The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, February 26, 1997, Page 5, Image 5

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Leveling the field
senior broadcasting major and a Daily
Nebraskan columnist
“Well , I guess I can trust you, seeing as
how you’re colored,” said the old woman
being wheeled into the operating room.
“Excuse me?” asked her doctor, puzzled.
“Well, everybody knows you probably hat
to work four times as hard to get here as
anybody else.”
“Well ... thank you ... I think,” responded
the doctor, amused.
Did the doctor do a good job? Or is it
possible that the character “old lady going off
to surgery” was wrong and her surgeon was
there based solely on his skin color? Ah, but
the ’60s are behind us—oops, that was just
last week on “Chicago Hope.”
In order to understand what the old lady
meant, let me explain it in Nebraska football
terms: Nebraska is playing Pacific, and in
order to level the playing field, Pacific has
brought in Barry Sanders, Dan Marino and
Jerry Rice.
Now, if that happened, the game would be
a lot more interesting, wouldn’t it, and then
you wouldn’t have to leave during halftime
because you’re so incredibly bored.
Unfortunately, that isn’t how our founding
fathers set things up. To celebrate their
newfound assertion of independence and the
I equality of man, perhaps they chose a fine
cigar—freshly rolled by one of their slaves.
If there were such a thing as equal
opportunity in the United States, we could
save ourselves a lot of money and save the
NAACP a lot of time.
For some, the idea of affirmative action
seems outdated, afler all, slavery ended,
hmm, about 130 years ago. Let’s see, slavery
went on for about four hundred years and
affirmative action has been in place for about
30 years.
Well, that sounds fair, doesn’t it?
Recently, a guy told me he thought
affirmative action was demeaning to women
and minorities. I can’t imagine why I should
feel bad—but if I did, it would at least be
consistent with the American agenda of
blaming the victim.
Complaints that so-and-so “didn’t get the
job because of affirmative action” is crap.
Can we whine a little more? Let’s place the
blame where it really belongs for once—on
the shoulders of bigoted, prejudicial perspec
tives perpetuated by ignorant ancestors,
relatives, parents and teaching methods.
Don’t tell me we don’t need affirmative
action because things have changed and
“nobody thinks like that any more.”
The definition of affirmative action — “a
policy or program for correcting the effects of
discrimination in the employment or educa
tion of members of certain groups, such as
women, or blacks,” according to the
Webster’s New World Dictionary.
Nowhere in the definition will you find
the words “gift,” “handout” or “free ride.”
Affirmative action was implemented to
correct an inherent flaw in our country’s
system of employment and education — to
provide opportunities where there were none.
Is it safe to assume then, that people who
are against affirmative action have found an
effective way to rid themselves of all preju
dice and have discovered a miracle cure for
the institutional racism and lack of cultural
awareness in the United States and are now
prepared to step aside for someone else?
If so, well then, I don’t need affirmative
action to get a job — I just need to work hard
to be the best and the brightest. In that case,
I’m in luck — because that’s what I’ve been
doing all along.
Not a smooth move(ment)
Over the summer I did research in a lab
down at the Beadle Center, and along with
learning more than I ever needed to blow
about photosystem 1,1 discovered subtle
resentment still exists.
I was expressing some doubt about my
qualifications for admission to grad schools
of repute when someone remarked that I need
not worry because of my ethnicity. No
thought was given to this statement until late
that night when I was reading ova* some
grad school apps. Then this person’s state
ment came back.
Don l worry, you ’ll get in because you 're
Asian. What does that mean? Besides the
obvious answer, according to this statement,
admissions committees will stop at the
ethnicity checklist and say, “We must accept
him because he’s Asian: He must have good
scores, blah, blah, blah... ”
Of course that’s not true —just ask my
profs. But there is a preconceived notion that
being a minority will place us in a separate
category. What lies at the root of this prob
lem? Affirmative action. Affirmative action is
a plan designed to correct imbalances in the
work force, student body, etc., that exist
directly as a result of past discrimination.
Technically, a school or business doesn’t
have to undertake these programs, but in
order to follow these guidelines, a policy of
preferential treatment is adopted. A school
might accept only a certain number of
applicants based on the percentage of the
population which is a particular color. Thus,
if whites comprise 60 percent, a school might
limit the number of whites in the student
body to 60 percent. And therein lies the
problem. In order to correct imbalances, the
pendulum has swung too far the other way.
