A thought occurs in the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court decision limiting the use of affirmative action to redress past racial inequalities and, indeed, in the wake of recent Capitol Hill rhetoric about a colorblind society:
If anyone had shown this much zeal for the cause of equality before now, there’d have been no need for affirmative action in the first place.
If the stakes weren’t so high, it might be funny. I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole into a land of serious nonsense - but there is very little to laugh at here.
Consider: Clarence Thomas, the undistinguished Negro jurist who sits in the court’s “black” seat, votes with the majority to restrict affirmative action.
White men constitute 43 percent of the work force but hold 95 percent of the senior management positions, according to the government’s bipartisan Glass Ceiling Commission, which studied barriers to promotion. Yet here we are - in newspapers and magazines, talk shows, offices and car pools - discussing the victimized white male.
One half expects to see the Mad Hatter or the White Rabbit come trolling by any minute now.
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a white man!” pleaded a white man on the telephone a few months ago. “You don’t know the pressure we’re under.” He then told me how awful it is to have people always expecting great things from you, how difficult it can be to push yourself to measure up.
And he was serious.
Equality is now being touted by those who fear it and have rarely practiced it.
There IS of course, an argument to be made against affirmative action: Despite its noble intent, does it foster a sense of victimhood and stigma in the very people it aims to benefit?
There is room in that argument for people of good will to have honest misgivings, if not outright antipathy, toward the program of federal set-asides. For the record, count me among those with misgivings.
But the idea of the white American male as victim galls me. It does violence to language and logic. It is cynical, and it is a lie.
Worse, it is a calculated insult to those who HAVE suffered oppression in this land. Not a fantasy of oppression. Not - help me, Lord - the oppression of having to conform to high expectations. I’m talking systemic, pernicious, vile, violent OPPRESSION, whose destructive power most white men can only guess.
But women know. Black folk know.
Certainly, being white and male is no guarantor of success. Certainly, there are white guys who started with nothing and had to scratch out each toehold on the climb to prosperity. But just as certainly, they did it while enjoying an advantage the rest of us lacked.
Absent any evidence to the contrary, employers automatically assumed their competence, landlords their trustworthiness, banks their creditworthiness. African Americans and women enjoy no such luxury. They face all the obstacles a white male does - and many he does not.
If success for a white man is a climb up Mount Everest, success for a black person or a woman is a climb up Mount Everest with a Buick on your back.
This is common sense - Oppression 101. If some folks don’t get it, I’m forced to conclude it’s because, selfishly, cynically, they don’t want to.
Victimhood feels good. Any 2-year-old with a boo-boo knows that. You get sympathy, a pat on the back and a sweet reward if you stop crying.
But you can’t stay 2 years old forever. And it is incumbent upon us, both those who have suffered and those who only think they have, to grow up, to get beyond victimhood. The millennium beckons - a smaller world, grander challenges, bigger risks, greater competition. And yet here we are, squalling, bickering and sliding toward a mediocrity we can ill afford.
We don’t have time for bandaging boo-boos.
Get over it.