The Changing Face of Race: Global Affirmative Action

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

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Around the World, Countries Grapple With Affirmative Action

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