By Jasbir T. Singh |
|Take a wild guess where I am in my grade 6 class!|
Thomas Sowell's call to eliminate affirmative action made me reflect on my own experience as a visible minority (East Indian) growing up in Ottawa in the mid-1970s. I also thought about my current situation as a public servant in the Government of Canada. I strongly support Thomas Sowell's position against affirmative action, and want to explain why.
My parents are first generation immigrants from India, and I was born in Canada. All throughout elementary school, I was always one of two visible minorities in the class. The beauty of being a child is that you naturally don't think of racial issues, and while the majority of my friends were white growing up, it never occurred to me that I was different in any other way, other than my skin tone. I never felt held back in any way, and I was never discriminated against in school. I can only recall one instance when I was around 10 years old while riding my bicycle when I heard some kids yell out "paki!" as I rode by. I didn't turn back and just ignored it, but I remember feeling hurt by it and somehow ashamed that I was different from everyone else.
Other than that instance, which made me aware that some people could be mean to visible minorities, I knew that this was an exception rather than the rule. I never once blamed white people for putting me down or holding me back. I had a wonderful childhood, and all opportunities were open to me.
Then, as a young adult, when I started filling out government forms and employment application forms, I felt strange when asked to mark the check box next to my racial ethnicity. I thought to myself, why ask this? Why do "they" want to know if I'm East Indian? I think I'll leave that question blank, thank you very much.
I instinctively thought that such questions were somehow immoral and unfair, and that they could be used against me, possibly to discriminate against me for not being white. Later on I learned that these ethnicity questions were designed to "help" visible minorities rather than to discriminate. This was my introduction to the world of affirmative action and employment equity.
To this day I detest such questions on job application forms. I never asked for special treatment just because I'm a visible minority, and I don't want special treatment just for being brown. It's an insult, and simply unfair to win a job competition on these grounds.
It reminds me of an East Indian woman I know who is approximately 5'2". Approximately 20 years ago, when she was in her 20s, she was successful at becoming an Ottawa Police Officer. It baffled me because my 6'0" 180 lb. male friend didn't make it, and to this day he knows he didn't make it because he is a white male. He explained how the year he competed for the position, several visible minority women were hired instead. I feel really sorry for my friend, and I do believe he was discriminated against for being white, reverse discrimination if you will.
What is even more upsetting to me is that the East Indian woman who somehow "passed" and was hired, barely lasted 5 years as a police officer, and eventually resigned. Meanwhile, my friend today is a struggling auto mechanic, and I'm sure still bitter about not making it. There's nothing wrong with being an auto mechanic, but the point is that his dreams of being an officer were crushed due to employment equity policies. He had everything going for him, a degree in criminology, superior athleticism and strength, conviction about justice being served, you name it. He really wanted to serve and protect.
Any time employment equity policies are applied, they tend to favour one group over another, and at the same time act as a barrier to another group. Such policies simply override merit-based hiring practices, and therefore, should be eliminated. As Thomas Sowell points out, visible minorities did not ask for employment equity. This notion is in the minds of the white people who fabricated it on their own volition to apparently "correct" the unfair discrimination of visible minorities. Affirmative action was the wrong reaction to an apparent problem. For more thorough discussion, read The Case Against Affirmative Action.
The better course of action would have been to fire any white person who perpetuated discrimination against a minority group, and to further promote a merit-based system based on education, experience, and potential for good performance.