The Changing Face of Race: Global Affirmative Action


| July 25, 2003


The United States is not alone in building affirmative action on a legacy of slavery and disenfranchisement of a race. Pueng Vongs, writing for Pacific News Service, explores the successes and failures of affirmative action in Brazil, India, Malaysia, and South Africa, countries that have long experienced societal rifts and struggles on the issue of race.

In 2000, Brazil enacted racial quotas for the university system, specifically for those with some African heritage. However, since Brazilians with mixed blood account for roughly 40 percent of the population, determining 'to which race each Brazilian belongs' is very difficult. The quota system was recently suspended because of a constitutional challenge in the Brazilian Supreme Court, something Vongs notes, 'could also foreshadow problems for the United States, as its mixed-race population grows and notions of racial identity change.' On a different note, Malaysia's 'native son' policy was adopted to give Malays better business opportunities and a leg up in university admissions so as to compete with the ethnic Chinese -- who comprise 33 percent of the population and control 70 percent of the wealth,' Vongs writes. This disparity has contributed to some of Malaysia's bloodiest conflicts. The Malaysian prime minister 'recently hinted at dumping the 'native son' policy,' a move that Vongs predicts would 'plunge the nation into chaos and violence.'

South Africa has had little success with its attempts to even out the massive racial disparities of wealth and advantage. Affirmative action has only benefited a small minority of the black elite in the country while the large majority live in poverty, 'devastated by generations of oppressive apartheid policies.' In India, however, with one of the oldest affirmative action policies, the political power of lower castes in India is growing with the nation's first-ever 'untouchable' chief minister. Vongs notes that, 'countries may be slowly realizing that correcting legacies of injustice and discrimination may involve preferential programs based on both race and class, not race alone.'
-- Joel Stonington

Go there>> Around the World, Countries Grapple With Affirmative Action



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