Two Countries, one Affirmative Action Problem

By Malena Amusa Apr 17, 2007

Recently, problems with affirmative action policies in South Africa have blown into a national debate sparking some important discourse. Since the crumbling of apartheid, South Africa’s labor market has scrambled to create representative businesses and organizations that reflect the percentage majority of Black Africans in the once white-controlled South Africa. While this seems fair, the South African government has lagged in delivering sustainable social and economic programs to reverse poverty, train the un-skilled, and develop a market where South Africans can thrive, critics say. The mere displacement of whites from positions of power is being touted as progress when in fact progress depends on a more robust rolling out of resources to health, education, and business sectors. Sound familiar? In America, the under-performance of affirmative action is also occurring, except, tokenism in privilege institutions has been used as a short cut to helping communities of color secure opportunities. Instead of targeting the sources of inequity in our education, health, and economic systems, top American institutions are content with wiping their hands clean after hiring or admitting a few good Blacks, or women, or whomever. Sadly, these groups absorb an additional burden of representing their people and having to prove time and time again, their worth. This isn’t to say that affirmative action is bad. Rather, an inadequate understanding and application of the policy is misconstruing the purpose and delivery of affirmative action. For instance, in South Africa, there is a real and overwhelming technical skill-deficit that is challenging that country’s use of affirmative action. As South Africa’s government effectively re-possess jobs from whites, it’s not over night that the majority Black population can go from strategizing opposition campaigns, working decades in gritty, dangerous gold mines, on dilapidated farms and in the homes of whites as indentured servants to running a highly-skilled free society, according to South African news. Both countries, America and South Africa could benefit from redefining the needs of the people and making affirmative action the proactive rebuttal to historical inequality–one that recognizes the need for government to not only enforce the admission of people of color in business and education but also the bolstering of community projects to improve institutions that serve the under-privileged. Representative affirmative action isn’t readily fixing this chasm of talent or reducing racism. Meanwhile, in America, anti-affirmative action activists like Ward Connerly are gaining traction. If progressives aren’t working hard to expand and advance people’s use of affirmative action, who will?