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Affirmative Action Myths

THE latest myth in intergroup relations claims that the opponents of affirmative action are all "angry white men," though there are clearly millions of un-angry people - male, female, gay, white, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, and, yes, black - who simply believe that affirmative action is or can be unfair, violates individual rights, and threatens national unity.

It is much like the days of forced school busing when anyone - black or white - who questioned it was labeled a racist, while those who supported it quietly kept their kids in suburban private or public schools, or sent them to religious ones.

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So now, a super-inflated, double-standard morality is at work, wherein fervent supporters of affirmative action and proportional representation want others to endure what they and their offspring are not willing to. For example, one has yet to see a white politician, business executive, academic, or newspaper reporter offer to surrender his or her position to some unemployed black, woman, or gay person.

What better and nobler way is there to prove one's integrity than by practicing what one preaches or teaches?

If a group's underrepresentation in a given field is a sign of its being - or having been - discriminated against, and if a group's overrepresentation is a sign of its being preferred, why has no major black or feminist leader called for a freeze or downsizing of their presence in job categories where their percentage is greater than that of the nation, such as with the postal service, social workers, elementary school teachers, and professional sports?

Black supporters are not the only ones silent about overrepresentation. Why don't pro-affirmative action Irish, Protestant, Jewish, Greek, Armenian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, or West Indian leaders advocate restrictions on their overrepresentation in politics, banks, universities, or businesses?

Instead, those who question or oppose any form of affirmative action and proportional representation are labeled reactionaries and bigots. If black, they are called traitors. True, the lot of the dissenter has never been a happy one, but the number of dissenters is growing, even in the black community.

Professor Shelby Steele faulted the lowering of standards to increase black representation in various arenas of society because it "puts blacks at war with an expanded realm of debilitating doubt, so that the doubt itself becomes an unrecognized preoccupation that undermines their ability to perform, especially in integrated situations."

Professor Walter E. Williams said the problems that black students face in college stem from poor academic preparation. Continually "focusing on affirmative-action programs at the college level," he says, "while ignoring the massive educational fraud taking place at the primary and secondary schools blacks attend, means that campus problems will exist in perpetuity."

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Syndicated columnist William Raspberry charged that African-Americans "expend precious resources, time, energy, imagination and political capital searching, always successfully, for evidence of racism, while our problems grow worse ... It is clear that recently arrived Asian Americans spend none of their time proving that white people don't love them."

Favoring equal opportunity and urging self-help does not mean undermining the pressing need for increased state or federal aid in education, housing, health, and employment. That aid, however, should be available to all Americans who need it regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sex.

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