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Band-Aid solution
Affirmative action does not confront the larger problem of racism

June 25, 2003
The Iranian

The Supreme Court issued two rulings in the UM undergrad and law school affirmative action cases. I awaited the rulings with some apprehension given the conservative bent of the Court and the current political climate. George W. Bush (via Solicitor General Ted Olson) actually filed his brief calling for the affirmative action to be ruled unconstitutional on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The implications of this case were huge. I saw it as equal opportunity in education coming under attack. As a progressive person but especially as an teacher, I've always seen education as the greatest opportunity we have to improve our own lives as well as better our communities, and to advance our society toward a more just future.

Unfortunately, education is not yet a social priority in this country the way it ought to be. While we have lots of talk and lofty goals, we have very little in the way of a cohesive and just educational program that should be expected of such an advanced industrialized country.

The Bush Administration, exhausted from creating wars, is at best 'vague' when it comes to articulating its position on education. I have taught in the Jersey City Public Schools for 3 years now, and all I know about the No Child Left Behind Act is that it will simply place the bulk of blame on the teachers for low scores and increase the frequency with which we assault our schools with standardized tests.

Perhaps I'm still in the dark, but I have heard nothing in the way of increased and improved funding for social and extracurricular programs we are so deperate for in our schools. Indeed, with massive tax cuts, Orwellian security measures, and military spending dwarfing all other aspects of our budget, how can we afford to improve our schools and communities?

It's interesting that there has been very little assistance from the government, yet punitive measures have been well in place for poor-performing schools (poor on biased standardized tests) that threaten already inadequate funding. This policy of penalizing our under resourced K-12 schools, and then holding them accountable to a high standard without giving them adequate help is an exercise in self-deception and failure.

It exacerbates a well-defined gap between have and have nots in this country, again pushing us back toward a formal two-tiered society and actually creates the need for affirmative action programs. Ultimately, this is a policy which stems largely from the strong and vibrant legacy of racism in the US.

And though affirmative action was created in order to redress those who suffered and were systematically excluded from opportunity, it is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution until we confront the larger problem of racism in this country, which will not go away until we take drastic measures to equalize our society. Things like quality schools teaching a multi-perspective curriculum, health care for all, social services, and urban renewal projects, to name a few.

Really, I don't want affirmative action around forever. I'd prefer for everyone to have the same access to opportunities that traditionally have been available to only an elite minority. That access can only come with a serious commitment and investment in our public school system, both in developing new, critical curriculum that challenges set notions of race and history, and by improving our communities.

But unless we stop militarizing and pursuing war as casually as some do sex, for the pride of conquest, we will not have the funds to create an egalitarian society that will make affirmative action obselete. It's that simple.

The Supreme Court wrote it hopes in 25 years race is no longer a consideration for furthering the interest of diversity at our universities. Me too. To that, I say when being Black or Latino or female or anyone else not associated with the dominant culture (in my case, Iranian and Middle Eastern) doesn't immediately conjure up inferiority, stereotypes, suspicion, fear or any of the ugliness that it does today, we will have reached that point. Until then, leave the Band-Aid on.

I happened across this cartoon today reading the Detroit Free Press. I liked it because it shows how little Americans know about what is going in their own country, or their inability to stop being an individual all the time and care for the people they share their lives and cities with. Enjoy...

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By Roozbeh Shirazi




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