FOX News talking head Sean Hannity aired a video clip of Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee, wherein she states “I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby.” He introduced the clip by saying:
Apparently being the beneficiary of reverse discrimination is a matter of pride for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Included in some of the materials recently submitted to Congress for the confirmation process is a tape of Judge Sotomayor singing the praises of affirmative action.
The title of this blog post may not be sincere, but it’s not too far off the mark either. You see, when Hannity takes a complicated issue like race and opportunity, and then reduces it down to a trite form of rhetorical spin by calling it “reverse discrimination,” well, he has to live with the equally rational consequences. Sean Hannity thinks white people should get opportunities because they are white. That is “white supremacy” in its practical (and most frequent) application.
Because that’s what affirmative action sought to do. It sought to undo what had been a centuries-long policy of affirmative action for “white” folks by trying to identify qualified or potentially qualified people of color and provide for them an opportunity to achieve. It is vital to note, that opportunity was a mere slice of the government-funded opportunities afforded to “white” people.
Even if we only consider that period in US history from the 1930s to the 1970s–when new programs of “white” affirmative action were instituted and, later, new programs for people of color followed–this case becomes clear. We can list the government-protected benefits which were both formally and informally denied to nonwhites: Social Security; job training in the Armed Forces; the full use of the GI Bill; unemployment benefits; FHA home loans; government incentives for home ownership; union rights; minimum wage and overtime rights; and the list goes on and on. This doesn’t even substantially include the day-to-day forms of discrimination people of color formally encountered. This doesn’t include the other systemic forms of marginalization they faced (lack of protected voting rights and the like).
Affirmative action is often seen as a creation of the 1960s or 1970s, but that policy was crafted from the government-sponsored incentives and benefit structures of an earlier part of the century. Calling it “reverse discrimination” separates it from its historical context and tries to analyze it as only a discrete practice–discrimination in the literal sense. But it’s a hollow metaphor. It’s the equivalent of calling a cup of water an ocean.
The failure of affirmative action was not in the Sonia Sotomayors of this world, people who have proven their distinction of being recipients of affirmative action policies. Its failure isn’t in the way it discriminated against “whites,” a class of people whose status within the benefit structures of US society continues to reign supreme. It is in the way affirmative action policies turned “racial justice” into “racial representation.”
Even when it opened up the spigot to people of color, it never turned it off for “whites.” More importantly, it never forced “whites” to even consider why it was they were soaking wet. Dripping all over the floor, it continued to allow an entire society of people to pretend that they were bone dry and thirsty.
Affirmative action was flawed, yes. But it sought to address a real problem, one Sean Hannity won’t even acknowledge exists, because it is one that benefits him to this day.