Friday, 30 October 2015

Affirmative Action is Nothing but Negative

A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with a work colleague of mine, who had just obtained her credentials as an Ontario Certified Teacher.  She told me that she was afraid of being passed over for job opportunities as she tries to start her teaching career simply because she is a white female.  I was reminded of this conversation by an article I read a few days ago about a man who claims to have been passed over for promotion at Revenue Canada because he is white (see: White worker says Canada Revenue Agency discriminated against him).  My co-worker's concerns about her job prospects and the allegations mentioned in the article that I have cited both have to do with the same theme: affirmative action.

To make a long story short, affirmative action basically means favoring people from disadvantaged groups, such as visible minorities, women and people with disabilities, when determining, for example, who to hire for a job or who to admit into an institution, like a university or college.  It's a longstanding practice that its proponents say helps people from disadvantaged groups access employment and other opportunities that they would otherwise be denied.  Personally, I find the term affirmative action to be a very ironic name for a practice that I consider to be nothing but negative.

I am actually a member of what affirmative action supporters would call a disadvantaged group, namely people with disabilities.  I won't go into specifics about my disabilities, but I will say that if someone told me that I should get a job simply because I have a disability and not because I'm qualified, I would be insulted.  From my perspective, it's like someone telling me that because I have a disability, I can't get a job based on my own merits.  In fact, I would go further with this analogy and say that affirmative action is an insult to all disadvantaged groups, because those who support and implement the practice are basically telling anyone who is a woman, a visible minority, a disabled person, etc., that they can't get opportunities on their own merits, but only by denying those opportunities to others who are not considered part of any disadvantaged sector of society.  Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the folks who support affirmative action are saying that two wrongs make a right.  In other words, we must fight discrimination against women by discriminating against men. We must fight discrimination against visible minorities by discriminating against white people.  We must fight discrimination against gays by discriminating against heterosexuals.  I don't know about you, but I was brought up to believe that all forms of discrimination are bad.

I am a firm believer in doing whatever we can to help people from disadvantaged groups meet their full potential, but this should not include affirmative action.  Rather, we should give disadvantaged people the help and support that will enable them to get where they want to get by themselves. History shows that individuals and groups of people who we would consider disadvantaged or oppressed went on to achieve great things, not because of some affirmative action policy, but because they rose above the disadvantages and prejudices that plagued them, either by working harder than those who were not disadvantaged, or by finding ways to work around whatever disadvantage or discrimination that they were victims of.  My favorite historic example of this is my own people, the Jews.

Antisemitism is one of the oldest prejudices in human history.  Indeed, ever since the Jewish people came into existence, they have been the victims of discrimination and persecution right up until today.  Nevertheless, the Jews have not fought against the relentless hatred and discrimination that they have constantly suffered from by demanding affirmative action policies.  To the best of my knowledge, no Jews living in a part of the world in which they comprise a minority population have ever demanded that they be given jobs or other opportunities simply because they are Jews.  Instead, Jews worked harder than non-Jews had to in order to achieve what they desired, or they found innovative ways to get around the roadblocks that antisemites put in their way.  So for example, if universities put limits on how many Jews they would admit, Jewish students worked harder than their non-Jewish peers so that universities would accept them.  When hospitals in Toronto would not employ Jewish medical care providers, the Jews of the city created their own hospital, Mt. Sinai.  In fact, I would say that the ability of the Jewish people to combat discrimination through hard work and innovation is one of the reasons why they have historically been disproportionate contributors to human civilization.

But inasmuch as the Jews have a history of being victimized for thousands of years, most proponents of affirmative action would probably not consider them a disadvantaged group.  Ironic, isn't it? Actually, I think it's safe to say that many of the supporters of affirmative action are also the same people who say that Israel is an apartheid state and that Jews are responsible for the oppression and mistreatment of other disadvantaged people.



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