No, the title is not an oxymoron. I am a libertarian (for the most part). I also happen to be of West Indian descent. This makes me a black libertarian. People who are familiar with the central tenets of libertarianism wonder how I managed to reconcile my ethnic background with my choice of political philosophies. They have a hard time figuring out why any person of color in their right mind would ascribe to a philosophy that encourages private citizens to “discriminate”, condemns the use of governmental programs that economically benefit a proportionally larger percentage of the minority community, and stands firm in its opposition toward using race as a determinant for preferential treatment in education and employment (affirmative action).1 In a nutshell, the resolution of the conflict is rooted in the idea that once you begin thinking that every person has certain unalienable rights, applicability becomes universal and any attempt to limit these rights thus becomes a human problem, not a racial one. After all, if we are all created equal, should we not also be treated as such?
In theory that may sound like a good idea, but in reality we all know it’s not the case. Despite all the progress that has been made in the past few decades, racism is still alive and well. Moreover, anyone who suggests that racism does not exist is a fool, not a minority, lying through their teeth, or living under a rock. The fact remains we still live in a society that is very race-conscious. What that means is Americans tend to view their own world in the context of what the other person looks like—the other person’s race is an overriding feature that forms initial impressions. On the contrary, in the West Indies, where my parents were born and raised, that society tends to be very class-conscious, meaning your race subjugates itself to the “level” any one individual has achieved in society. Unfortunately, in America, regardless of what you have achieved, many will still regard someone else as “the Asian guy” or “the Latin female”. The inherent downfall in this assumption is that the user of said shortcut limits the other person’s relevance by restraining them in a box bound by race.
Take, for example, our current president. He has taken many great strides to distance himself away from the label of the “black president,” because he very correctly knows that once he walks down that path, society at large will not respect him as much, nor will they follow a man who has segregated himself into a particular racial group. By just being “the president” he no longer constrains himself and maintains the relevance and applicability to society-at-large.
The point is, our culture stereotypes the behaviors, and thus the expectation of racial sects, and any deviation from the model produces curiosity, inquisition, and cognitive dissonance.
I would be foolish to say we could ever live in a society that is color-blind. Regardless, people who look beyond race and disregard it as a factor at all would characterize this ideal scenario. In that way, we could truly be more equal and look at one another as fellow human beings.
Let us examine affirmative action in the light of human interaction. Let’s say we have two people, A and B. They are equal in every sense of the word and are qualified for a certain position. Let’s then say that I have ultimate decision-making power for a position both parties have applied for, and I select B because it’s not a vowel. Sound ridiculous? Of course it does, because I have chosen an arbitrary criterion separate from qualifications to make a decision. Let’s put it another way and say that B is female and I choose B because she’s female. Is that fair? Is that just? Absolutely not! It is irrelevant to consider what may have happened in the past or what other inequalities exist in society; the fact remains that if I select B over A now, solely because of an arbitrary attribute, I’m guilty of using a discriminatory philosophy. It’s the same irrational thinking many feeble-minded individuals have used over the years to unjustly discriminate against others for whatever reason. Think about it—the same rationale in using “affirmative action” to select B over A is the same thinking a sexist/racist would use to choose A over B “because they’re a man” or “because they’re white”—in both instances sex and race are used independent of qualifications in order to make a determination. This process is a disservice to the unlucky individual who loses a spot because another has taken it. Society is punishing this person now for what has happened in the past, penalizing an innocent for atrocities remote from them.
In the realm of education, the reader may inquire about the utility of affirmative action to produce a student body diverse in ways other than race, such as students who differ in perspective, socioeconomic status and geography. This may sound reasonable on paper, but race has proven to be the dominant characteristic in making admission decisions, at least in some institutions. In a recent study of elite colleges by Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade, race was found to play a dominant role unlike any other factor. For example, African-American students received a 310-point boost in their SAT scores while Latino students received a boost of 130 points. Athletes and legacy students also received a bonus but the other students, whose characteristics these universities alleged to be desirable, received no such bonus. In fact, destitute students overall received no benefit compared to affluent ones; lower-income minorities were slightly more likely to gain admission than affluent minorities. Lower-income Caucasians did not receive any advantage. As a result, at all of these institutions, there was a predominance of affluent students.
Now why should the affluent students be at an advantage when the less fortunate ones require the most help? This issue hit home, because I had the privilege to obtain an education at an Ivy-League University. I also grew up in an affluent suburb of Long Island, NY, and because of my race, I undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action polices. Based on Mr. Espenshade’s analysis, my selection came at the expense of a poorer student who lacked access to the same opportunities. I should not have derived a benefit from the program, despite my racial background, because I was never at a disadvantage; in fact, my position was advantageous relative to most, black or white. This is a perfect example of how an ill-conceived system can backfire and spite the same individuals it was meant to assist. Any such program designed to assist those at a disadvantage should focus purely on economic hardships, not racial ones.
This analysis by no means dismisses the fact that we live in a country plagued by the long lasting effects of racism. It would also be ignorant to ignore that certain societal factors have stacked the deck in favor of certain groups, thereby putting them at an advantage. That being said, the rectification of these inequalities is the appropriate solution to the problem—not the redistribution of employment or educational spots using the same erroneous logic that got us into trouble in the first place. We live in a world that in many ways is unequal, but anyone who proclaims that equality can or must be achieved is living in a fantasy realm. Yes, all human beings are created equal, but each one of is given different talents and abilities best suited toward different ends. I have done well as a physician, but am a horrible singer; Beyoncé does not have the same problem. I may excel in using math and numbers, but am incapable of painting; Rembrandt would have a hard time relating. Each one of us serves a different function and in the unified body of humanity we are all members collaborating in a cohesive system. To say that we all must be made equal defies the laws of nature, and this treacherous road is dug with unfairness, paved with good intentions, and colored with redistribution. Equality cannot and should never be guaranteed; what can be assured is access.
In the end, society uses shortcuts in order to simplify an already complex world. Part of the process uses race to neatly sort people out, and the assumption is that we favor policies and procedures that benefit others who look just like us. This reasoning is simple and immature; the transcendent reasoning extends its reach to all people.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal
1 Discrimination need not be considered in a derogatory sense. Properly defined, the word means to recognize a distinction; differentiate; perceive or constitute the difference in or between; i.e. the shopper is able to discriminate between real diamonds and cubic zirconia.