Two-Way Affirmative Action


Recently, I completed a survey from Beth Israel Lahey Health, the mother ship of Mount Auburn Hospital, where I volunteer three days a week. It was a simple, two question survey from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Career Advancement.

Q1: How have recent Black Lives Matter activities affected your work? (A: They haven’t.)

Q2: How can BILH improve opportunities for all our staff?

My initial response was boilerplate affirmative action stuff: make more opportunities for BIPoC to advance in their careers; have more BIPoC in positions with authority and responsibility, blah, blah, blah.

Then I took off a tangent, not entirely knowing where it would go. “At the hospital where I work, virtually all the transport staff are Haitian men; the housekeepers LatinX women. Why is that? Why isn’t there more diversity at all levels of the job spectrum?”

I offered nothing more specific. But in the days that followed, I realized there could be real advantages to implementing affirmative action in both directions; requiring that, at some proportionate level, every job is filled by a cross-section of our local population.

The knee-jerk response to this idea is obvious. How are we going to get white people to do the jobs that BIPoC’s do when white people don’t want them? Besides, isn’t the whole idea of affirmative action passe? How or why would we ever require more?

Yet there’s beauty nested within the idea of two-way affirmative action. If employers needed to hire a certain number of white people to push stretchers and clean hospital rooms (and process meat and collect garbage and pick crops and do all the other activities that white people rarely do) then employers would have to improve the conditions of work. They would have to increase wages and provide better benefits and improve working conditions to attract white workers. All of which would lift the standards of work for people of color.

Sure, I want to see more BIPoC in professional and managerial positions. But we will actually change the living conditions of the broadest number of people if we elevate the grunt jobs that are almost exclusively the province of Blacks and Browns to include some white folks as well.

A crazy idea, perhaps, and hard to set into law in a country where we can’t even mandate a minimum living wage. But a worthy objective that would raise a whole lot of low-tided boats.

About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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7 Responses to Two-Way Affirmative Action

  1. Joseph Gaken says:

    Will Senator Warren see this?

  2. paulefallon says:

    I don’t believe she is a regular reader…

  3. Amber Foxx says:

    If employers hired white people do the low-wage, tough jobs, they would “have to” improve conditions? Morally, they “have to” already. And they don’t. But to attract white people to apply, maybe they would “have to.” And if they had a quota for low-wage diversity, they would have to attract more white people to apply. Unionization might accomplish more than a quota for improving working conditions. Another challenge, but one that I think would be more broadly accepted.

  4. paulefallon says:

    I like that idea Amber. There has been a real shift in where unions are most effective, with an increase of unionization among service industries, and a decrease in manufacturing. I still think it would be great if we had fewer arenas of work that were isolated to just one race or gender. I recall growing up every teacher was a woman. The first time I had a male teacher was a revelation. Wouldn’t it be great if we got beyond the default that every housekeeper and farm laborer was Black or Brown. That’s a goal that could transcend mere economics.

  5. Joe P says:

    Hi great reading yoour post

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