage. It was not physically demanding but the first thing you had to get use to was the stench of feces, urine and hospital antiseptic. For new hires, the job entailed the opening and sorting of packages of soiled hospital laundry. This was at a time when the Aids epidemic was a staple on the nightly news. We where given aprons and gloves to protect us from bodily fluids. Nevertheless, it seemed as if a large part of the crew always had a cold. The majority of the workers there where black women, there was two white males on the job, the owner and a truck driver. I was only there for about two months I left for a job that paid less but the working conditions where much more pleasant.


A few years later, I went to work at the Dunlap tire plant for a subcontractor. In order to cut union labor cost Dunlap outsourced its maintenance duties to Buffalo Industrial Maintenance co. I drove a forklift truck in the plant at a pay rate of $7.00 an hour. In the plant at the same time where other forklift operators who did the same thing but worked directly for Dunlap at a pay rate of $16.00 an hour. We each just moved objects from point a to point b. Women and minorities made up less than 15% of the Dunlap workforce, by contrast women and minorities made up over 90% of the Buffalo Industrial Maintenance workforce.


Only in situations where they are the commodity do minorities seem to enjoy a level playing field. In the world of sports, for example the player is an essential component of the end product, which makes it an unwise move to discriminate if your competition does not. You can see this clearly in sports like basketball, football, baseball, or track and field events.  Because your performance is measured by the points, you make or how high or how fast you are blacks get a major portion of the pie. However, in gymnastics or sport dancing where judges determine who wins blacks do not fair so well. Imagine if a Hank Aaron hit could have judged for style, attitude and perfect arc as it went into the grandstands and it would be up to the judges as to how many bases he would earn.


Affirmative action was devised to level the playing field, and allow women and minorities access to desirable jobs. Affirmative action calls for minorities and women to be given special consideration in employment, education and contracting decisions.


Institutions with affirmative action policies generally set goals and timetables for increased diversity -- and use recruitment, set-asides and preference as ways of achieving those goals.


In its modern form, affirmative action can call for an admissions officer faced with two similarly qualified applicants to choose the minority over the white, or for a manager to recruit and hire a qualified woman for a job instead of a man. Affirmative action decisions are generally not supposed to be based on quotas, nor are they supposed to give any preference to unqualified candidates. In addition, they are not supposed to harm anyone through "reverse discrimination."


The debate over affirmative action takes on a particularly bitter tenor in the trenches. "Angry white men" blame affirmative action for robbing them of promotions and other opportunities. Moreover, while many minorities and women support affirmative action, a growing number say its benefits are no longer worth its side effect: the perception that their success is unearned.



Judging simply by the results, the playing field would appear to be still tilted very much in favor of white men. Overall, minorities and women are in vastly lower paying jobs and still face active discrimination in some sectors.

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