White Privilege and Affirmative Action White Privilege essay

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White Privilege and Affirmative Action

White Privilege

Some people believe that the color of a person's skin matters a great deal in this world, that this racial marker determines the opportunities and potential successes that a person may have in their lifetime. Many people, particularly those who belong to historically marginalized groups such as African-Americans, Native Americans, or Hispanics, believe that being Caucasian or white guarantees an individual certain rights and privileges which are not awarded to minorities. In the essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," author Peggy McIntosh explains that white privilege is the process by which white people are given an unspoken and often unrealized advantage over their minority counterparts simply because they are not from a minority group (1989). This system serves to hinder the availability of the American Dream to all members of the population because instead of everyone being granted a fair deal from the outset, there are groups who appear to have more power within the society than other groups.

White privilege is an invisible system wherein the ability and advantage which is bestowed upon Caucasian people that they are largely unaware of. The specific instances that McIntosh sites are such a part of daily life that we do not even notice that we are granted an advantage because of our complexion. Some of the things, like the examples regarding feeling safe and unified amongst people who look like you, or seeing people who look like you on television or in films is something we do not realize as being a gift because it is simply what we expect to see. A white person will never be able to understand what it is like to look through a history text and learn of Founding Fathers and be unable to relate their own experiences with your own because that is not your heritage. They will never be able to experience life through the eyes of someone who is not white and cannot understand how that ethnicity benefits someone. Therefore, this privilege is an invisible one because it exists even though it is intangible and unperceived.

It is hard to pinpoint an instance of white privilege which has been witnessed because if it does exist then it is decidedly engrained into the psyche and thus hard to enumerate. One period of this privilege that does come to mind was an occasion where I was witness to a car accident. It was not an injury accident but the cars were both highly damaged, one car had gone through a stop sign and hit the other. As a witness to the event, I stopped and waited for the police to arrive so that I could give my statement. When the officer arrived, both parties had already been shouting at one another, blaming the other person for the accident. The two drivers happened to be a white man and an Asian woman. The event happened quickly and, in reality both drivers were at least somewhat responsible. The Asian woman performed a very brief stop and then drove across the intersection while the other car did not stop at all. The officer, when he arrived heard both drivers but seemed to give more attention and concern to the white, male driver while at the same time appearing more harsh and contentious with the female. At the time I did not give this much consideration but now I cannot help but wonder if either the gender or the ethnicity led the officer to decided nearly instantaneously that the Asian woman was the more culpable.

People of the social strata argue over the validity of white privilege and whether or not it exists at all. At first, it is dismissed as archaic and a reversal of established prejudicial beliefs. However, upon closer examination it seems that there is a privilege that exists with relation to the white race. In all the little situations in life which are not even perceived by the conscious mind, white people are heavily advantaged in comparison to their minority population counterparts.

Part II: Affirmative Action

In an ideal world, people would be granted positions and power based on whether or not that individual was qualified for a given job. This type of society, called a meritocracy, is one in which the power is only granted to those who deserve or merit it. Unfortunately, the real world is hardly a meritocracy. Instead, history is riddled with instances where race and ethnicity have determined how a given population of people has been treated by the rest of their society. Since the time long before the Civil War and up until the passage of the Civil Rights Amendment of the 1960s, it was legal to treat African-Americans and other minorities as unequal from Caucasian people. First they were slaves and then they were second-class citizens who faced crime and abuse at all levels of their society. Even after the Civil Right Amendment passed there were still reported cases of minorities being treated unfairly because of their ethnicity and thus Affirmative Action was created. The intent of Affirmative Action was to redress disparate impact in the present historical moment by giving preference to those who are qualified but are underrepresented.

There are three distinct forms of Affirmative Action. These include: affirmative mobilization, affirmative fairness, and affirmative preference. The first deals with the group's ability to become socially mobile and to advance socially where they had not before been able to do so. The second refers to conditions wherein those in authority make sure that hiring practices are done fairly and that negative biases do not prevent minorities from employment or admission to higher education. The final form, affirmative preference, deals with a characteristic within the minority group which will be taken into account when they are applying for benefits or grants of some type. It is this third component which has led to the most controversy over Affirmative Action.

According to Drachman et al. (2008), "Colleges have given three main justifications for affirmative action policies that would aid certain minority applicants, especially African-Americans and Hispanics: to compensate for long-standing practices of discrimination; to achieve diversity of the student body; and to overcome 'underrepresentation' of historically disadvantaged groups" (47). From this perspective, the practice of Affirmative Action was a legal movement which allowed for employers and schools to hire and admit a certain quota of minorities to ensure diversity and to make up for past instances when they were largely mistreated. This interpretation of Affirmative Action as a quota system was found to be unconstitutional and on this basis, the practice itself was devalued and labeled biased and allowing people special consideration based on race or ethnicity was declared prejudicial. Those in opposition of the law pointed to incidences wherein highly qualified men and women who were Caucasian were denied employment or admission to certain jobs and institutions despite the fact that they had higher test scores or a higher grade point average than some of the people who were accepted.

In the essay "A Negative Vote on Affirmative Action," author Shelby Steele misidentifies the reasons why Affirmative Action exists and the importance that it has for those who have been underprivileged. She says that she has mixed feelings about racial profiling and the way in which society wants her to label herself and consequently her children as well. Steele misunderstands Affirmative Action as a gift and as restitution. She writes, "[Affirmative Action] is reformist and corrective, even repentant and redemptive…In our society affirmative action is, among other things, a testament to white good will and to black power" (2003). Steele misinterprets this process as exactly what it is not. What Affirmative Action is not is a form of institutionalized reparation. Certain people who were descendants of enslaved African-Americans received reparation…[continue]

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