Thursday, June 2, 2011

Affirmative Racism: The Case for Equality under the Law


            As hundreds of college applications start rolling in for members of Rustin’s senior class, chances are that at least a few of those decisions will be affected by affirmative action. Affirmative action is the government mandate requiring any college accepting federal tax dollars to give certain minority applicants (primarily blacks and Hispanics) a leg up on their competition. Admissions officers are required to accept less qualified applicants from those races in place of more qualified applicants of other races. Of course, that’s not the official line. If affirmative action advocates are confronted, they’ll likely give one of three justifications for the practice. But these arguments are logically flawed, practically outdated, and blatantly unfair; rather, the only way to truly ensure racial justice is to abolish affirmative action.
            The first argument is that affirmative action gives everyone an equal shot by counteracting the negative academic effects of racism in today’s society. In order for this theory to justify affirmative action, two things must be established. Firstly, we must establish whether racism in today’s society is pervasive and widespread enough to inhibit academic achievement among certain minorities. Secondly, we must determine if the extent to which affirmative action benefits those applicants’ matches the extent to which racism inhibits their achievement. Do modern black and Hispanic students, all other variables being equal, truly face a more challenging road to scholastic success than other races, purely on the basis of bigotry? And if they do, do those challenges warrant the magnitude of the advantage they are given in the application process?
            John Stossel doesn’t think so. “Advocates of affirmative action argue it is needed because of…discrimination,” he recently observed. “Maybe that was true in 1970, but it’s no longer true. Affirmative action is now part of the minority special privilege machine, an indispensable component of which is perpetual victimhood.” But even if racial discrimination does still impede minority academic achievement, we must examine the extent of this impediment. Affirmative action advocates assume quite a large extent. A study conducted by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade concluded that “African-Americans who achieved scores of 1150 [out of 1600] on…SAT tests had the same chances of getting accepted to top private colleges as whites who scored in the 1460s and Asians who scored perfect 1600s.” And it’s not just SAT scores. The same study noted that, among applicants with “similar grades, scores, athletic qualifications, and family history…whites were three times as likely to get accepted as Asians, Hispanics were twice as likely to win admission as whites, and African-Americans were at least five times as likely to be accepted as whites.” Is racism really so prevalent in today’s society that a black student who scores an 1150 would have scored a 1600 without the effects of discrimination or bias? So prevalent that he/she deserves to get in over an Asian with a perfect score? Racism and its effects are difficult things to quantify with statistics, but this seems an obscenely large advantage. As Jules Older of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, “In a country built on individual liberty and promise, that feels deeply unfair. If a teenager spends much time studying, excels at an instrument or sport, and garners wonderful teacher recommendations, should he be punished for being part of a high-achieving group? Are his accomplishments diminished by the fact that people he has never met - but who look somewhat like him - also work hard?”
            But combating present-day discrimination is only one benefit cited by affirmative action advocates. They also claim it combats the economic disadvantages minorities face as a result of historical oppression. But even if we accept the notion that poorer students have a harder time succeeding in school, and even if we accept the notion that this justifies giving poorer students an advantage in college admissions, these practices should still be race blind. Just because certain minorities tend to make less money than others in this country does not mean this can be assumed for all individual applicants. A policy that admits lower class applicants over equally qualified wealthy ones is less objectionable. If oppressed minorities are more likely to be poor as a result of historical oppression, then race-blind admissions policies which aid the poor should already give them an advantage. But as it stands, affirmative action does not reward the poor over the rich. Instead, it makes unfounded assumptions about why the poor are poor, and unfair inferences as to who deserves admission more than another, purely on the basis of race. The result is that hard work and academic accomplishments are valued less than the color of ones skin. That is racism, plain and simple.
            The third justification cited by affirmative action supporters is that diversity is essential to a collegiate atmosphere, so a certain racial balance must be maintained. I agree that college should expose students to many different perspectives, and challenge them with many different ideas. But far more important to this atmosphere than diversity of skin color is diversity of viewpoints and opinions. And when it comes to enforcing this measure of diversity, colleges seem unconcerned. A recent study by a team of political science professors confirmed long-held suspicions of liberal bias in American colleges. “By their own description,” they concluded, “72% of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15% are conservative…at the most elite schools…87% of faculty are liberal and 13% are conservative.” If colleges were truly committed to a learning atmosphere which includes differing viewpoints and perspectives, wouldn’t these disparities be of far greater concern than the racial breakdown of the student body? This hypocrisy is not accidental. Judging by the recent attempts by Bucknell and other colleges to censor affirmative action protests hosted by conservative student groups, college officials don’t really want to admit every opinion into the discussion. Only those they agree with.
            In conclusion, affirmative action is no longer needed in modern American society, unfair to high-achieving students, and, frankly, just plain racist. One cannot combat racial discrimination with racial discrimination, and nor can one promote racial equality by treating races unequally. The sooner our nation’s policymakers realize that, the better.

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