The last three decades or so has shown
that affirmative action has some major
problems. “Oh my,” sane might gasp, “you
don’t support affirmative action? But, but,
but you’re a minority!*’ So what? Affirmative
action and being a minority have no direct
correlation—if one has to support sane
thing that, in an effort to create justice,
causes its own injustice.
Affirmative action is a noble idea, but has
been misguided and tarnished by an uncon
trolled fear of being politically incorrect. If
affirmative action is ever to work, it should
only be applicable at the undergraduate level.
High school students are not created equal —
those coming from poorer sections of the
country are at a disadvantage. For admission
purposes at the undergraduate level, affirma
tive action would help.
But once the student has progressed to
some level of graduate studies or professional
school or is in the work force, affirmative
action should not be used. Diving my time
here at the university, I’ve had the same
opportunity as the thousands of other
students. I certainly am cm the same playing
field. And once I leave this campus, I don’t
expect—nor do I want—to be chosen
based on the color of my skin.
Likewise, affirmative action in the work
force doesn’t work. How do you go about
legislating oyer businesses without impeding
their growth? I’m not advocating that we
allow businesses to run willy-nilly and hire
whomever — ignoring diversity. But with
affirmative action, we end up having pro
grams set aside for minorities. And unfortu
nately this gives unscrupulous companies
room to hire only whites for the rest of the
Proponents of affirmative action generally
contend that, first, affirmative action of the
proactive sort will provide adequate compen
sation, and secondly, that it provides compen
sation better than any other alternative.
Adequate compensation? For whom? Women
and minorities? And are we speaking of
individuals or the collective whole?
Rather than helping the whole minority
population, as a government social program
should, affirmative action polarizes people.
Think about it for a second. Women must
“jockey” for position against other disadvan
taged groups for priority employment or
admissions. Not only does affirmative action
do this, it pits black men against Hispanic
women, Asian women against American
Indian men. This Balkanization hurts the
social fabric more than it helps — and it
often creates a social stigma for those
Two years ago, the University of Califor
nia school system admitted students who
were less qualified over others. (Cali is a test
bed for almost every controversy.) Black,
Hispanic and American Indian applicants
were given more favorable status because
they were underrepresented in the university
system. Whites and Asians were not. So there
was a small number of black students
accepted who were admittedly less qualified.
The majority of blacks were qualified.
However, because of this policy, a feeling
of resentment was created. Some black
students said they felt that others looked at
them as taking a spot from more qualified
students. And these students did excel in
high school — in mathematics, the sciences,
the humanities — but were immediately
lumped in with the less qualified.
Proponents of affirmative action will
rebut, though, that this stigma has nothing to
do with affirmative action — that it is a
simple matter of prejudice. After all, it will
be said, this treatment is not given for a
minority’s entire career — recipients of
affirmative action are still expected to prove
themselves. I agree wholeheartedly.
But the tacit assumption in this argument
is that the ignorance of racism\sexism can be
overcome. So how can affirmative action do
this? That’s the problem. It can’t. If I gain a
position because of my skin color, the racist
in the school or work (dace will never
recognize my merits. The racist will see
affirmative action as letting “another one”
into their system. Them is no justification for
employing one discriminatory act for another
—and that is what this is all about. This
stigmatization benefits no one.
Proponents will say we need to compen
ANTHONY NGUYEN is a senior
biochemistry and philosophy major and the
Daily Nebraskan opinion editor.
sate for the results of past discrimination. I
can’t deny this country’s history of racism
and sexism. But is this type of “compensa
tory” justice really fair? Is it right to punish *
people for the deeds of their ancestors? Can
we in goodconscience say to all white males:
Forget about what you want, your ancestors
were racist?
Affirmative action does not involve
preferential treatment, we might claim. But
doesn’t it? If we are going to implement a
program to correct imbalances, that means
we must actively seek out people who are
generally underrepresented in particular
areas. Sometimes that means less qualified.
In a perfect world, we would all be
colorblind. This is not a perfect world.
Affirmative action may have a noble banner,
but the means to that end certainly aren’t
justified. We don’t want people to judge us on
he color of our skin. So why do we judge
uthers — through affirmative action — bn
the color of theirs?
We want our merits to be our ticket, not a
dan that collectively categorizes us. Those
who favor affirmative action must grapple
with creating injustice, not only for one part
:>f society, but for the whole.