Thursday, October 25, 2012

Affirmative Action Isn’t Discrimination

Earlier this month the Supreme Court once again took up the issue of affirmative-action. Many who have not closely followed the bizarre, soap opera saga that is the Supreme Court and affirmative action may be surprised to know that the Supreme Court is only willing to accept as constitutional affirmative action regimes that cite “diversity” as their raison d'ĂȘtre. This is because in the original Supreme Court decision on the subject four members of the court ruled that affirmative action was unconstitutional and four ruled that affirmative action as it is popularly understood (as a program to address racial injustice) was not. To overcome this stalemate Justice Powell concurred and dissented in part with both factions. He decided that affirmative action meant to address racial injustice was in fact unconstitutional, but it could be constitutional if the program was meant to ensure “diversity.” Of course this meant as liberal thinker Elizabeth Anderson pointed out that affirmative action as it is currently practiced is “divorced from the aims of social justice.” See Elizabeth Anderson. The Imperative of Integration. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pg. 142.

The Supreme Court is constitutionally incapable (pun intended? maybe...) of dealing with structural racism. However, much of the public discourse surrounding affirmative action (including that which is in response to the recent Supreme Court hearing) deals mostly with the traditional issues of racial injustice that affirmative action was designed to address. Because I am merely writing a humble blog and not arguing before the Supreme Court or structuring an affirmative action program for a major university, I am going to ignore the bizarro world of the Court and an actual argument against affirmative action that I frequently hear parroted. 

One of the most common criticisms I hear against affirmative action, including from liberals, is that affirmative action is racial discrimination and racial discrimination is wrong. As Justice Roberts opined  “The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Clearly the sort of insightful legal analysis becoming only of the presiding member of America’s highest court. 

However, people who had advance this claim neglect an important point. Affirmative action isn’t racial discrimination. Racial discrimination happens when affirmative action is not in place. Racial discrimination happens when disproportionately fewer numbers of minority students are admitted into higher educational institutions. When a program is put in place and the demographic make-up of those admitted reflect society at large that is not discrimination, but a counter to actual racial discrimination. 

I would even be willing to concede for the sake of argument that reverse discrimination is in itself a form of discrimination and is thus deplorable. These arguments are fallacious when applied to affirmative action because they fail to understand the nature of affirmative action. While it would be nice to live in a “colorblind” society the simple fact is that Americans do not. If such, widespread, institutional discrimination (check out our prison system for proof of that) exists shouldn’t society at large take it into account? 
If so called “race neutral” or color blind college admissions were really race neutral admissions would reflect the racial make-up of our society. They do not because we do not live in the colorblind society opponents of affirmative action imagine.  Ignoring this fact will not help us to achieve such a society, but instead it will just help to perpetuate widespread, systemic institutional racism. Eliminating affirmative action does not create a “colorblind” admissions process. The argument of reverse discrimination made by opponents taken at face value may appear logical, but they are merely sophisms.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mitt Romney--Mouthpiece for Assad?

      I am not one of those “leftist” who in the name of anti-imperialism embraces whatever dictator the US or its cronies currently has in its sights and turns a blind eye to his crimes against his own people. I am also not one of those who has illusions about American foreign policy having any humanitarian impulses (Long time readers of this blog will recall my first post was a detailed assault on the very notion of “humanitarian intervention”). Unlike some of my comrades I see nothing contradictory between supporting workers, students, and other popular forces against a repressive regime while at the same time opposing any attempts by imperialist forces to intervene. In fact, to me it seems like the only logical position for a socialist to take.
      This is why I am particularly disturbed by remarks both presidential candidates made about Syria. The humanitarian situation in Syria is really very dire. There are certainly popular forces that oppose Assad that have been met with sickening levels of state repression and violence. At the same time, I recognize that the Assad regime has traditionally presented a predicament for American and Israeli foreign policy. I also realize that it is these geopolitical concerns, not the plight of the Syrian people, that motivate US desires for regime change. After all, it is hard for the US to complain of human rights problems in the Middle East after it’s own violent invasion and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s continued use of drones strikes, it’s support for Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid, as well as, its backing of various repressive Arab states. If America wanted to promote human rights in the Middle East it would certainly be a lot easier to start with its own foreign policy before getting itself involved in Syria. 

While both candidates tended to agree on just about everything, Syria no exception, Romney’s crass description of the murder of 30,000 Syrians as an “opportunity” for the US to install a “friendly” and “responsible” government was the most illustrative of the US’s actual designs in Syria.

What particularly troubled me about this comment was how much it plays into the hands of Assad and his apologist. Max Weber when he defined a state as the monopoly on the legitimate force of violence essentially captured what Louis Althusser would partially argue--that state apparatuses could be reduced to two main functions--repression and ideology. As Barara Fields wrote, that while political hegemony ultimately rests on force, “ There is never ultimately enough force to go around, particularly since submission is hardly ever an end in itself...Slaveholders, colonial rulers, prison guards and the Shah’s police have all had occasion to discover that when nothing remains except force, nothing remains—period.”

Assad has attempted to portray the revolt against his autocratic rule as a western plot, a thinly veiled attempt to punish him for being an “independent” leader and install a puppet regime in his place. Given the legacy of colonialism and intervention in the region, one should not dismiss the power of anti-imperialism as a legitimating ideology (one should also never forgot that true opposition to imperialism is a tenant of any socialist word-view and should not be conflated with the cynical attempts of a despot to remain in power). 

By Romney reducing the situation in Syria to a question of “opportunities” for the US he is essentially playing into and legitimating Assad’s ideological narrative. I would question whether Romney understand’s the potential ramifications of his statements, but for that to concern him he would have to actually care about either human rights or the Syrian people--yet another quality Romney shares with Obama.