Sunday, November 20, 2011

To Those Who Whine About Affirmative Action

When I was in high school I had a very strange, ignorant and slightly imbalanced French teacher (I'm not just saying that, the man threw a chair across the room and then calmly stated it was blocking the door so he had just saved all our lives if there was a fire). He had just discovered that there was such a thing as affirmative action in colleges in the US. He was outraged, and made us all copy down in French "In France all types of discrimination are against the law, even positive discrimination". I tried to explain to him how pigheaded that statement was, but I was 15 and couldn't speak french so I failed. Now I wish I could show him this video.

I wonder if he can give a similar talk on sexism too!

PZ posted this a while ago but I only just got a chance to watch it, since I usually read blogs (as well as write this one) on my lunch break at work where I can't turn the speakers on.

I find a lot of the arguments I make with people reflected in his talk, but two instances in particular popped back in to my mind while I was listening to this talk, both of which happened while I was living in Ireland.
I am not trying to insinuate that the Irish are a particularly racist people. As Tim Wise says, most people are perfectly well meaning, they just sometimes miss the point.

1. I came home one day to find my roommate in a bit of a huff, and his girlfriend gritting her teeth over his recent rant about what happened. I managed to find out that he had gotten in to a bit of a fight with a Bangladeshi employee at our corner supermarket, to whom my roommate finally shouted "WTF mate?! You don't see me coming to your country and trying to screw people! I don't have to stand for that shit in my own country! Fuck OFF!" I promptly adopted the same I-just-stubbed-my-toe expression his girlfriend was wearing. He got a little annoyed at me and said "well what?! I can't get mad at someone who isn't Irish for fear of being called a racist?! I didn't mean it in a racist way, I don't hate all Bangladeshis, but that guy was being a dick, he deserved it!" This warped rationalization seemed to also win his girlfriend over, since she felt his rant was a racist one though she couldn't pinpoint what part of it was the failure. I shook my head at both of them. You've missed the point entirely. "It was racist", I said, "because you went there. So he was being a dick, fine. What does the fact that he's from Bangladesh have to do with anything? A foreign person has no more or less of a right to be a dick than anyone else that lives here." This idea that each person outside of their own country (or, as it is in the US, outside of the racial majority) is representative of the country (or race) as a whole is ridiculous. If someone doesn't like me it would be ludicrous to assume that they would start distrusting or condemning all green-eyed people on the planet.

2.Another common grievance people had was with those damn foreigners coming to steal our jobs, particularly since the economy started to go down the toilet. However there is a law in Ireland which states that if you have two equally qualified people applying for the job, you have to hire the Irish person. Only if the foreigner is better qualified do they get the job. So what's the problem?
The problem is that in Ireland the minimum wage is very high, so many places liked to higher foreigners who were willing to work for less than that. That same roommate of mine worked in a hotel where he told me that Irish CVs were automatically thrown in the garbage because they would have to be paid the full minimum wage. It is no wonder then, he said, that the Irish are frustrated with these foreigners that are getting hired over them when they don't even speak English. If they'd just stop being let in the Irish would have more jobs. Another fail in logic.
I said to him, why are you getting pissed at the people that are just trying to make a better life for themselves? The people that are hiring them at below minimum wage are breaking the law. They're not supposed to pay foreigners any differently, they are taking advantage of them. Why aren't you directing your anger at the assholes that are breaking the law and not hiring Irish people, instead of getting pissed at the guy that just wants to make a little money to send home to his family?

Anyway, in conclusion, great talk. I get it, it extends beyond the US and highlights some global issues that need to be addressed. However just talking about them, putting them out there is already a huge step forward. After I demonstrated the flaws in his logic my roommate never made those arguments again. He was never a racist, he just never thought of it that way. Presenting things in a different light can make a huge difference to public opinion.

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