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Affirmative Action Helped Whites

Posted on Mon, Oct. 20, 2003 to the Miami Herald by Leonard Pitts.

To irate readers: Race has always benefited whites

I guess I touched a nerve.

That much seems apparent from the dozens of responses to my recent column about a hospital in Abington, Pa., where a white man asked that no black doctors or nurses be allowed to assist in the delivery of his child. The hospital agreed, a decision I lambasted.

Which has produced the aforementioned dozens of critical e-mails. The tone varies from spittle-spewing bigotry to sweet reason, but they all make the same point: that affirmative action entitles white people to question black people's competence.

As a reader who chose to remain nameless put it, many people wonder if a given black professional ''is there because of his/her skills and abilities, or because of affirmative action. Unfortunately, affirmative action policies leave many unanswered questions about a black person's education and training, as well as skills and abilities. . . . How do we answer these questions?''

I will try my best to answer them with a straight face. It's going to be difficult.

Because there's an elephant in this room, isn't there? It's huge and noisy and rather smelly, yet none of these good people sees it. The elephant is this simple fact:

White men are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action this country has ever seen.

That's not rhetoric or metaphor. It's only truth.


If affirmative action is defined as giving someone an extra boost based on race, it's hard to see how anyone can argue the point. Slots for academic admission, for employment and promotion, for bank loans and for public office have routinely been set aside for white men. This has always been the nation's custom. Until the 1960s, it was also the nation's law.

So if we want to talk about achievements being tainted by racial preference, it seems only logical to start there. After all, every worthwhile thing African Americans achieved prior to the mid-'60s -- Berry Gordy's record label, John Johnson's publishing company, Alain Leroy Locke's Rhodes scholarship, Madame C.J. Walker's hair care empire, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams' pioneering heart surgery -- was done, not just without racial preference, but against a backdrop of open racial hostility.

By contrast, nothing white men have ever achieved in this country was done without racial and gender preferences. Affirmative action.

I know that will be hard for some folks to hear. I know it will leave some white brothers indignant. And I expect many recitations of ''up by my bootstraps'' and ''know what it's like to be poor.'' We all want to feel that we made it on our own merits, and it's not my intention to diminish the combination of pluck, luck, hard work and ability that typically distinguishes success, whether white, black or magenta.

On the other hand, there's a word for those who believe race is not a significant factor in white success: delusional.


It is not coincidence, happenstance or evidence of their intellectual, physical or moral superiority that white guys dominate virtually every field of endeavor worth dominating. It is, rather, a sign that the proverbial playing field is not level and never has been.

My correspondents feel they should not be asked to respect the skill or abilities of a black professional who may or may not have benefited from affirmative action. They think such a person should expect to be looked down upon. But black people have spent generations watching white men who were no more talented, and many times downright incompetent, vault to the head of the line based on racial preference.

So, here's my question:

Would African Americans be justified in looking down on white professionals? In wondering whether they are really smart enough to do the job? In questioning their competence before they had done a thing?

Yeah, you're right. That would take one hell of a nerve.

Here are other editorials by Leonard Pitts, Jr. in

Avoid Rigged Game Of JusticeJanuary 30, 2004Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Affirmative Action Helped WhitesOctober 20, 2003Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Joy defeats pain at learning rootsAugust 15, 2003Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Affirmative action needs a deadlineJune 28, 2003Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Theres No White ExpoAugust 19, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Color Does Matter, But It's Not AllAugust 9, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Anti-Gay Drive Wrong To Use MLKAugust 5, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Erasing Race is a Blind AlleyJuly 22, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Still on the Outside looking inMay 11, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
In bigot versus bigot, white racist is winnerJanuary 10, 2002Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Racism goes far beyond skin colorDecember 20, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
All black people aren't alike; and we need to hear all sidesDecember 8, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Terror shakes faith, puts God in questionSeptember 29, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Peaceniks usually right, but not nowSeptember 27, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
It's difficult, but life must go onSeptember 22, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Hatred for the U.S.? Evil is as evil doesSeptember 20, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Enemies made us remember our heritageSeptember 16, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Amid raw pain, it's good to see a glimpse of continuitySeptember 14, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
Hatred is unworthy of usSeptember 13, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH
We'll go forward from this momentSeptember 12, 2001Leonard Pitts, Jr.MH

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