EVAN: So last week I asked people on Facebook what they wanted us to talk about, and the answer that got the most votes was affirmative action. This is a pretty broad topic, but thinking about it in the past couple of days I have at least a few possible directions to go with it. But before we do that, a definition-
GORDON: Well, that eternal fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia sets affirmative action down as:
“policies that take factors including ‘race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin’ into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group ‘in areas of employment, education, and business’, usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.”
Though of course, we’re probably more familiar with it in regards to racial or gender quotas for certain businesses.
EVAN: Right, like hiring a minority to make some sort of company quota-
GORDON: Ironically, despite the outcry against this particular aspect of affirmative action, it isn’t actually legal in the US to set quotas for any race.
EVAN: Which I did not know. But it happens, of course.
GORDON: That it does. That quota being typically “100% white.”
EVAN: I meant more along the lines of the executive minority training program featured in Season 6 of The Office.
GORDON: That too. “Token” minority hiring.
EVAN: And Gabe’s childish delight at pulling in someone who wasn’t black [Kelly], like all of the other entries were.
GORDON: It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.
EVAN: It’s all good.
GORDON: Let’s get right down to it here- affirmative action is still a contentious practice, but let’s face it, now more than ever it’s demonstrative of inherent bias in the system.
EVAN: As someone who doesn’t keep up with the news as often as he should, the most recent event I can recall that featured this was the rioting that was happening in Paris.
GORDON: Go on…
EVAN: Oh man, I was really hoping you’d remember. But it was a minority group rioting, and the way they solved it all was that employers had to hire people from this group, and pay them regardless of how well/hard they worked.
GORDON: Ergh- it’s France. These are the same people who nearly elected a neo-Nazi to be prime minister, and and have massive racial bigotry issues- just look at their expulsion of the Roma.
I’d hesitate before using them as an example- let’s bring the issue a little closer to home. Take America, for example.
EVAN: Well, your home.
GORDON: We have a workforce completely and utter disproportionate to the population. Even as the white population diminishes, the vast majority of administrative jobs are held by white males.
It’s like what I brought up in my article on TLC.
EVAN: Misrepresentation of an entire population, yeah?
EVAN: So that’s America, but where does affirmative action come into it, are you saying it’s needed?
GORDON: I’m saying that it isn’t working. If affirmative action was meant to end hiring and promotional discrimination on the basis of race and gender, it’s utterly failed, and the proof of that is everywhere around us.
EVAN: Well, you know more about the States than I do, especially with you saying that it’s illegal. Are there any affirmative action movements than you can bring up at all?
GORDON: The only major issue I can recall in the past couple years was a lawsuit brought against Walmart.
EVAN: Go on.
GORDON: Back in 2007, a gender discrimination lawsuit (Walmart v. Dukes) was filed, with a massive number of women citing that despite nearly two-thirds of Walmart employees being women, only a third of management was female- and that’s to say nothing of other charges against Walmart’s routine exploitation of its female employees.
A court (tragically) ruled that the various individuals suing didn’t have quite enough in common to constitute being a “class”, so the case was more or less thrown out.
EVAN: Their sharing a gender not withstanding?
GORDON: Welcome to America.
EVAN: Moving on to something I may know a little more about, affirmative action is a term that comes up quite a lot in regards to Native Americans, or what we in Canada refer to as “First Nations.”
EVAN: There’re reservations, of course, land that belongs [is given] to said people. I’ve heard many times friends saying that they were 1/16 such and such, and would be able to “claim land.” Also the fact that gambling is legal on such properties, which I still don’t fully understand.
GORDON: The issue of native rights is an entirely different topic- something we oughta cover, but not quite in this post.
EVAN: I’m just saying that I think it ties directly into what we’re discussing. This is all stuff that’s “usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.”
GORDON: Granted. One could make an argument for lumping together reparations and affirmative action, but affirmative action is really strictly defined as pertaining to admissions- into either a university or the workplace.
How IS that in Canada, anyways? You got management proportionate to your population makeup?
EVAN: I am not sure. Let me check.
Well, I can confidently say that our minority population is 16%, though this excludes First Nations. Taking them into account, they add 4%, making a solid 20% of our population being nonwhite.
GORDON: Okay. So in your experience, is one in five Canadian manages/execs/bosses/administrators/etc. from a minority group?
EVAN: I’d say that in Toronto, at least, you’re as likely to see a white person as a non-white person. Depending on the neighborhood, you may find it difficult to see more than a handful of Caucasians.
GORDON: But in management…
EVAN: Right. I’m not exactly in a lot of offices… So I don’t know if I can comment on that.
GORDON: Gun to your head…
EVAN: I want to say 1/5 are probably minorities. Which matches up with the statistics I mentioned.
GORDON: Ah, good.
EVAN: I’m a little perturbed that you put a gun to my head in this post.
Before any of the readers jump down my throat, I know am I’m looking at the problem from a white-liberal viewpoint. Simple fact of the matter is, college is expensive (don’t I know it… **** you Evan, and your ridiculously great government benefits), and the small, wealthy majority in US is (overwhelmingly) white. Someone might make an argument for qualifications being required over race, but that’s exactly where affirmative action is SUPPOSED to come in.
It’s meant to help even the playing field, but it just doesn’t- again, look around.
EVAN: Qualifications required over race and affirmative action. Could you explain that further?
GORDON: Imagine you’re an employer. And imagine this we’re not living some depression-era-hellscape where you’re asking that an entry level employee have five to ten years of experience.
EVAN: . . . I’m listening. This is a dreamworld you’re painting.
GORDON: You have to fill a position, and there are two candidates- a white guy with a college degree, and a black guy without one (again, college is ****ing expensive). Who do you give the job to?
EVAN: The qualified one. The white guy.
GORDON: And imagine you need this position filled again the next year. And the next and the next, and you keep getting the same basic candidates. Who do you pick?
EVAN: Obviously whoever can do the job better. But where is affirmative action, like you said, supposed to come in?
GORDON: The people with jobs get money, the people with money send their kids to college, and so on. Affirmative action is meant to make sure that people aren’t discriminated against on the basis of their race, so that two equally qualified people stand an equal chance of getting in.
It’s like trying to back-paddle in the middle of a maelstrom.
EVAN: Ah, I see what you’re getting at. But what about minority scholarships?
GORDON: Even there, there’s an issue. Poor schools don’t get good funding, they tend to produce students who aren’t as prepared as their wealthier peers, and even bright ones who would otherwise school their peers wind up doing worse on tests. Unless you’re exceptionally gifted…
Again, it’s trying to apply a band-aid to an open wound.
EVAN: One more simile, for the road. Our time’s just about wrapped up.
GORDON: It all boils down to this- there is a need for equity and equality in the workplace- a desperate need. But affirmative action is like using a toothpick to fight dragons [emphasis added]- its the wrong tool of the job, and even if it was appropriate for the situation, it’s still not very effective…
EVAN: Join us next week, where hopefully I know more about what we’re talking about, when we discuss-