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Affirmative action is the misunderstood child of liberal politics in America. The reasons for and details of its implementation are hardly understood by most Americans today. It’s not “reverse racism,” it’s not a form of reparations and it’s not the rubber-stamp, automatic green-light admissions policy that a lot of people make it out to be.
One of the most pervasive myths in the American consciousness today is that of a “colorblind” America. Racism has no longer become socially or morally acceptable to practically anyone in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean the end of racism; it simply means a shift away from overt racism to covert and/or subconscious racism. Institutional racism is a reality — human beings within society’s system maintain their own personal biases and prejudices, making it possible for them to (intentionally or not) deny societal benefits to certain groups. There’s ample historical evidence for this, such as the systematic exclusion of blacks from federal housing programs just a few decades ago. Structural racism is a reality — minorities are very disproportionately likely to be born in areas of endemic poverty with lower quality education (since K-12 education is funded by local property taxes) and lower chances for advancement. Individual racism is still a reality — “racist” as a label is passé, but we’re still allowed to maintain our own prejudices by proclaiming to ourselves and others that we are “definitely not a racist.” MLK Jr. certainly called for a “colorblind” society — but we do not live in one now, and pretending that we do doesn’t make it true.
Affirmative action affirms the existence of a race problem in America today and takes action to solve it instead of wallowing in denial and wishful thinking. Historical discrimination is a convenient justification, but the program follows a separate philosophy from reparations. It’s intended to counteract an existing disadvantage. Undeniably, some of that disadvantage comes from historical factors, but the point isn’t to punish white people for the actions of white people one hundred years ago; the point is to recognize that disadvantage has racial underpinnings and implications.
Affirmative action really isn’t the boogeyman most people make it out to be. University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978) established that outright quotas based on race and gender are unconstitutional. Official quotas haven’t been around for over three decades. Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) similarly established that systems which assign a large point value to race are unconstitutional because they are essentially quotas. (It was an extreme case; the school in question gave 20 points for racial status and 12 for a perfect SAT score, with 150 points possible and only 100 necessary to guarantee admission.) But the similarly titled Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) established the use of “narrowly tailored” special considerations for racial status to be fully constitutional and necessary for the promotion of diversity. Affirmative action in America today does little more than give a bit of extra consideration to underprivileged students on the borderline between admission and rejection.
It’s true that not all white people come from upper- or middle-class backgrounds, but minorities disproportionately face socioeconomic disadvantages and widespread discrimination. Affirmative action makes a difference only when two candidates of separate races are equally qualified — and even then, these hypothetical matchups don’t literally happen. That black kid I’m up against may have an identical SAT score, the same GPA, solid essays, stellar recommendations … but I can also guarantee that throughout his life, he’s faced some sort of discrimination or disadvantage that made it harder for him to achieve those results. Race matters, and it’s time to do something about it.
Daily Nexus liberal columnist Geoffrey Bell recommends America pay a visit to the eye doctor before it declares itself colorblind.
In Response, Right Said:
My counterpart criticizes opponents of affirmative action because we don’t yet live in a colorblind society. Perhaps, but when will we, may I ask? Maybe when we’re all of every race like the “Goobacks” of “South Park” (Season 8, Episode 7). Such criteria are a poor excuse for the government to favor a person of one race over a person of another, and morally questionable at best.
To illustrate this point and to rebut my counterpart’s point about hypothetical matchups, please consider this short example: Two candidates are applying for a spot at a school in which there are finite spaces. They are identical in their qualifications (same GPA, same SAT/ACT score, president of five different clubs, etc.). Under a colorblind system, they would each have a 50/50 chance of getting in. Now, let us introduce race. One is white and one is black. The school, deciding in its oh-so-infinite wisdom that it wants greater “diversity,” has in reality already made up its mind — the white candidate is automatically discarded in favor of the “disadvantaged” black candidate. Let me complicate the situation further by replacing the white candidate with a Native American (can’t do Asian; liberals don’t think us “disadvantaged” enough). Which race — oh I’m sorry, I meant individual — does more to increase the diversity of the school?
Confused about the coherency and fairness of this logic? Don’t worry, so is (most) everyone else. A well functioning, diverse society has nothing to do with race ratios; it has everything to do with the content of autonomous, individual personalities.