How The Voice explained Affirmative Action to me

Author: Scott Hamilton  /  Category: Musings

One of my guilty pleasures is watching The Voice. You know, reality TV singing competition – it’s essentially American Idol without all the needless mean-spirited embarrassment. Anyway, so I watch this show, and there are a lot of good singers in it. And they have all sorts of musical backgrounds. Some have been doing gigs forever at local venues, others claim to have really never sung anywhere except church (or maybe YouTube). Some of these singers are really really good. So I think to myself, “Why are those people sitting in the judge’s chairs successful, and those on the stage not?”

The answer is, of course, opportunity. These judges on the show, they are very good singers and entertainers. But so are a LOT of people. But these musicians attracted the attention of people who could give them chances to be seen, chances to practice and perfect their crafts, resources for publicity and networking. The winner of this year’s Voice was a kid who lived on a farm. Without the opportunity of being on this show, he’d still be on the farm instead of being seen by millions of people.

That’s really what affirmative action is about: opportunity. Here’s the fact: for whatever school opening or whatever that is out there, there are a ton of people who are smart enough, who have enough merit. There are lots of very smart kids out there, of every race, creed, orientation, shoe size, whatever. The difference is that the opportunities are very different. A poor kid from an inner city is much less likely to have the opportunity to even be told about some of these possibilities, much less apply or work towards getting them.

Affirmative action, and social justice in general, isn’t about enforcing quotas or anything like that, it’s about looking for merit in places (and in people) that usually get missed.

Saying “These things should be based on merit” isn’t racist. But when someone says “That kid got in there because of their race and not their merit”, you aren’t championing merit; you are saying that you don’t think there are¬†any people of that race who are capable. You are saying, “None of THOSE people could have merit.” And that is racist.

I knew all of this, but it occurred to me that this was a good way to explain it.