In a way, I prefer the old, overt affirmative action. While it was government-sanctioned discrimination, at least it was, in some measure, more honest than our cultural affirmative action. There is such a thing. It’s when people in the market and media privilege others – sometimes unconsciously – based upon the latter’s identification with a “victim group.”
This phenomenon is what Geraldine Ferraro referred to recently when she addressed Barack Obama’s meteoric political rise and said, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.” Pundits have condemned her for this unfashionable utterance, but it’s no insight. It’s a truth hiding in plain sight.
What do you think Bill Clinton was referring to when he said that he wanted his cabinet to “look like America,” meritocracy or quota orthodoxy? Yet Clinton isn’t alone; he merely gave voice to common practice. Would Condoleezza Rice have been appointed Secretary of State and Joycelyn Elders (the poster girl for AA) Surgeon General if they weren’t black women? Would Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sandra Day O’Connor have ascended to the Supreme Court and Janet Reno been Attorney General if they weren’t female? And, as Ferraro noted herself, she would never have been the 1984 vice-presidential candidate but for her fairer-sex status.
Cultural affirmative action manifests itself in all arenas, not just politics. A perfect example is Michelle Wie, the female golfer who set her sights on tackling the men’s tour. Based mainly on braggadocio and a fawning media bent on portraying her as an Amazon golfer who would teach the boys a lesson or two, she was granted entry into numerous PGA tournaments, even though untold numbers of male golfers were more deserving. Of course, some will point out that she is quite gifted. Others will say that the market spoke.
That is my point.
Sure, Wie is no duffer, just as the other folks I mentioned have their talents; Ginsberg, O’Connor and Reno know how to negotiate the law, Rice and Ferraro understand politics and Elders can provide comic relief. Yet ability wasn’t the factor most relevant to their rise. As for the market, that is precisely the entity that effects cultural affirmative action. People glommed onto Wie at least partially because they believe that breaking down sex barriers is healthy and that her success would have represented another step forward in female/male equality. Cognizant of this “market,” politicians, media outlets, and others know that if their hires and appointees don’t “look like America,” America – or at least its squeakiest wheels – will look at them with suspicion.
As for Obama, I personally know of a white man in Illinois who supports him because, as this fellow put it, “I always wanted to see one [a black man or a woman] in the White House.” Moreover, the idea that his race is an asset is so true that even the scoffers sometimes unwittingly affirm it. Writing at MercuryNews.com, Ruben Navarrette characterized Ferraro’s comments as “bitter, envious and foolish” and wrote,
“As Republican strategist and CNN contributor Leslie Sanchez noted, it takes chutzpah for someone who herself benefited from the politics of gender to accuse someone else of benefiting from the politics of race.”
Note that Sanchez did not say that Ferraro was wrong; she simply implied it was hypocritical for her to level such an accusation. As for Navarrette, his argument seems to be that Obama cannot be benefitting from cultural affirmative action because, after all, Ferraro also benefitted from it. Striking logic, good man. Besides, were this 1984, I can just imagine him spinning like a dervish while claiming that Ferraro’s sex wasn’t the sole reason she garnered the vice-presidential slot.
Yet denial of the obvious isn’t uncommon. I heard both Bill O’Reilly and Dick Morris (whose predictions usually don’t match the reliability of a weather forecast) both dismiss Ferraro’s assertion. How can politics wonks be so blind? Or is it that they will not see?
It depends on the individual. Some people are so imbued with leftist orthodoxy that they interpret everything through the black=oppressed/white=privileged prism and divide their world into victims and victimizers. By their lights, the idea that a social phenomenon could benefit the former is too preposterous to consider.
But then, to paraphrase George Orwell, in every age there is a big, uncomfortable truth that no one dares mention. In many cases, this simply means lying, paying homage to the dogma of the day so as to avoid becoming anathema. Yet in other cases the lie takes a more subtle form.
Discerning an unfashionable truth presents one with a dilemma. He either must profess it, which can mean career destruction and ostracism – being loathed by others – or he can refuse to do so, which, if he is sincere of heart, can mean he will loathe himself. In other words, if he withholds it, he may feel like a phony; worse still, if asked about it, he may feel compelled to lie. The latter especially makes it hard to like yourself.
So many choose a different route: They lie to themselves. It isn’t difficult; all that is necessary is to deny the matter its day in your mind’s court. If you simply refuse to examine all the relevant facts – if you avoid searching for the truth – there is little danger of finding it. It’s that famous human ability known as rationalization.
So perhaps you thought affirmative action was in its death throes, with all the state referenda and court rulings against it. But don’t be surprised, as government-mandated affirmative action is no longer necessary.
We have the cultural variety.
As for me, I don’t care whether or not a team looks like America. I just want it to look like the best.
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