Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A New Approach To Affirmative Action

Affirmative action has sparked heated debate. On one side it is asked why those born today should pay for the sins of yesteryear. On the other side, proponents of affirmative action point to the perks enjoyed by the wealthy, from the "good old boy network" to fast tracked university admissions for children of generous university donors.

I feel that there is truth to both sides of the argument. It should be possible to harmonise both viewpoints. I have ideas how this could be done.

America is revered in much of the world as a place of upward mobility. There are opportunities to transcend class and economic limitations. Immigrants who come from countries with entrenched class structure can and do make skillful use of this potential.

When a person is hired for a job or admitted to a university, it is not a reward but a recognition of potential. Usually, grades and other objective standards can be used to ascertain this. Sometimes, there are people who don't have the grades to prove themselves, but can show other life experiences that prove them worthy of consideration. My aunt was orphaned at a young age and had to drop out of school to raise younger siblings. Had she chosen to go back to school, the disciplined and selfless way she lived her life could be considered grounds to give her a chance to prove herself in a seat in a university or an entry level position with growth potential. There are many such living examples all across America.

There are different types of poverty and adversity. There is economic poverty that can be measured in dollars and cents. There is social poverty that can be proven with divorce papers or the single status of one's parents. A person who was in long term psychiatric care or bounced around in foster care certainly can point to problems in life that they overcame.

I feel that there should be affirmative action based on a score card measuring the adversity a person has suffered. It should be a helping hand to people who are already helping themselves . If scorecard criteria were used to measure an "adversity quotient", many members of minority groups who already qualify for affirmative action slots would qualify under the "A.Q." system as well. In addition, poor people and kids in foster care who are not members of minority groups would also receive recognition for the struggles of their lives. Those who suffered traumatic life experiences such as the murder or imprisonment of a family member could also have their experiences taken into account. Conversely, an African American or a Hispanic who comes from a wealthy, two parent family would not benefit from any affirmative action set aside, due to other avenues open to them

Anyone who has ever gotten a job because they know someone realises that there are all kinds of breaks out there. There are plenty of sharp, good kids in lacklustre schools who have shining potential. If affirmative action is discontinued, it could make their struggles considerably more difficult. If, however, affirmative action is redefined in a manner that is not based on race, fair minded people of good will who now oppose affirmative action could be moved to support it as an extension of America's commitment to upward mobility.

Despite the heated debate about affirmative action, a national consensus could easily be created through creative thinking. True concern for the welfare of all Americans should lead to a creative approach to affirmative action that would pass muster across the political spectrum. America is not alone in the family of nations in having ethnic and social divisions. Many countries have done far worse than us in the area of ethnic strife. America is watched closely by the rest of the world. If we can set a successful example in dealing with our problems, other countries will follow suit. The peace we create in our own country will create a ripple effect. Our greatest resource as a people is our people. Accordingly, we should treat each other with respect and compassion.

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