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Wednesday, 09 August 2017 07:02

The Right Doesn't Oppose Affirmative Action -- for Themselves

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Escalator1 0809wrpGoing up? (Photo: Degi Hari)Since 1980, the rich have gotten much richer. The top 1 percent earn an average annual income of $1.3 million, which is collectively more than 20 percent of all income, 40 times what the bottom 90 percent earn, and 81 times what the bottom 50 percent earn. Even worse, the top 0.1 percent earn 198 times the income of the bottom 90 percent.

For decades, as the left increasingly protested this obscene inequality, the right shut them down by accusing them of stoking "class warfare" and promoting communistic "redistribution of wealth." Equality of opportunity, they always said, does not guarantee equality of results. In a capitalist system, people more or less get what they deserve. If they choose to work hard, they'll make more; if they choose to be lazy, they'll make less. So stop begrudging the top 1 percent their millions and billions. They just worked -- and still work -- a lot harder than the bottom 99 percent.

There are at least two flaws in this ideology. First is the right's notion that wealth is a reliable result and indicator of merit. While many people are born into wealth, many more people are born into poverty. Likewise, while many lazy, less talented people make high incomes, many more hardworking, highly talented people have to work several low-wage jobs just to get by. What supposed "self-made men" fail to realize is just how significant a role luck played in their -- and everybody else's -- lives.

The second flaw in right-wing capitalist ideology is the assumption that the US is a maximally fair society -- a true meritocracy -- where everybody genuinely has equal opportunity. This is simply not the case -- and even Republican voters know it. But instead of blaming the real "takers" -- that is, big corporations and plutocrats like the Koch brothers who have used their vast fortunes to manipulate politicians into "rigging" the legal and financial systems in their favor -- they have picked two much more convenient and vulnerable targets: people of color and immigrants. Hence Republican voters' enthusiasm for Trump's promises to restrict immigration and for the Justice Department's recently announced plan to crack down on "reverse discrimination" against white applicants to colleges and universities.

The notion that people of color and immigrants are taking from whites what is "rightfully theirs" presupposes a hierarchy of entitlement. White Republicans assume that they are ahead of both groups in line for the "American Dream" because they have been working hard and playing by the rules. The implication, of course, is that people of color and immigrants have not been working hard or playing by the rules.

Actually, most Black Americans have also been playing by the rules and working just as hard, if not much harder. But as a group, they've still been left behind -- much further behind than whites -- largely because they were systematically deprived of accumulated and inherited wealth for hundreds of years. Most immigrants suffered a similar deprivation in their native countries, which is one of the main reasons why they emigrated here in the first place.

This monumental economic obstacle on top of still-festering racism -- conscious, unconscious and institutional -- in housing, hiring, education and the criminal legal system clearly discredits Republicans' assumption that we all, finally, have equal opportunity.

We don't. And this is why affirmative action is essential. It helps level the playing field -- just as did the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Indeed, as unfair as circumstances still are, just imagine how much worse they would have been had affirmative action never been implemented -- and repeatedly approved by the Supreme Court. And yet the right has vigorously opposed this attempt to redress past and present injustice all along. For them, any racial discrimination -- for or against non-whites -- is both morally and legally wrong. Instead, true equality requires that we end race-based preferences in college and university admissions. As Chief Justice Roberts put it, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Unfortunately, this "colorblind" approach would only further entrench white privilege, only perpetuate and exacerbate rather than resolve the vast disparities -- in wealth, opportunities and political power -- between white Americans and people of color. After all, white people in the US have been enjoying an affirmative action "program" -- initially de jure, eventually de facto -- since the late 17th century. So there would now be nothing to offset this grossly unfair racial advantage if we suddenly ended affirmative action for people of color.

Lest anyone doubt that white privilege still exists, just consider Jared Kushner. Not only did his father-in-law thrust him into a powerful, prestigious administrative position for which he is completely unqualified; he also needed his wealthy father (and two US Senators) to help him get into Harvard and later into New York City's highly competitive real-estate market. And yet the right wing doesn't question any of this. Instead, they question the fairness of Harvard Law School admitting Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (Obama) back in the 1980s.

The reason that the right condemns only affirmative action for people of color, not affirmative action for whites, is because they have fallen for the Republican Party's Big Lie, which is more euphemistically known as their "Southern Strategy." Since the late 1960s, when President Lyndon B. Johnson managed to push through long-overdue civil rights legislation, the Republican Party and eventually its propaganda arm -- primarily Fox News and Rush Limbaugh -- convinced their followers that "liberal, big government" has been insidiously shifting all their power and resources toward people of color.

As it turns out, they're actually half-right. The government has indeed been complicit in stealing power and resources away from tens of millions of people. But the recipients of these stolen goods are not people of color. Rather, they are the rich white demagogues -- including President Trump himself -- who keep scapegoating them.

Ken Levy's Twitter handle is @tardigrade18.