Over the last couple of weeks, one might get the impression that the actions of Advocates for Conservative Thought are tantamount to the end of affirmative action, that what they did is so heinous that those participating in it should be exiled to Siberia. I even heard this whole thing described as a “slap in the face.” Actually, a slap in the face might be appropriate to knock some of you into reality. Whether affirmative action is right or wrong is not something that will be ironed out here. My intention with this column is to address the reactions and rhetoric of the opponents of ACT.
What I find most distressing in all this is the unique opportunity that has been missed. Instead of responding with the dignity that you feel ACT has lacked, the argument degenerated into the tone that it always does – name-calling.
True to form, the word “racist” has already been slung about ad nauseum, unfortunate more for the lack of creativity in intellectual thought behind its excessive use, than for the fact that those of you who throw this word about haven’t got a clue as to what it actually means. And no, it’s not something that only afflicts white people. A racist comes in many forms and colors, as history demonstrates.
Certainly, I can understand the knee-jerk reaction of being insulted by cupcakes sold at different prices based upon race, but if ire had remained restrained one might have seen the metaphorical point that was trying to be made, regardless of one’s eventual agreement or disagreement with that point. The fact is, in many areas of our society there are different standards for people based on race. One would have to be a fool not to understand this. Whether it is the African American or Hispanic person victimized by predatory lending practices or a white or Asian student subjected to stricter entrance standards to a law school, discriminatory practices exist.
On an intellectual level, if we’re going to say that a practice that discriminates is wrong then we must agree that it is wrong for everyone, regardless of who benefits from it. The point of the cupcake price differential was to illustrate this in a shocking and provocative way. Instead of seeing that for what it was and countering it with an eloquent argument, UM’s undisputed king of the purveyance of shameless self-promotion utilized the most sound bite-worthy portion of a four-paged email to whip people up into a frenzy, and all before cupcake No. 1 was even in the oven. SG Vice President Clark at least made an attempt at stating a case in favor of affirmative action, half-assed though it was.
On the other hand, the counter-bake sale and subsequent protest, while being dignified expressions of freedom of speech, didn’t really answer ACT’s challenge honestly because those behind it think affirmative action doesn’t have anything to do with race. Oh, really? Then why are all of you so defensive about it?
To say affirmative action has nothing to do with race and that it doesn’t discriminate is absurd, even if you think that such discrimination was necessary to set right a wrong that is inherent in American history.
I would be the last person to deny that something drastic needed to be done 40 years ago, and maybe in the short-term affirmative action was the answer. But when does it end and when will we know? Judging by the attitudes of some, it never will and we never will. To ACT’s credit, at least they asked the question – that’s more than anyone else can say.
Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.