I have heard my Nana’s stories about how her grade school teachers in El Paso, Texas. They beat her and locked her in broom closets because she did not speak English. I have heard my Tata’s recollections about how Jim Crow. He couldn’t sit in certain parts of the movie theatre, sleep in certain barracks, or even swim in the pools same as the white folks could. Apparently, Mexicans in Phoenix were relegated to prayer in the Basilica basement at some point. Even my dad felt some strife. His college baseball coach wouldn’t hit him grounders during practice because he was “just a stupid Mexican.”
It remains painfully obvious that there is work to be done. And even though racism and discrimination clearly persist, society’s make-up is much different from decades past. Luckily, affirmative action programs continue to arm us with ways to combat the social, bigoted ills of old, and they are more far-reaching than ever. That’s why – even in this day in age – we don’t just owe it to ourselves to shore-up the affirmative action front; we owe it to future generations of white men and women too.
If you look up “affirmative action” on Wikipedia, you’ll promptly spy the fact that President John F. Kennedy first employed the term in his Executive Order 10925, signed on March 6, 1961. Four years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed his own order (11246), requiring government agencies to heed the ethos of affirmative action when it came time to hire employees. Discriminating against race, religion or nation of origin was to have no place in government. Gender was eventually added in 1976. This was the protean step. But fast-forward some 50 years, and, for the first time in the history of the United States, racial and ethnic minorities constitute more than half of all births. It is safe to say that, in a matter of decades, ‘white’ will become ‘minority’.
Hopefully more affirmative action opponents will take this swing in demographics for the good news that it is. Hopefully, then, they will reconsider affirmative action’s conception, and set their hand to the plowshare to find ways to secure and promote it. If an opponent should be white, they might reconsider there stance – if nothing else, at least for the sake of their grandchildren.
There’s more. In a 1995 “Report to the President,” Bill Clinton found both the history and rationale of affirmative action summarized. Subsection 2.1 ‘Background’ (of section 2 – ‘Affirmative Action: History and Rationale’) states that “…affirmative action programs [are] best understood as an outgrowth and continuation of our national effort to remedy subjugation of racial and ethnic minorities and of women…” Simply put, our nation suffers because it subjugates racial and ethnic minorities, and women. But we are doing something about it! And that thing we’re doing is affirmative action.
Sure, spite might crop up amongst those of us who have in some way, shape or form benefitted. Some will even say, “Hey, how about all the folks – many of whom are white – who are not fans of affirmative action. Nay, they are not even capable of describing it; they are, in fact, among its most fervent enemies. Why should we preserve it for their benefit?” But before those of us who understand affirmative action turn our backs on it so hastily, let us peek one more time at Clinton’s 1995 report, and remind ourselves why – as we await the minoritization of whites – that we ought continue fighting tooth and nail for it.
The 1995 “Report to the President” reminds us that for a good deal of this century, “racial and ethnic minorities and women” faced both “legal and social exclusion.” Blacks and Latinos/Hispanics were “segregated into low wage jobs, usually agricultural.” It was actually illegal for Asian Americans to own land, or work “fields to which they could not hold title.” Women (white women, too, of course) were “barred by laws in many states from entering entire occupations, such as mining, fire fighting, bartending, law, and medicine.” Some public education institutions even legally barred Asian Americans and Latinos/Hispanics from even attending. And women were “systematically excluded from some private and state funded colleges, universities, and professional schools well into the 1970s.”
As today’s minorities, we face an interesting dilemma. We have the privilege to weigh-in, take the rains, and bring a healthy and righteous perspective to the future of affirmative action. But those who oppose it today might just be the next victims of such social, legal and gender-based exclusion that our forbearers have suffered. It is time to use the tools we have to fix the situation for all future minorities. It is time to reaffirm affirmative action, especially for whites who would not do it for themselves.
Mateo Pimentel lives in the southern Andes region of Perú.