Steele, Shelby Essay, Research Paper
Shelby Steele is opposed to affirmative action (as it exists today) based on the two premises, that it hurts the people it is trying to help and avoids fixing the problems that hinder blacks and other minorities to this day. He believes that affirmative action in itself is a bad policy. The hurtful effect that affirmative action instills is a psychological one.
Affirmative action was unleashed in the sixties, largely due to the guilt whites felt from the mistakes of their ancestors and black people s demands for more power, which they did deserve. The problem is the way it [affirmative action] leaps over the hard business of developing a formerly oppressed people to the point where they can achieve proportionate representation on their own (given equal opportunity) and goes straight to proportionate representation (Steele 115). The confusion that he feels exists is the difference between racial representation and racial development. Black students entering a school like the University of California at Santa Barbara (hypothetically) that were admitted as a result of affirmative action may not be prepared for the level of work and competition. Combining the fact that after a full six years in college only 26 percent of black students graduate and that black students are five times more likely to drop out than white ones, it is not difficult to believe that black students are less prepared.
What effect does this preferential treatment for blacks have on their psyche? It is a policy of lowering the normal standards to increase black representation. When affirmative action is a factor it increases their own self-doubt and brings with it feelings of inferiority to whites. It just adds to centuries of the idea that blacks are of lesser value. Logically, blacks may know that whites have had more opportunities and are better prepared. Not because of intelligence but because whites are generally a more affluent part of society with more advantages. That this is one explanation for the situation they are in and share with other minorities. At the same time, when they compare themselves to white students, the feelings of inferiority may outweigh the logical explanation. Steele believes that the present state of affirmative action is a gesture out of guilt with nothing but good intentions that have the power to corrupt blacks. It is a way of saying that racial preferences can do for us [blacks] what we cannot do for ourselves (Steele 119). Minorities are encouraged to do less than they need because affirmative action will pick up the slack. It is taking a step back if you can only attain power when someone else has to give it to you. Preferential treatment, no matter how it is justified in the light of day, subjects blacks to a midnight of self-doubt, and so often transforms their advantage into a revolving door (Steele 118).
It can also increase racial tensions as well on a campus. While admission through the affirmative action policy would be confidential, whites, and possibly Asians, might think less of blacks and even resent them. No one likes to have to work harder and better than another to attain the same ends.
In the work place the harm that can come out of affirmative action is not only psychological but also economical. When applying for a job, your credentials would be more questionable. When affirmative action is used as a basis for an individuals hiring, it creates a two-tiered population consisting of preferreds and the unpreferreds. Blacks are assumed to have made it to their position because of affirmative action, not competence; whites are assumed to have made it to their position because of their competence. Because of this implied superiority/inferiority situation, the blacks will not make it passed a certain level, the glass ceiling. This ceiling is a point where there is a shift in emphasis from color to perceived competency. Although racial preferences are a protection of subtle discrimination, they contribute to it. This preferred status becomes a handicap, companies need to know that the people in certain positions earned their way to responsibility. Realize that other minorities and women share these circumstances.
The gap between whit and black is larger than it was in the seventies. Policies to ensure blacks equal opportunity are important, but what we [blacks] need more is development that will let us take advantage of society s efforts to include us (Steele 116). Steele does not disagree with the concept of affirmative action but how it exists today. He would like it to go back to a system designed to enforce equal opportunity, to abolish racial preferences. This is the sort of affirmative action that America owes to blacks and to itself. It goes after the evil of discrimination itself, while preferences only sidestep the evil and grant entitlement to its presumed victims (Steele 124). Steele promotes helping poor and disadvantaged children as a solution. Providing better elementary schools, secondary schools and safer neighborhood, as well as better financial aid resources for those same citizens. The best thing that could come of that are blacks helping themselves and whites eradicating discrimination and helping the disadvantaged develop (Steele 125).
I agree with Steele on all accounts. While the form of affirmative action using preferences has no doubt helped some individuals, there is no proof that it has on any large scale. The amount of black students in Universities (at the time of the essay) outnumbered the amount of black adults in jail. With the dropout rates already mentioned, it is clear that affirmative action has not been implemented effectively. Preferential treatment was designed to correct imbalances based on the assumptions that they indicate discrimination, steps were not taken to prove that discrimination was the entire problem. Affirmative action then took the shape of social engineering in order to represent ethnicity proportional to population in society. People proclaimed this was what diversity was. Preferential treatment once again brought race back into the limelight as a major factor in succeeding in society. The very thing that we were all trying move past as a species. I would propose a vast restructure of the nations infrastructure as far as taxation, education, and law enforcement in order to better guide and protect the poor and disadvantaged.