Monday, September 1, 2008

ironically resent affirmative action

It's been rumored that Senator Obama did not include his race on his application to Harvard Law School, but it's probable that at least a few of his classmates would have assumed that his place came to him because he was, in the words of Stephen L. Carter's book title, an affirmative-action baby. That's another weight that successful black Americans carry, the suspicion that they got to wherever they've gone because of special pleadings. Of course there is also affirmative action for well-to-do whites, from legacy college admissions to the old boys' club of hiring and connections. Somehow this is never thought to be the same.

--Anna Quindlen,
"The Caucasian Card"

Among the four leading candidates in America’s upcoming general election, two are considered “history making,” merely because of who they happen to be in biological terms—Barack Obama because he’s not white and Sarah Palin because she’s a woman. Although they share minority status in the political realm, and despite the fact that Palin is the directly hand-picked selection, Obama is much more likely to be thought of and labeled, and thus denigrated, as an “affirmative action candidate.” This is because so many white people naively associate affirmative action with black people, even though the majority of its recipients have been and are white.

In fact, the primary beneficiaries of preferential programs in America have been white women, resulting in the irony of white women repeatedly voting against affirmative action when it appears as a ballot issue. They often do so because they think of it as a black thing, but in the process, they're actually voting against their own interests.

As Luke Harris, a political science professor at Vassar College puts it, “If you look at who voted against affirmative action in the states, you will see that it is mainly White women. That is odd because studies have consistently shown that White women are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action.”

John McCain clearly selected Sarah Palin instead of other, more qualified candidates largely because she’s a woman. As Jeff Fecke points out, “Palin isn’t ready for the vice presidency. And she wouldn’t have been selected if she was Steve Palin, radical anti-choice first-term governor of Alaska.”

In her first speech as a presumptive vice presidential nominee, Palin herself tacitly acknowledged the glaring significance of her gynecological assets.

“It was rightly noted in Denver that Hillary made 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America,” Palin said. “It turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

As anyone who’s been paying attention to the election knows, McCain and his people partly chose Palin to mollify the more hardline Christian Republicans, in the hopes that they’ll overlook their anti-feminist beliefs to vote for a woman, because she believes that creationism should be taught in public schools, and that abortion is the wrong choice in nearly all circumstances.

But they also chose Palin because she’s a woman, hoping to draw away lingering Hillary Clinton supporters, who might be so stuck on electing a woman that they’ll ignore this one’s anti-feminist views (this is an especially cynical ploy that does not, to the apparent credit of the PUMAs, seem to be working). Palin is also young and conventionally attractive, qualities that might liven up the Republican ticket and add to McCain’s reputation as a “maverick” who makes sudden, surprising, gut-inspired choices. Oh, and Palin also owns guns, kills wild animals, and eats them.

So aside from her gender, what’s not to like about Palin as a vice presidential candidate for ordinary red-blooded Republican voters? Well, her appalling lack of relevant knowledge and experience, first and foremost. The lack, that is, of the kinds of qualifications that black affirmative action recipients supposedly lack. This is the perceived lack that keeps a lot of white people away from black doctors and lawyers, and that also makes them hesitate if the pilot waving to them as they board an airplane is black.

As I noted in another post (where I also included this YouTube moment with “Family Guy’s” irresistible Stewie), whites who avoid black professionals are actually depriving themselves of better services. Because black professionals are acutely aware of such common white suspicions and fears about themselves, they tend to respond by perfecting their capabilities and qualifications as much as they can.

Nevertheless, whites usually think that affirmative action’s primary purpose and outcome are the unfair promotion of unqualified black people. Thus, a further white irony is that while Obama has been repeatedly considered and even directly labeled an “affirmative action candidate,” far fewer white people are likely to attach that label to Sarah Palin, who was much more obviously chosen, or hired, as it were, for her minority status as a woman.

So as the campaign season “shifts into high gear,” you might watch to see whether Obama or Palin receives the label or implication of “affirmative action candidate” more often, in both the corporate media and the minds and mouths of ordinary white Americans. I’d bet that because of this common, delusional white tendency to think of affirmative action as a black thing, the label and/or concept will be attached far more often to Obama, even though the concept's negative connotations are a far better fit for Palin.


  1. You said, "Sarah Palin, who was much more obviously chosen, or hired, as it were, for her minority status as a woman," i.e., you are saying that Palin was hired because of affirmative action. However, Palin may have been hired for a reason other than affirmative action. In your DailyKos link which quoted a CNN poll:

    "Do you agree or disagree with the following statements?"

    "John McCain chose Sarah Palin because he felt the time had come to nominate a woman."

    Agree 43
    Disagree 56

    "John McCain chose Sarah Palin because he thought having a woman on the ticket would help him get elected."

    Agree 75
    Disagree 25

    Most people do not think that Palin was chosen because of affirmative action for women; most people think that she was chosen because McCain thought it would help him get elected. This is just majority opinion and majority opinion in no way indicates truth, but I quoted the poll questions to illustrate that these two concepts are different.

    From your link, I can see why Palin is less qualified than Tom Ridge, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee, but why is she less qualified than Kay Bailey Hutchison, Joe Lieberman, and Rob Portman? I don't know that much about U.S. government, so I need a bit more explanation. Are the experiences of being a senator or congressman more relevant to being V.P. than being a mayor and first-time governor?

