I’ve had an important milestone. Approximately half of my dating experience has been in multicultural relationships.
What exactly does that mean, you ask? Multiracial? No, multicultural. See, my current girlfriend hails originally from Germany and Luxembourg, and her family is originally from The Democratic Republic of Congo. The relationship is riddled with potential obstacles, but it’s completely worth the while. Though she’s been in the United States for a while, a few discerning eyes can tell when there are cultural difference between my American experience and her multi-country one.
As such, she comes to me when she has questions about the Black American experience. One day, she asked me how I felt about a particular topic. “Pierce, many Black Americans people I’ve conversed with claim Africans in the United States take spaces allotted by affirmative action to Black Americans into college.
I couldn’t have thought of a touchier topic. Pan-Africanist discourse in the American community would have you think that the relationship between African immigrants and enslaved ancestors are agreeable. This, unfortunately, is far from the case.
Africans see Black Americans at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole in the United States, and are likely to believe the superficial stereotypes that the dominant discourse would have them believe. The newly naturalized Africans have little chance to give Black Americans the benefit of the doubt, because they rarely learn the background of American society and the destructive impact it’s had on the black community.
On the other side of the coin, Black Americans fall victim to another pervasive discourse: the homogenization of the African continent. Subtle and blatant remarks about Africa’s backwardness, its war-torn countries, its struggles with debt, disease, and poverty, all rise to the top. As a result, separate Black cultures fail to break down stereotypical barriers, and friction ensues. Mind you, that was an extremely abridged version; a full explanation of the intensely complex relationship relationship would take up encyclopedias. But, people need a background.
Let’s bring it back to school. The background of the affirmative action is to ‘intended to provide equal opportunities for members of minority groups and women in education and employment.’ First instilled by President Kennedy in 1961, it required that government employers ‘not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin.’ In fact, there are hundreds of links, articles, research publications, and off-the-record conversations which happen every day about the need and efficiency of affirmative action. So, I won’t discuss it further.
One argument by Black Americans is stated here: the laws were meant for Americans who are the sons and daughters of race-based discrimination. Black Americans come from difficult socioeconomic and historically based experiences in the United States. Because such Africans don’t experience such parochial racism, so why should they be the benefactors of the policy?
The last thing I consider myself is a law and policy expert, but a few things just felt dicey. My girlfriend brings up exceptionally important points, as did I, which strike down their points in tandem.
1) First, a certain argument hinges upon the idea of affirmative action: that you, as an individual, were done wrong solely because your university of choice chose you over a different minority. Universities all take into account different and widely varying criteria, and race is only one of many. The idea that one person’s acceptance was taken away solely because of a group of other individuals is just a bit self-centered. What happened to the other members who got in who fit the same demographic? Was the main variable race, or something else? Many times, the only ones who know are the admissions committee, and the prospective student can rarely pick out race as the main variable.
2) “Oppression Olympics” doesn’t get us anywhere. This competition, again, is the argument that certain problems are worth more than others, and people should be shamed for worrying about one over the other. If we want to, in fact, we can play this game. Many Africans have to enter the extremely difficult United States lottery to become an immigrant; only 55,000 are made available to the entire immigrant community. But that’s not the beginning of it, however. My girlfriend’s country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has experienced horrible exploitation, which continues to impact the country today. You won’t get very far by guilting the Congolese into this Olympics game.
But why does ‘Oppression Olympics’ get us nowhere? It’s like a reverse version of the blame game: it leaves the players the same way they were before: exasperated, with misplaced anger, and with no solutions.
3) Our energy can be placed elsewhere. Let us establish that this argument is the literal definition of ‘crabs in a barrel.’ Although anecdotal storytelling of ‘lost admissions’ and twenty four hour media frenzies have turned affirmative action into a completely different beast, a different question must be asked about affirmative action. Obviously, our experiences are more complex than our race, but race is tied to said experience throughout the world. Don’t blame the benefactors of the policy, blame the policymakers for failing the update the cracks in the policy.
That being said, in the 21st century, should affirmative action policies policies be used as band-aids of the past, for the sake of academic reparations, or as but for the purposes of increasing diversity?
My opinion of affirmative action is that it is wonderful in ideal, more than necessary in our country, but badly implemented. Again, I am not an affirmative action scholar, but what I do know is that for all its grandiose promise, the law has been codified many times into quotas. Our systems, which are hegemonically governed by the need to quantify everything, have truly botched it up. How many more points should one get for being Native American, or Black, or Hispanic? Can you see how horrible a question that is? Besides, the failures of the admissions systems are usually expressed through qualitative data, i.e. anecdotal stories. There’s a mismatch here, of evaluation and of implementation.
I say we go further. Diversity is deeper than the social construct of race, but is deeply involved in it, and to the system to which we are inextricably tied. Race impacts our social environment, and impacts us subconsciously. Moreover, diversity should be used in all its definitions: through race, gender, class, experience, background, and through merit. All these things contribute to our lives today, so it makes no sense to tie admissions to dated forms of diversity.
What will this look like? I have no idea. I do know, however, it will take more thought, more cross-cultural conversation, and less bickering.
Try it out sometime. A cross-cultural relationship might do you some good.