Affirmative Action.

Two powerful words, but a variety of opinions.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

The next book I’m finishing is called “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. This book was recommended in one of Mark Manson’s weekly newsletter, and I decided to follow through on that recommendation and read these conversations about race.

I landed on the chapter surrounding the topic of affirmative action. I’ve only been exposed to this topic mainly through education and admission decisions — the UT Austin case a few years ago. Tatum focuses affirmative action on employment.

It was interesting to learn that we all have inherent forms of biases. Two contributing factors to this way of thinking: 1) the environment that we grew up in, which includes the unconscious behavior that our parents might have passed down to us and 2) the way that media shows the idealistic viewpoint and superiority of the White character. Some inescapable things have been out of our control since our childhood, but it’s time for us to abolish all of that and throw the status quo playbook out the window now.

She talks about two different types of affirmative action progress: process-oriented and goal-oriented. These two camps present separate ways on how to address this issue, especially for hiring employees.

There’s also work from psychologists Samuel Gaertner and John Dovidio that proves how we have these internalized views of the “best fit” candidate, even if both candidates’ skillset levels are practically the same and it’s their race that’s the only differing factor. In the 21st century, Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald developed the implicit-association test (race IAT) that measures “the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations or stereotypes by tapping into thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.”

Another point in this chapter that was eye-opening was also what Gaertner and Dovido deemed as “aversive racism.”

Aversive racism is defined as “an attitudinal adaptation results from an assimilation of an egalitarian value system with prejudice and with racist beliefs.”

The framework boils down to recognizing the internalization of the biases and stereotypes of popular culture and continued segregation from (and therefore lack of familiarity with) Blacks leave many Whites feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, etc. (paraphrasing from the book on page 220)

These people are considered “uncomfortable egalitarians”. Aversive racists and uncomfortable egalitarians will most likely do the “right thing” given a situation, but when faced with something that not as concrete and more ambiguous, they tend to miss the mark and show their inherent bias.

Being able to speak about this, even if it makes us super uncomfortable is the first step. Yes, I admit talking about race is uncomfortable because it makes us face reality and not live in that fantasy world where we are all perfect human beings.

We have to keep our eyes on the prize, as Tatum mentions, to flatten the hiring process and focuses our efforts on effective goal-oriented affirmative action by tightening the criteria in the hiring process. We also have to begin to educating our educators where school systems will need to reform their way on recruiting teachers of all different types of background to produce a more-inclusive future.




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Tina Tsang

Blog inspired by Seth Godin, who says to write every day no matter the content. ESFJ. Twitter cuts me off at 240 characters. Always a coffee in hand.