Melissa Harris-Perry has, once again, delivered the most cogent, most articulate, and most impassioned thoughts on a "hot-button" topic in this week's episode: affirmative action. In response to the Fisher v U of Texas Supreme Court case (ah, white girls make the best pawn for conservative causes) as well as to Justice Clarence Thomas's eagerness to shoot down affirmative action, MHP explains that "devaluing the accomplishments of black people is not a legacy of affirmative action; it is a legacy of racism."
It is awfully presumptuous of the Pretty White Pawn to think that "her" place—one that, surely she must realize, she had the potentially of achieving because as a woman she benefits from affirmative action too—was "taken" specifically by a person of color. There are thousands of undergrad spots at a monster-university like UofT, and not one of them says "insert black person here" on it. The Pretty White Pawn doesn't seem to understand a lot of things, including that college admissions (or lack thereof) is never a personal attack; her failure to win a spot in the matriculating class of that year was not an effect of a direct, malicious action toward her. Like I tell my ethics students, riffing off Nietzsche: "good" actions and effects will always have "bad" effects—it was "good" to you to have won a place in your matriculating class, but, as a result, someone else was not accepted into university. The "good" effect for you had a "bad" effect on someone else, but this direct effect was not an intentional action to harm another. With finite resources in the world, some people will always have more, while others will have less.
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race, and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
Affirmative Action makes a lot of people uncomfortable: for people of color, says LZ Granderson in a recent CNN.com piece, "their skills and talents are constantly being slighted by whites who think their jobs were given to them solely because of their race." For white people, affirmative action is a constant reminder of an embarrassing past, of slavery, of inequality, of brutality. Racism, to recall MHP, needs to be challenged and confounded over—not years or decades—but generations. We can't run from the racism that is embedded in the very foundation of our nation; affirmative action is the most minor attempt to "repair" the past.