A new spin on the Affirmative Action question
Just about everyone has heard of Affirmative Action by now. Affirmative action laws and policies require organizations to make proactive efforts to represent individuals from certain protected classes in the workplace at levels comparable to those for unprotected groups. Affirmative action requirements are separate and distinct from nondiscrimination laws, which prohibit discriminatory acts against protected persons, but do not mandate proactive steps in their favor.
Very few can offer the legal or legislative source for Affirmative Action, so I will.
“The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces the Executive Order 11246, as amended; Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended and the affirmative action provisions (Section 4212) of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act, as amended. Taken together, these laws ban discrimination and require Federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity for employment, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a Vietnam era or special disabled veteran.”
In California, our state’s Constitution Article 1, Sec. 31, states: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting” This general ban is followed by a set of exceptions. These exceptions center around policies in response to court orders, consent decrees, or compliance with federal laws in order to receive funding.
There are certain assumptions when dealing with the topic of Affirmative Action. The first is generally that certain minority groups are given preference over other groups. The other, which underpins the first, is that these groups are rather fixed / permanent.
Given the rather delicate state of minority group relations currently, why would I write an article about Affirmative Action or the rights/privileges of minority groups? I do it to call BS on the whole idea of identity politics. I do it because the whole concept is aggressive and relies on large interest groups telling others how they may identify and to which group they may belong. Let me illustrate this using my own story.
The picture above is a screen-grab from a NatGeo special in which I had an on-screen part. Take a look at the picture and what do you see? How would you describe me? How would you describe the screen-grab to your friends?
I presented this question a few years ago to a class of students. I stood before them in a coat and tie and asked them to describe me as they saw me. The answers, white, caucasian, tall, athletic … green eyes, clean cut … etc.
The screen-grab is from a German language version of a show in which I provided photogrammetric analysis of an unknown subject in a particular picture taken at a concentration camp during WWII. Now, students begin to gravitate towards the academic descriptions and some ended up with the conclusion of “white privilege,” as evidenced by my getting screen time on the TV show. Which is where I hoped they’d end up. It was a trap, meant to illustrate a specific point.
Under the the old diagnostic manuals (DSM), I had been diagnosed with various syndromes and disorders to describe how my brain and body worked or didn’t work – all as separate issues. Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Insomnia, GI problems and food sensitivities, and so on. Under the old DSM, these were all separate problems with separate treatments. Now, with the change from IV to V, the DSM puts these separate issues together (rightly) under the umbrella of autism. Thus, in May of 2013 I went from an adult with a ton of medical issues to an autistic adult. Just like that, I became part of a growing minority group that now make up around 2.25% of the US population. I actually think that number is much larger as many autistic adults haven’t received a diagnosis and thus are not part of the totals.
Getting back to the picture above, where students see the surface and not the constituent parts and history, many are quite shocked to know that this person in the picture is part of a small minority group – and many refuse to offer that description. How can the person in the picture be a minority? How can the person in the picture not benefit from “white privilege?”
Let’s answer that by looking at current events. Start with “police brutality” and the complaints from minorities about how they’re treated by the police during the most benign of encounters. I’m sure I don’t have to link to any of the thousands of stories covered in the last few decades. But did you know that autistic adults and parents of autistic children have similar fears in dealing with the police? Officer.com notes, “[Autistic people] are estimated to have up to seven times more contacts with law enforcement agencies during their lifetimes. Yet, only 20% of patrol responses related to autistic individuals are related to criminal activity. Interacting with a child or adult who has an autism spectrum disorder will challenge your experience, training and patience.” Wow. Substitute “autism” with any racial identifier and folks would be out of their minds and protesting on the streets over this article. But they aren’t, are they?
What about employment prospects? “For adults on the autism spectrum, finding and keeping jobs is difficult at best and often simply impossible. We know this anecdotally, but studies are bearing this out with increasing regularity. Adults with ASD are chronically unemployed or underemployed. While these numbers certainly include a small population of adults whose autism or co-morbid condition renders them unable to work, many adults on the spectrum might well be employed more fully with more effective supports.” I know this from personal experience. I am very fortunate to have a job. I met a man a while ago who wanted to take his agency down a path that was well within my special interests and talents. He was willing to offer the supports that I needed to get the job done and to be successful. Sadly, he is no longer around in that role and those supports are under review. We hear politicians talking about minority labor participation and unemployment rates. We don’t hear that the numbers are much worse for autistic people. Why?
So to the central theme, Affirmative Action. According to Kaiser and the government, I am a disabled adult. But, my disability isn’t visible. What is visible is my light skin and light eyes. So I don’t get protections for being part of a minority group – I am visibly “white,” even though I’m “invisibly” disabled. I have had various people in my life who have pushed me to actualize my potential and to leverage my autistic brain’s talents and interests. I have had levels of success. This, plus the “white” skin means I’m privileged and not disabled. Silly, I think.
This issue, the fallacy that is Affirmative Action, was one of many that lead me away from the Democrat Party and to the Libertarian Party. As a Democrat, I was just “white” and “male.” I didn’t get to define these, they were chosen for me by the dominant group. Even though I didn’t identify myself by my pigment or sex, they did. They put me in a box from which there is no escape. No matter my problems with speech and preference for the written over the verbal. No matter my social ineptitude or social anxiety. No matter my problems with facial recognition. No matter my problems with crowds, bright lights, loud sounds, and other sensory issues. No matter my problems eating just about anything. It doesn’t matter because I’m a “white man.”
Thankfully, the Libertarian Party does not engage in identity politics. With the LP, you are free to be the best YOU that YOU can be. You are free to be whatever kind of you that you want to be. If you want to change, great, go for it. What ever makes you Alive, Free, Happy. It’s quite refreshing to be part of a group where you can just be who you are.
So take it from someone with sensory processing issues, things aren’t always what they seem. Affirmative Action seems like it good thing. Sadly, like many of the good intentions of the Democrats/Republicans, they’re a trap; a box from which there is little chance of escape.
Join me outside of the box. Join the Libertarian Party and the movement of free and happy individuals trying to secure the rights of the smallest minority – the individual.
“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” – Ayn Rand