  2. I have a friend, who is a black American man, who is in his early 70s. He went to, graduated from, Colgate University. He told me that there are whites who have asked him, have had the gall to ask him, if he got into that prestigious school through affirmative action. Now, my friend went to Colgate many, many decades before affirmative action was even an idea in someone's (I think it was President Nixon?) head. It just goes to show you how racism and stupidity [about American history] walk hand-in-hand.

  3. Thanks for this well written post.

    I really do think that McCain had other options worth choosing over Sarah Palin, someone like Carly Fiorina, for example.

    The stats on affirmative action's beneficiaries was also enlightening...

    I really do think that Sarah Palin's not ready. She's no doubt very smart, calculating and driven (PTA -> Governor in less than 3 yrs? Outstanding!), but if your only claim to "foreign policy experience" is that you're the one person who lives so freakin' close to Russia, then ... I don't get it!

    I put together a little something on this here:

    Also, I found this new Onion vid on youtube:

    Please keep up the great work!

  4. I am so glad someone put it out there, that this was affirmative action. Plain and simple.

    But, hey, the next 60 days should be exciting!

  5. Wow. What a thought-provoking post and excellently written. I wish there was a documentary on it or at reprinted in a major paper.

    Also, Macon, thank you for alerting me to Amy Goodman's Sept 1 Democracy Now interview. I used the link on my post today,
    From Tiananmen Square to RNC Protests & Beyond

  6. I find it less than amusing that many, MANY, of the companies I deal with in my line of work, are ran by politically ant-affirmative action men, while the companies are usually registered in said man's WIFE's name, to allow them to bid on "minority" contracts.

    Still, have to hear why its people like Barack's fault thier kid didn't get into the school they wanted.

  7. I've tried to lay out some more facts about affirmative action here in my blog:

    Also, this assumption that successful black people only get there by affirmative action, not because of merit, is based on racism itself. Cause the collary (I think is the word), is that without affirmative action, black people could not become successful based on merit alone.

    So, here're some hard truths for anti-affirmative action folks:
    1 - black people still work twice as hard and as Macon pointed out, can often be twice as good

    2 - if you were denied some spot that was give to a black person, perhaps you didn't have the requisite merit.

  8. Very nice. I think a lot of whites know that being annoyed at affirmative action is racist, but they are not always aware that they participate in it themselves. Thanks for making such a good point.

  9. Restructure, I'm not saying, first of all, that Palin was even "hired" (note the phrase after it, "as it were"); I chose that word because it evokes hiring situations where affirmative action policies are often in use. Second, I'm not saying that Palin was selected because of affirmative action (nor that it's the only reason she was selected)--there is no actual affirmative action policy at work in McCain's choice of her. I'm saying instead that because Palin's status as a woman is clearly a primary reason that she was chosen, and because she was chosen despite being so inexperienced and thus unqualified, the charge of "affirmative action candidate," and the negative connotations implicit in that charge, are more suitable for her than they are for Obama (and so I'm also saying that despite these things about her, because whites so often associate affirmative action with black people, the phrase will very likely not be used for her as much as it has been, and perhaps still will be, for Obama).

    I'm also not saying that there were no other reasons besides Palin's gender for her selection. As I noted in the post, McCain also chose her for her appeal to Christian fundamentalists, and I'm sure other factors played a part as well.

    Your quoted polling statistics don't seem relevant to me in regards to the issue you took with my post's claims. 56% of respondents in the first poll seem to see through McCain's choice of a woman as something that he did, as the 75% in the other poll say, to help him get elected, rather than something he did because he thought it was the right thing to do toward correcting the absence of women in the highest American political positions. That doesn't seem to invalidate my claim that the mere fact that she's a woman played a large part in McCain's decision to select her, instead of one of the many far more qualified Republican politicians, both female and male.

    Finally, you asked, "Are the experiences of being a senator or congressman more relevant to being V.P. than being a mayor and first-time governor?" Yes they are, because like the vice presidency to which she now aspires, they're at the federal rather than the state level.

  10. So, who's watching the RNC? Who watched Rudy "9/11" Giuliani last night?

    Who heard Giuliani say: "A few years later, he [Senator Barack Obama] ran for the U.S. Senate. He won and has spent most of his time as a "celebrity senator." No leadership or major legislation to speak of. His rise is remarkable in its own right - it's the kind of thing that could happen only in America." Then, who heard the crowd chuckle?

    Was this an ironic, inside joke that expressed white resentment of affirmative action to those in the know?

    Transcript and video of Giuliani's speech:

  11. Nice catch, Ortho. I did hear Rudy last night, and Sarah, but not much else of the convention (every single time I've tuned in so far, another speaker is reverentially detailing the heroic sufferings forty years ago of St. John).

    Racial resentment over affirmative action may well have contributed to that overwhelmingly white crowd's chuckle over Rudy's insinuations about Obama's "rise." In fact, I'm not sure there's much else that would account for the chuckle.

  12. when will the day come when such a large selection of white americans stop pretending that white privilege doesn't help to ensure their hegemony?

    Of course Sarah Palin is an AA pick and that CNN poll means nothing because

    SWEET JESUS when are people going to stop being afraid of their truth?


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