Sunday, January 04, 2015

Affirmative Action Agony

William Rhoden
William Rhoden is a black New York Times sports columnist. In his recent coverage of the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Florida State, he took exception to the conventional portrayal of that battle as “good v. evil,” based upon Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s clean record and a Florida State “shrouded in controversey” (Rhoden’s indirect reference to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s surviving a sexual assault accusation).

Attempting to bury the “Oregon good v. Florida State evil” meme, Rhoden describes in detail Oregon recruiting violations during 2009-12 and the resulting penalties assessed against Oregon. But Rhoden failed to note that Florida State, not Oregon, in 2012 was listed among the 15 most unethical college football programs.

Rhoden then tries to head off any repetition of the “good v. evil” story set-up linked to the upcoming Oregon-Ohio State National Championship game. Such treatment would again cast Mariota with his 3.22 GPA as the hero, taking on Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who Rhoden tells us “became notorious for an unfortunate message on Twitter that questioned the need to go to class when he was at college to play football.”

To Rhoden, we don’t really know what goes on, and
There are no saints and no sinners, just two big-time football programs trying to win a championship. Let’s leave it at that.
On the surface, it’s obvious what Rhoden’s “shades of gray” message is all about. “Evil” Winston and Jones are black, “good” Mariota, though non-white, isn’t, and black Rhoden doesn’t like any such “saints-sinners” portrayal, especially coming from white writers. But it goes deeper.

Affirmative action ruined integration. It has stained the African-American experience. It’s a product of white guilt, which is a bad place to begin, but it’s a bad product imposed upon another culture, on blacks. If you benefit from affirmative action in some form, as does New York Timesman Rhoden, you can never be sure how worthy you actually are.

What you do know is that your identity is black, and being black helped put you in your job. You are bound to your race for life, and your job is wrapped up with the cause of black advancement. Yet you know that advancement came courtesy of them, “the Man,” a largely white government.  And you know that advancement for large numbers of blacks has fallen short, even as other cultures/genders ride affirmative action to move past blacks and even white males.

Still, the only way you know is government programs that uplift blacks, even programs that don’t work, perhaps including affirmative action. You are committed to equal results not equal opportunity, the goal that helped you even as your are confused about how much or how little. You are fiercely opposed to ending affirmative action that could leave many blacks outside, at the bottom, fending for themselves against all others.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There is some evidence that “good intentions” often come from less worthy, selfish motives. “Brown v. the Board of Education” (1954), the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965) moved blacks toward equal opportunity in education, public accommodations, and voting respectively, but did not overnight end the white-black gap. Black consciousness, aroused and noisy in the late 1960s, demanded far more.

Unfortunately, we were at the time involved in the increasingly expensive, all-consuming Vietnam War. No Marshall Plan for black America seemed possible, though billions where thrown at the problem. Government devised the no-cost (in money terms, that is) affirmative action programs as the preferred road to equality. Government thereby deprived an entire culture of the American joy of “making it” under your own power. Blacks advanced based on the color of their skin, along with other cultures/genders that advanced faster.

It’s the mess of which Rhoden cannot let go, even when writing about three non-white football players. In pursuit of integration, we have left blacks separate, unequal, and highly race-conscious.

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