I get in this argument/debate fairly often. You know, one of those “you’re the only black person I know so I’ll run this past you seeking your approval” sort of things. Few topics spark such immediate animosity, are so divisive, like affirmative action. In fact, in my experience, only abortion and religion are on the same level. My opinions on the topic are like most things in my life: a paradox. There is a tension that I tend to live with since I both despise and like affirmative action.

For the sake of discussion, I am going to define affirmative action the way it is demonized. It has come to be equated with quotas and a lowering of standards, rather than creating opportunities or looking for the best qualified candidates, so that is what I will deal with. Despite the fears that I hear, from white folks, affirmative action will never be practiced in this country to the detriment of white folks. Anecdotal evidence aside [for every “I know a white person who lost their job/promotion to a less qualified minority” I got 10 black person screwed over stories. Plus, that’s not a game I want to play.], it won’t. It doesn’t have the teeth. If they are so confident in the racial equality laws on the books, if they feel that they have been discriminated against due to race, use the existing laws to combat it. That simple. It’s like me feeling threatened every time I hear a guy passed over by a woman story. While it may happen on occasion, the fact of the matter is that this is still a man’s world. And until women are afforded equal luxuries, I’m not bent out of shape by the occasional “woman getting over” story.

To paraphrase the great philosopher Chris Rock: I don’t want anything based on me being inferior or less capable; but if it’s a tie, screw ‘em, give me the edge. And I have no problem with that. Reparations was only a viable option right after slavery happened. Forty acres and a mule, as well as the civil liberties given, were rescinded before they had a chance to really go into effect and black people were able to get an equal footing in society.

You see, I’ll play by whatever rules a system gives me. And succeed. That’s me. If someone wants to hand me a scholarship or opportunity based on race, fine. I’ve got a family to support. I’m not stupid. You can talk to be til you are blue in the face about pride blah, blah, blah. I’m practical and if those are the rules fine. If those are taken away, fine, just don’t get in my way based on race.

All the people who get burned up about affirmative action, and who complain about getting labeled as racist, need to realize a few things:

1. America screwed up. People need to face the central conceit of their hypocrisy: this country was founded on freedom, and built on the backs of slaves. And for anyone who has that hair trigger reflexive response of “get over it”, they need to look around. For one thing, we’re only a few generations removed from the holocaust known as slavery. We’re talking about a way of life that started in the 1500s and ended in the 1800s with rights established in the 1950s. I can only trace my family tree back to a great grandfather before I have to check bills of sale. For another thing, as I look around the globe, people just don’t get over things. England Protestants/Irish Catholics. Israel/Arab Nations. African tribal conflicts. The various Asian emnities. Some of these conflicts go back centuries.

2. Reparations aren’t coming, nor would I want them to come. They aren’t fiscally possible nor realistic, so that’s a pipe dream. Plus, how do you put a financial figure on systematic unpaid labor, rape, murder, and cultural destruction? There’s no price tag imaginable for that.

3. (Memo to the Republican Party:) People are going to seem racist if they rail against affirmative action, but have no better idea to replace it with. (And don’t get me wrong, as is, the system is not working as intended).

I guess that sums up my position on things. The bottom line is that racism is entrenched in people’s hearts, and no amount of laws passed can do anything about that. The social ills and injustices caused by institutional racism has broad and far-reaching effects. Education. Poverty. Crime. Drugs. We are past the point of “easy” solutions. But we all have to live with each other. And things won’t improve until we learn to talk to each other, frankly, without flying off the handle.