Activism and Social Theory: Saul


Of course, this is a credo America has never truly enforced or lived by.

But by forcing American institutions to integrate through affirmative action programs, or by stressing affirmative action as the predominant road to success, in essence, oppressed groups force them to adopt a weak rather than a powerful ideological stance. They force themselves to enter into the game of playing the 'card' of the tragic and oppressed minority group. Thus a minority group deprives itself of the power of ridicule, especially against organizational leaders, another of Alinsky's so-called potent weapons of radical activists. According to Alinsky's principle of ridicule, against humor there is no defense on the part of the oppressor, because humor is irrational, infuriating, and also works as a key pressure point to force concessions. Thus, Black comedians like Richard Pryor who verbally challenge American stereotypes and stand outside the institutions of corporate production do more than, for example, Bill Cosby, who pays honor to the ideals of dominant American society, ideals of corporate success, hard work, and adhering to traditional career goals.

Also, by denying minority or oppressed individuals humor, vitality, and a positive sense of one's current racial identity, and giving them only the status of an oppressed group, little joy is obtained for individuals through affirmative action. The status of their identity within the institution is emotionally as well as politically and socially impoverished. Alinsky suggests that a good tactic is one the oppressed radical people enjoy because enjoyment means a person will keep doing it without urging of their supposed betters, and they will and come back to do more, out of delight and not out of duty. They'll even suggest better ideas to disturb the peace, Alinsky crows.

But worst of all, fundamentally, affirmative action takes off the pressure of powerful institutions. A powerful institution such as Harvard or Goldman Sachs lets a few qualified minorities into its fold, and thus excuses itself from adopting deeper and real changes in its still largely White, male, corporate and capitalist culture that has historically disenfranchised so many peoples. Instead, Alinsky says one must keep the pressure on such institutions from without. Never let up on the pressure, keep trying new tactics to keep the opposition off balance, and as the target perfects one approach, hit them with something new, rather than accepting a few token concessions.

Affirmative action is also diffusing of group power, a fatal mistake in Alinsky's view. Ultimately the practice results in the funneling of the best and brightest youth off into segmented and diverse institutions and corporations, rather than concentrating group power in ethnically or gender dominant schools. It does not funnel talent and money back to the core communities of the oppressed. This is why one must select a target from the outside and target an individual, personalize the attack, polarize and demoralize the individual's supporters, rather than become part of a faceless intuition and acquiesce. Go after people, not institutions, counsels Alinsky, go about, as hurting, harassing, as humiliating individuals, especially leaders, causes more rapid organizational change.

Of course, one cannot do this from within as easily -- how can one criticize the president of Harvard, for example, even as a female professor of science or of African-American studies, when the president is the leader of the institution responsible for one's paycheck and advancement? Thus, Saul Alinsky provides a powerful radical argument against the major goals of affirmative action. He suggests that the practice serves the elite, rather than radical aspirations, and reminds radicals of the old advice, "keep your friends close, and keep your enemies closer. Do not allow one's enemies to keep you close, Alinsky would counsel, suggesting that affirmative action is simply a way to keep the core enemies of corporate America and academia close to its heard, thus smothering radical collective actions on the part of the oppressed.