Affirmative action has been part of our social and political landscape for over fifty years now, ever since JFK signed an executive order in 1961 that called for “affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Four years later, President Johnson took it even further when he stated:
Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American…In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope…But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. 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…This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result…To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough.ADVERTISEMENT
So here we are, trudging through another presidential election cycle, and as always, Republicans have begun to talk about the inequality of affirmative action. They call it “preferential treatment.” They inspire students to sue colleges over it. They claim that it’s no longer necessary in an America willing to elect a black president. They say that the United States can never be a country based on equality as long as we continue to offer a leg up to a part of our population. They’re right!
At least they’re right about one thing. Our country will never be looked at as a land of equal opportunity as long as we need to level the playing field for those of us who have been historically disenfranchised. However, that is not the same thing as no longer needing affirmative action.
Go into any major U.S. city with a large minority population, then find and walk through the worse neighborhoods in that city, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Just because we have a black president does not mean all things are now equal.
On the contrary, a recent report by the hate watchdog group, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) shows that the number of hate groups in the U.S. is still growing, and have been since 2000. We are still incarcerating more and more people, except in states stretched thin by overcrowding, and 70% of inmates are nonwhite. And while whites make up the total majority of welfare recipients, minorities, especially blacks, receive benefits disproportional to their total percentage of population. If you believe the bullshit coming from the mouths of GOP presidential wannabes like Gingrich and Santorum, blacks are the only ones on welfare.
Anyway, it’s been fifty years. Everything’s cool now, right? And if all things aren’t equal, yet, than that just goes to show that affirmative action is a failed experiment that needs to end. Maybe niggers & spics just can never measure up to whites, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.
That may very well have been true if the haters hadn’t been fighting against it so hard for all that time. For every step we’ve taken up the ladder, opponents have tried to hold us back, if not tried to knock the ladder over, altogether. And proponents haven’t helped much. For decades, their solution was to just throw money at us. My mother, perhaps the last of Welfare Queens, learned how to work the system so well that she didn’t need to try to get a legitimate job until Clinton was forced to fix it. For all their help, they made us dependent on government handouts and mandates. Worse, they made it easy for working class whites, the malleable minds that the right wing loves to turn against us, hate us even more.
So, when will it be safe to do away with affirmative action? When will the playing field actually be equal? We have a long way to go, people. We still have to switch the focus of our drug policy to treatment, as opposed to punishment. Just legalizing marijuana will go a long way to keeping many of us out of jail. We have to have programs that keep our children in school, voluntarily. Forcing children to go to school does nothing but reinforce their hatred of it. Even if we did all that tomorrow little would change, right away. Remember all those brothers and sisters in jail? How can we make sure that when they finally get out, they stay out?
And let’s not forget that there are plenty of people out there who don’t ever want things to be equal. For them, this country should be run exclusively by white conservative Christian men. Jails are good because they keep niggers & spics from voting, sometimes even for years after being released. And the trend of privatizing prisons is still growing, with one company, Corrections Corporation of America forcing governors to sign agreements to keep prison at least 90% full. Laws passed recently in many states requiring voters to show ID are done with the knowledge that those laws will disproportionately affect minorities and the poor. Even those tough immigration laws are designed to make sure that white conservative Christian males can remain in power.
Listen to the GOP presidential wannabes for a bit, and a few even want to get rid of public schools. Why? So that all our children have to either settle for a subpar education or be forced to go to religious schools where they can be better indoctrinated. You can either do things their way if you want to succeed, or you can look forward to working for them at minimal wages. Or waste your life away behind bars. Either way, it’s about control. That’s what Jim Crow was about: control. The only thing that’s changed are the strategies to keep us down. Oh, and we can still shit in their toilets.
Welcome to the new Jim Crow.
Fernando Quijano III is the former President of the Maryland Writers Association, Baltimore Chapter. His work has been featured in Welter, Smile Hon, You’re in Baltimore & the poetry anthology, Life in Me Like Grass on Fire. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Forever, Lilith was included in the Apprentice House anthology Freshly Squeezed. He has been featured at the Baltimore Book Festival, Stoop Storytelling, & The Signal on WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR station. In his spare time, Fernando volunteers to lead workshops for Writing Outside the Fence, a program for the ex-offender community, as well as at the Brock Bridge Correctional Facility. Fernando was recently awarded a B grant for his writing by the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund.