Angry White Guys For Affirmative Action

For over 25 years, opponents of affirmative action for women and people of color have the role of affirmative action in the lives of white men. Opposition to affirmative action is based on selective inattention to the social props on which white men themselves depend. It is not affirmative action itself, but affirmative action for women an people of color that is under constant attack. Now is the time to redefine the terms, to expand the frame of reference in which affirmative action is discussed.The first heated arguments about preferential programs took place over 25 years ago during Vietnam War teach-ins. In the '60s, the first big affirmative action debate was about college students who got draft deferments during the hated wars in Indochina. How easy it is to forget that minorities were over-represented in Asia's involuntary battlefields. Black and brown kids from working-class neighborhoods were sent to die abroad, while primarily white college youth built their own careers though a form of affirmative action: "college draft deferment." Minority programs are only a small part of the spectrum of preferential policies in the United States. It's time to consider the extent to which white males are intertwined with policies of preference themselves. Tax breaks for corporations, subsidies for middle-class home buyers, mass transit subsidies for white suburbs, bank bailouts for desperate bank executives, selective allotments for refugees, and price supports for corporate farms are all shot though with considerations of need and preference. Whether special considerations are valid or not, preference for those perceived to be in need is a basic American concept. In the last 50 years of social engineering, the vast majority of direct beneficiaries of affirmative action policies were not minorities; they were white males. Preferential social policies for those in need were not invented by civil rights leaders. Under Franklin Roosevelt, whom most white Americans still revere, the New Deal embarked upon a massive affirmative action approach to social crisis. With the critical exception to segregation, Americans approached their social problems--unemployment, poverty of senior citizens, re-entry needs of veterans and GIs, farmers needing price supports--through planned social engineering.The New Deal concepts became unpopular only after they were applied to the crisis of segregation. It was not affirmative action itself, but the extension of affirmative action to minorities and women that caused the backlash. There is normal tendency in most of us to overlook the networks of social benefits on which we and our families depend. The late Mitch Snyder, advocate for the homeless, once gave an address to an affluent, white audience. He asked members in the auditorium: "Who lives in federally subsidized housing?" No one raised a hand. But then he asked homeowners to identify themselves. All hands went up, after which he pointed out that homeowners are subsidized. The Treasury gives up $46 billion each year to homeowner deductions in a system that predominately benefits people who earn more than $50,000 a year. We hear a lot about "angry white males" today. Well, we too are angry white males. But contrary to the caricature, we support affirmative action. As white men whose own families got free medical care, or unquestioned access to higher education through the GI Bill, who shared in the social uplift of the New Deal, we support affirmative action for those who are still left out. Tax breaks for home buyers may not be wrong. What is wrong is the smug psychology of the Governor Wilsons, who take advantage of all kinds of breaks for themselves while denying affirmative action for the oppressed areas of society.

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