With the passing of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and as we revisit the life and legacy of a person who represents struggle, resistance and hope, it is important to highlight one of the most important advances achieved by the Civil Rights Movement: Affirmative Action.
Throughout the many discussions and debates that revolve around the issue of Affirmative Action, there have been many myths running rampant and too few facts. In our safe, liberal environment here at UC Santa Barbara, one often hears highly naive statements attempting to prove that we, as a society, have progressed to the point that we no longer need to implement programs like Affirmative Action. The persistence of race and gender-based hate crimes, unequal pay, disparities in enrollment and retention, imbalances in hiring and other evidence points to the continuing need to keep positive programs like Affirmative Action alive.
An infamous and tired argument against Affirmative Action has referred to it as “reverse racism.” The term itself is rhetorical and meant to invalidate the importance of Affirmative Action. Reverse racism cannot be a reality if people of color are not in the positions of power that perpetuate institutionalized racism. The cry for a colorblind approach to social organization is a farce in a nation that built itself upon inequality based on race. The last of the most notorious myths commonly used against Affirmative Action is that it hurts white and Asian Pacific Islander communities.
Whites, as a whole, have not been hurt by Affirmative Action. White men make up 33 percent of the U.S. population, but 97 percent of top executive positions in the nation’s highest-ranking corporations, 90 percent of university presidents and 90 percent of university professors. Thus, they still control a grossly disproportionate amount of power in this society.
In the process of generalizing Asian cultures, the multiple ethnicities within the Asian Pacific Islander communities have been neglected. Enrollment rates for Filipinos at institutions of higher education are much closer to African Americans and Latinos than other Asian Americans. As with other people of color communities, by addressing the specific needs of the diverse Asian Pacific Islander community, Affirmative Action leaves no one behind and attempts to address the needs of those with the least resources.
At this moment in California, the greatest matter at hand is that since the adoption of Prop 209 and the instatement of Standing Policy 1 by the University of California Board of Regents, the UC system has lost its bragging rights as an institution that honors and values diversity. The University of California has become a public institution that refuses to serve the people. The tax dollars that fund the UC are coming from the families of students who will not apply to a UC school because of the “not wanted” poster that SP 1 has placed on the doorway to educational and social advancement. Even more sad is the fact that the tax dollars of these families are being used to subsidize the education of an elite and privileged few. Preventing taxation without representation was and still is a founding achievement of the United States of America.
Ironically enough, there is still one social institution in California that actively applies Affirmative Action: the prison industry. As California, a political trend-setting state, shifts towards a demographic containing a majority of people of color, it becomes more and more clear that public funding is shifting from educating to incarcerating this new generation. With the string of hate legislation embodied in Props 209, 187 and 21, a process of deterring California’s youth from education to lives of crime has begun to expose itself. As California invests itself in prison spending (#1 expenditure in the state), it sacrifices access to education (#41 in education spending). Affirmative Action was created over thirty years ago by the revolutionary brothers and sisters of the Civil Rights Movement to ensure accessibility to resources and to promote equality; as students who made it past Prop 209 we must never forget this.
Edith Sargon is a senior women’s studies major and the A.S. External Vice-President for Statewide Affairs.