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August 04, 2008

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honestly, that's why i'm pretty much ready to shift to a class/income-based affirmative action policy. i

I really don't have a problem with that. I'm a little curious why it doesn't get more traction.

I think what is often overlooked in these conversations is the difference between racist people and institutional racism.

It's one thing to note there are immature people who treat other people poorly for whatever reason is at hand. It's quite another to map that experience on institutions and society.

Affirmative action fails because it avoids the real problem: finding abusive people in institutions and neutralizing their ability to hurt other people.

Many problems in the world are simply the result of lazy oversight/management.

Prove that these are not environmental, and I'll take this argument far more seriously.

Your invitation to prove a negative is declined.

No, they and you just benefited all your lives from the privilege of being perceived as "white."

I'm certainly not arguing otherwise, except for possibly hairsplitting between "advantaged" and "not actively disadvantaged".

To address Nombrilisme Vide's environmental notions, I grew up beginning in rather abject poverty. My father couldn't hold a job to save his life, or ours, and consequently we had to turn to the church and some rather generous neighbors (and, sometimes, even our landlord) for food. And there was hunting and fishing, which my dad grew up knowing how to do.

I wasn't exactly nurtured; I was the middle child of six, and the spread in years from oldest to youngest was six years. My parents were, to understate things a bit, not ideal. We weren't abused, we just weren't loved and encouraged as my children are. My dad was blessed with some smarts, although not much in the way of commonsense realization that one had to keep a job, even if one didn't happen to like it much, in order to feed one's numerous offspring. Probably that's common. Neither my father nor my mother completed a college education until well after we were grown up and out of the house.

My father's parents were, I think, where the blessings came from. Specifically, my grandmother (whom I've written about on my long-lost blog), who encouraged my dad to not waste an above-average mind. The admonishments were not well heeded, but he did come with a library, and so we always had stuff to read. Mostly I was self-directed, though, and didn't tap into the family library much.

All of which is fairly beside any point, but I felt it was necessary to discuss a little how my particular background wasn't exactly a fertile environment for young minds to grow in. My parents did little to encourage reading, and really didn't do much to push us through school, other than to get a little bent out of shape should any of our grades fall below C level.

I am, though, aware of my own good fortune in life. I've had something to do with my good fortune, though. Quite a lot, actually. I couldn't say what I might have made of myself had my skin been several shades darker, though. There still would have been the public library, but some of the other things would have been missing. For one, there just weren't a whole lot of black swimmers back in my time in high school, and that would have been more of a break from convention than being a white swimmer was. Swimming was what got me hooked into the college I went to (no scholarship, but I was able to get a dorm room rather late in the process), and strongly shaped my life and self-esteem in high school.

I'm not all that sure that I'm actively disagreeing with any of you, just noting that sometimes the life of white privelege isn't all that it's cracked up to be. And, granted, all else being the same with me, it would have been quite a bit more difficult if I'd had a permanently deeper tan.

I don't disagree with what you say here, but I feel compelled to nitpick for the sake of my rhetorical good name:

Prove that these are not environmental, and I'll take this argument far more seriously.

Your invitation to prove a negative is declined.

If things can only be one color, and one is asked to prove something isn't blue, all one must do is prove that it is any other color. Admittedly, what I was referring to probably shouldn't be construed as being strictly monochromatic, but I wasn't thinking in such terms at the time, and pretty much meant "not primarily blue". But that was my fault for imprecision, and in any case it's unimportant nitpicking at this point. The challenge was made in good faith, is all.

"I'm not all that sure that I'm actively disagreeing with any of you, just noting that sometimes the life of white privelege isn't all that it's cracked up to be."

I don't think anyone has or would argue that all "white" folk have an easy or good or rich life. Obviously lots don't. The point is that no matter how bad the pale-skinned folks' lives are, they're spared a bunch of additional crap that some (not all) other folks aren't. That some folks have some privileges that others don't doesn't mean that the ones with those privileges won't have lots of other problems to deal with. They probably do. That's all.

"And, granted, all else being the same with me, it would have been quite a bit more difficult if I'd had a permanently deeper tan."

Yes, that's all. And women have a lot of crap to deal with that men don't. Etc.

The challenge was made in good faith, is all.

Sorry that the terseness of my response looked like a claim of bad-faith argument. It wasn't my intention. All I intended to do is point out that it's very, very difficult to prove that any given effect is not environmental, because that pretty much requires the isolation of environmental effects from everything else.

And, again: the burden of proof is not on me, because it was never my claim that none of my advantages are environmental. Still, I think that I've done a decent job of testifying that they aren't.

I'm not a big believer in putting any weight to that kind of thing, though. There's not much science in it, and even less objectivity.

Odd, how we got here. I think it's because whenever we get into this sort of discussion, it's pointed out that I enjoy some sort of advantage or other, as if that means anything at all about the general relative advantages of whites over blacks. As if I typify white people.

Well, Slarti, have you studied them much?

Also!

I lurk here most of the time, but I find this whole discussion fascinating. I'm black, female and I grew up poor, so I guess that puts me in the trifecta. I think Affirmative Action is a flawed policy in some ways, but meaningful in others. Quotas are useless and hurtful, but that doesn't mean that minorities don't need more help than whites. I'd like to see a shift towards economic Affirmative Action, with an emphasis on race. Being poor is always tough, but being poor and black or poor and Latino is really hard.

I earned my way into a top boarding school and then a top university, but that never stopped my classmates from assuming that I had displaced someone worthier at first blush. If one of my classmates called me an "Oreo," which happened more often than you'd think, I couldn't be aggressive back, for fear of igniting a "racism" argument (or being the "angry black girl"). I felt uneasy walking with my white friends in Boston, as I was stared at or just plain ignored walking down Newberry St. A friend recently visited me in NY, white and redheaded. Whenever people needed directions, they turned to her first. She was from Canada and had practically negative knowledge of NYC geography. In one case, I began giving directions and the people never actually looked at me; they kept their eyes on her, as if she was a ventriliquist and I her dummy. If I didn't fit certain stereotypes, then I wasn't really black...

I think the discussion has to turn to how different it is being a minority, no matter how successful or smart or thoughtful you are. When you're treated rudely at a store, is it because the cashier is obnoxious, or because she "doesn't like the look of you"? If you see ads extolling the virtue of the "American family" does anyone in that ad look like you? Look like your family? All three national news anchors are white, despite the excellence of some minority journalists at their own networks (Brian Williams over Lester Holt, for example). Rarely are minority journalists given chunks of time on any of those networks (cable excepted). When people say "CEO" or "President" or "American," what type of people are they envisioning? If a white person decries racism, does it mean more, is it more valid than a Hispanic saying the same? These seem like little things, but over a lifetime, they build up. Acknowledging that poverty is hard, but it gets a lot harder when people assume that you're dumb and illiterate too just because you have a certain amount of melanin...well, it could be the end of quotas at least, if not the beginning of comprehensive Affirmative Action reform.

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