When I landed my 1st job it was away from home. To help build the picture it is not the norm to move out of home,… ever, unless you marry and sometimes not even then. Most of everyone I knew went to college at home and continued to work without moving out of home. So now that you can visualize that you could see that the move was a pretty big deal. Living in Durban and now having to move to Johannesburg (Jo’burg – South Africa) was an exciting one for me and a sleepless one for my mom. Getting a taste of room mates and their influences was all a culture shock to me. One of my room mates was a lawyer in training, preparing for her bar exams. We were discussing Affirmative action and it’s place in South African employment.
I was (naively) insistent that since we just had our 1st democratic elections that everything should be equal and we should be treated the same. I even (strongly) argued that affirmative action was tantamount to reverse racism. Being soaked in the (real) social and political my friend Kamini, made me understand that the current situation meant that people in power were one benefitted from a prejudiced system, having them only have power meant others would have to wait a long time, and maybe never, just to get on an even keel.
I listened as she told me that affirmative action is only meant to balance the scales to (hopefully) rectify the mess of the past. Somehow she made sense. A person who did not get a job in the past would not have access to certain education or experience which would ultimately put him at a disadvantage for a next position, thus the circle of bias would continue.
A year later, I got promoted to another position within the company but back in Durban – my hometown (yay! rent free to live with family), and I was told (repeatedly) by a (very bitter) co-worker that we were only products of Affirmative Action (weird since we had experience and a degree and she had neither to hold her position). I (re)visited that topic again when I heard of the “reservation” system in India, which is similar to affirmative action, with people of a lower caste getting addressed. I feel as passionate to that topic as I felt about it based on color. There is a place for it and if you enjoyed the fruits of a racist regime (A regime based on caste is racism in my book) it is time to share with all.
We all need our day in the sun!