VARIOUS TEXTS: Can Affirmative Action Close the Gap between Black and White Americans?

Affirmative action1 programs, when properly structured, can open up opportunities otherwise closed to qualified minorities without diminishing opportunities for white students. Given the dearth of black and Latino Ph.D. candidates in mathematics and the physical sciences, for example, a modest scholarship program for minorities interested in getting advanced degrees in these fields (a recent target of a justice Department inquiry) won't keep white students out of such programs, but can broaden the pool of talent that America will need for all of us to prosper in a technology-based economy. Moreover, as a lawyer who's worked on civil rights cases, I can say that where there's strong evidence of prolonged and systematic discrimination by large corporations, trade unions, or branches of municipal government, goals and timetables for minority hiring may be the only meaningful remedy2 available.

Many Americans disagree with me on this as a matter of principle, arguing that our institutions should never take race into account, even if it is to help victims of past discrimination. Fair enough - I understand their arguments, and don't expect the debate to be settled anytime soon. But that shouldn't stop us from at least making sure that when two equally qualified people - one minority and one white - apply for a job, house, or loan, and the white person is consistently preferred, the government, through its prosecutors and through its courts, should step in to make things right.

We should also agree that the responsibility to close the gap can't come from government alone; minorities, individually and collectively, have responsibilities as well. Many of the social or cultural factors that negatively affect black people, for example, simply mirror in exaggerated form problems that afflict America as a whole: too much television (the average black household has the television on more than eleven hours per day), too much consumption of poisons (blacks smoke more and eat more fast food), and a lack of emphasis on educational achievement.

Then there's the collapse of the two-parent black household, a phenomenon that is occurring at such an alarming rate when compared to the rest of American society that what was once a difference in degree has become a difference in kind, a phenomenon that reflects a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men that renders black children more vulnerable - and for which there is simply no excuse.

Taken together, these factors impede3 progress. Moreover, although government action can help change behavior (encouraging supermarket chains with fresh produce to locate in black neighborhoods, to take just one small example, would go a long way toward changing people's eating habits), a transformation in attitudes has to begin in the home, and in neighborhoods, and in places of worship. Community-based institutions, particularly the historically black church, have to help families reinvigorate in young people a reverence for educational achievement, encourage healthier lifestyles, and reenergize traditional social norms surrounding the joys and obligations of fatherhood.

Ultimately, though, the most important tool to close the gap between minority and white workers may have little to do with race at all. These days, what ails working-class and middle-class blacks and Latinos is not fundamentally different from what ails their white counterparts: downsizing, outsourcing, automation, wage stagnation, the dismantling of employer-based health-care and pension plans, and schools that fail to teach young people the skills they need to compete in a global economy. (Blacks in particular have been vulnerable to these trends, since they are more reliant on blue-collar manufacturing jobs and are less likely to live in suburban communities where new jobs are being generated.) And what would help minority workers are the same things that would help white workers: the opportunity to earn a living wage, the education and training that lead to such jobs, labor laws and tax laws that restore some balance to the distribution of the nation's wealth, and health-care, child care, and retirement systems that working people can count on.
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Source: Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, Vintage Books, New York, 2006, pp. 289-291

1. affirmative action - The term affirmative action refers to policies that take gender, race, or ethnicity into account in an attempt to promote equal opportunity. The focus of such policies ranges from employment and public contracting to educational outreach and health programs. The impetus towards affirmative action is twofold: to maximize the benefits of diversity in all levels of society, and to redress disadvantages due to overt, institutional, or involuntary discrimination.
2. remedy - Heilmittel
3. to impede - verhindern

1. What is B. Obama's position on affirmative action measures?
2. Obama also blames African-Americans themselves for the economic gap between blacks and whites. He reproaches them with various parts of their lifestyle. Which are these?
3. Who is it that can also help black Americans, esp. what family matters are concerned?
4. What do both black and white American workers suffer from? And what does B. Obama suggest as to oppose these negative trends?
5. From what you have been told or have read on today's black Americans' and Latinos' situations, do you think they will eventually change for the better? Give reasons for your answer.

amazon.de The Audacity of Hope
Barack Obama

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