Dave Makower of Tarrytown, NY asks:
My "question": In light of the existence of systemic racism in the
fabric of our society, what practical alternatives are there to affirmative
action as it is currently conceived and practiced? If we take away affirmative
action (flawed though it may be) then what else have we got?
You ask a difficult question. I believe that affirmative action is
an important tool that has made it possible for us to find qualified
individuals to take advantage of opportunities that hold the hope for
improving individual and societal circumstances. In addition to that
tool, I am a believer in mentoring programs for both the employment
and educational settings. We have identified among some of our Promising
Practices some very fine projects that are essentially mentoring models
that have opened opportunities up for deserving individuals.
William Winter responds:
There is nothing wrong with the basic concept of affirmative action.
We have always recognized and practiced it in some form. The problem
is that it has been too negatively defined in terms of quotas and racial
preferences based on elements like test scores and thus has been reduced
to a numbers game. No one that I know seriously argues about the educational
and economic inequities that lead to a lot of people getting left out.
There thus remains the very obvious problem of how we structure a system
that, without penalizing the privileged and affluent, will permit effective
access by those less fortunate of whatever race or background. If racial
diversity and equity in the schoolroom and the workplace is to be considered
important per se, and I think it must be, we must broaden the concept
of affirmative action to take into account the subjective and circumstantial
factors that will preempt the single consideration of race in this process.
This must also be accompanied by an increased commitment to improve
the educational and social conditions that automatically limit opportunity
for so many black children. [Next