Leveling the Playing Field

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Affirmative-action was a term first used Pres. Kennedy as the result of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  In an article from the National Conference of State legislatures they described affirmative-action as:

“Affirmative action is an outcome of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, intended to provide equal opportunities for members of minority groups and women in education and employment. In 1961, President Kennedy was the first to use the term “affirmative action” in an Executive Order that directed government contractors to take “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” The Executive Order also established the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, now known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).”

After almost 60 years of affirmative-action, how do we measure the success or failure of affirmative-action policies?  Is it appropriate to also consider the impact on other groups who have been potentially negatively affected by affirmative-action?

Is there a point at which affirmative-action programs can actually become discriminatory to poor blacks and the poor of all races as well as middle income families of those citizens not subject to affirmative action programs?

When one looks at the injustices and inequity in our society, one would imagine that the goal of affirmative action would be to level the playing field for those who have been dealt with unfairly while at the same time not disadvantaging those merely trying to get ahead.

In my lifetime I have been very fortunate to have been on both sides of our society meaning those who have done well and those who have not. I started out in a very poor family after our dad passed away leaving our mom with five children and little income.

Our family struggled and due to our faith, a wonderful mom, a memory of a loving dad, and hard work all five of us prevailed and became successful financially.

Those of us born on the wrong side of the tracks struggled to do well and help our children succeed so that our children could experience a better life.  Our parents wanted the American dream for our children and it was attainable.  I am an example.

My children though are but one generation away from what poverty was in our family.  Yet by Affirmative Action standards they are privileged and now denied opportunities that people like me from poor white families fought so hard to earn.

Of late the term “white privilege” has been bantered about in academia, the press, and in select governmental agencies.

The term “white privilege” appears to be the rallying cry of “whites of privilege” rather than a reality of privilege for all whites.  The label discriminates horrifically against poor or middle income of other races who will never know the “white privilege” they are told that they benefit from.

Lower income blacks receive no such deferential treatment either because those blacks who benefit from “restrictions on white privilege” are blacks from wealthier families and not lower income black children.

Affirmative Action after 60 years of the experiment may distract from the real issues of poverty, lack of quality education for poor Americans regardless of race, and lack of economic opportunity!

It seems intuitively obvious that in various stages of our nation’s life people of color were, and in many cases, still are discriminated against. That is not the complete issue though.

The issue has been made that all people who are white are privileged.  That is an absolutely absurd assertion.

For instance, with affirmative action programs former President and Mrs. Obama’s children will qualify as a minority for preferential admission to a university because of race.  If you are white, your children will be denied that same consideration because they are white.

The perception that it is the person’s color that is the only basis of privilege is frequently bantered about in affluent areas where privilege does exist.  In government, affirmative action programs start with the premise that all persons of race are less fortunate than all persons who are white.

If our nation ever hopes to solve the problem of race relations, we must solve the problems of poverty, economic opportunity and access to quality education.   Claiming the issue is just about race, perpetuates poverty, poor educational opportunities and substandard economic opportunities for those who are poor – regardless of race.

For the vast majority of white people in this nation, they are struggling financially and socially as well.  Affirmative action programs which fail to discern the full scope of the problem are doomed to fail.

The real solutions to affirmative action are quality education and economic growth for a vibrant economic future for all citizens.

Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives.  He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel, a CPA and specializes in corporate restructuring.  He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations.  He can be reached at [email protected].