Not Down With “Affirmative Discrimination”

For the record, I have NEVER at any stage of my professional career filled out an “affirmative action” form or anything that asked me for my ethnic or “racial’ background that I either knew or could figure out was being directed to some kind of consideration of that for me in hiring. I am certain that people figured out that I was Afrikan and I am sure that may have played in some people’s decision-making, but I certainly never sought such consideration and I would never have taken a job anywhere for any salary under any circumstances where it became clear to me that the only reason for my hiring was my ethnicity or supposed “racial’ identity. I DETEST that idea and I myself do not hire on that basis. I neither use “race” or ethnicity to guarantee someone a spot in my pool or to prohibit them from a spot. I move on the basis of the qualifications of the position and where I find people in my own community who do not meet the criteria, the thrust of my work is to try to prepare them to meet it, not to try to rearrange the criteria so we can “grandfather” them in. I believe any Afrikan or any other so-called person of color CAN compete with anyone else in any professional, academic, or vocation process. They simply need the economic and social tools to prepare for that competition. We should focus on making sure that every human being has those tools rather than focusing on trying to engineer some workaround for folks who did not get them, and which allows us to have a perpetual excuse for not providing them.

I am a bit wary of the logic of “chance” that tends to punctuate the philosophies of most Eurocentric hiring systems. Because the idea of “chance” reveals you think or know there is a vulnerability in the skill set of the applicant. Instead, mentor and train the people from populations you want to include and then make sure that when they apply, that the processes give them a fair hearing and they will become part of the organization as a matter of course. Not as “chances”, but as totally and equally legitimate applicants. As a scholar I have written on this as the fatal flaw of the logic of well-intentioned affirmative action programs where the focus was not on improving the skills sets of people to make them existentially eligible for the positions available but on trying to figure out how we could get those who did not meet the certain skill sets into the process despite that. That was necessarily going to lead to unnecessary stigmatization, tokenization, and backlash and it has.

I just think if the logic of hiring is based on some people meeting the actual criteria and other people not meeting it but being given a “chance”, you set up a scenario where those who get the ”chance” are forever in a vise. If they fail, it becomes a confirmation of what happens when you give an “undeserved” chance. If they succeed, their success is attributed perpetually to the chance given and not to their abilities. My alternative is that if we build and commit ourselves to processes that qualify people for the positions we plan to hire in the first place, we don’t have to always take “chances”.


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