Affirmative Action debates prove that in 2014, our government is still unable to confront issues of freedom and future equality that the Civil War wrought in 1863. Although we are a nation divided on Affirmative Action, it is important to note that this bill does not only protect “designated minorities” but also protects state interests, a vested part of a national agenda to lump together scores of injustices. By lumping together unique cultures and struggles for social justice and labeling them “designated minorities,” Affirmative Action becomes paraffin for the institutionalization of history and the nationalization of culture.
Instead of celebrating the individual culture of each “designated minority group” and their own unique progress, the state uses the incorporation of Affirmative Action into national culture as a spring-board for rooting out the personal and political symbols of each culture, an effective agent of Americanization. Is it possible that although Affirmative Action appears to be a proud act of preceding generations, its highest motives have been misconstrued, misinterpreted, and subverted to serve a defeated and unworthy cause?
Through Affirmative Action, the national discourse aims to create a narrative that contradicts the uniqueness of each struggle in order to promote the type of social unity that is politically convenient for war and other national goals. The intertwining of various different struggles for equality creates a “melting pot” of injustices and ultimately downplays the concerns that are specifically Jamaican American, Indian American, Mexican American, Chinese American, African American, Vietnamese American, Japanese American, Persian American, Native American and so forth.
In effectively “removing” vernacular voices by wiping away their cultural uniqueness, personal histories, and current situations, these “designated” people become a part of an “official” group. They are all placed under a minority umbrella and then incorporated into a national discourse on equality, smoothing over tensions that reside. In this way, the state is able to shape how the story of the struggle for social justice is told, in order to better accomplish their political agenda. The ability to create a construction of a “designated minority” narrative that is not in contention with that of the dominant discourse but instead, intertwines with it is a form of disempowerment, cloaked under ideas of equal opportunity. In reality, by labeling people “designated minorities”, one has already subjugated another person to a status of otherness and therefore, cannot be seen as equals.
However, no matter how many injustices are lumped together, forgotten, and “made up for,” the very heated debate over Affirmative Action right now, provides glimpses into the reality that we are still largely a divided nation. Just a glimpse into recent socio-politics, illuminates just how divided we really are. With reference to wealth and class, movements such as OCCUPY claim that 1 percent of the American population owns 99 percent of America’s wealth. When it comes to racial divisions, the case of Trayvon Martin sheds light on a reality in which, discrimination and prejudice are very much actively plaguing American society. There is also a division between the government and the people, such as the recent debate over how involved the government should be in individual lives sparked by leaks of classified information by NSA spy, Edward Snowden.
In fact, we are a nation that is so divided that the idea of “universal” health care (that means health care for everyone) is separating our nation, as health care reform is breaking up states and governors alike with Rick Perry, governor of Texas invoking Civil War sentiments by threatening to “succeed” from the nation.
Despite efforts by the state to create a dynamic narrative that thrusts the “designated minority” cultures towards nationalization, one only need witness this week’s Supreme Court decision on affirmative action to realize how we are still very much a nation that is divided. By advancing more generalized conceptions of a fight for social justice that tie these powerful cultural experiences together, the state reduces the meaningfulness of each social movement and in effect, disempowers them. By dictating that these profound movements are made valuable because of the common thread they share as “designated minorities,” the state attaches an importance to them as cultural unifiers, rather than seeing the unique significance of each social plight.
By taking these individual cultural struggles for equality and freedom and labeling each, “designated minorities,” the state constructs a new narrative. This narrative focuses on developing an American identity that is based on social unity, by bringing together multiples cultural identities and incorporating them into the national discourse under one label, “designated minority.” When deconstructing the intense focus on Affirmative Action and its role as a “protector of democracy” one must ask, who and what else does Affirmative Action protect? When that question is asked, the obvious manifestations of state interest versus “vernacular” culture seen in Affirmative Action seep to the forefront of the debate, revealing a nation divided.
Opinion by Amiya Moretta