This got me thinking about issues of affirmative action in South Africa and whether it makes sense. Everyone knows that South Africa has a history of racial discrimination. Some races were considered inferior and that has left a large wealth and education disparity today. None of that can be ignored and we need to find some way to undo the effects of apartheid.
The primary method of doing that has been concepts like affirmative action that preferentially benefit previously disadvantaged groups in order to balance society again. However this in itself is discriminatory and you can’t accomplish a goal through methods that are contrary to that goal, at least not while consistently espousing a principle. All affirmative action has really done is build resentment and further racial tensions as well as driving out those people who had qualifications and experience that was necessary for the country.
A further problem is that this these policies do not fit with reality. They miss out on so many subtleties, such as whites that did not support apartheid policies, whites that immigrated after apartheid and blacks that didn’t live under apartheid. Even ignoring the poor delineation of previously disadvantaged groups, there’s the issue that the policy does not just require compensation from those that supported apartheid but from the new generation that was too young to have any say in it. This is similar to the situation that Dawkins was in, people are being held responsible, or at least being made to pay the price, for things that they had absolutely nothing to do with.
Just to be clear I am a white South African myself. It is unfair that I should be expected to share blame for events that happened before I was born and when I was too young to even comprehend them. I have no more responsibility for apartheid than a black South African youth or a youth born in India, yet I am no subject to reduced job opportunities and higher university requirements because of I happened to be born a certain race in a certain country, not because of the conditions in which I’ve grown up. I’ve also seen those requirements attacked as insinuating inferiority on the part of other races and the claim that making things easy doesn’t prepare people for the challenges of life.
Here’s the important part though, it’s not necessary to use race to bring about equality in South Africa. We should be trying to move away from the ideas of race and moving to embrace the idea of everyone as worthwhile regardless of their background. This means there is no need to punish whites or exact retribution from those that didn’t commit any crime and we can free ourself from such poisonous ideas. The problems of apartheid, poverty, lack of services, lack of skills and education and everything else are problems that need to be eliminated for everyone, regardless of race. We don’t want to just eliminate black poverty but poverty itself. Since the black population is the majority, any programme that addresses poverty will accomplish the same thing as a race-based poverty reduction programme but it will also eliminate any other poverty.
If you address all the effects of apartheid you can avoid any further discrimination and building more racial tension. When you maintain a race-based system you are disadvantaging certain members of society. For example, I received an email with an advert for a scholarship where the first sentence in the requirements reads:
Interested candidates must hold a good Honour’s degree in one of the environmental sciences and be South African citizens of colour.
If you were a white citizen looking to study further you would be ineligible even though our country needs to improve its educational situation. Surely this disadvantages a white student, setting their career back a few years, maybe, and limiting their job prospects. What’s stopping people from, years later, claiming that they were previously disadvantaged under affirmative action?
How long can we continue to convince ourselves that discriminatory policies are acceptable? Everyone has been discriminated against at times some more than others but the solution is to eliminate discrimination and work to erase the effects of the discrimination. Further discrimination is not a solution, it is just perpetuating the same problems that people fought to overcome. We need to stop looking at race and start solving our problems.