I will start this post off by saying that I am white, middle-class, and a child of the suburbs. I was born and raised in uber-blue Northern California, to Democratic parents, and now I go to UC Berkeley, a notoriously liberal school (a stereotype that is not entirely deserved, but that is another post for another time). This does not give me an easy position to discuss (and even less, denounce) affirmative action, but I’m going to do that anyway.
AA has been in the news recently because John McCain recently stated that he supports a measure in Arizona that would get rid of the preference system.
I am against affirmative action because it gives an unfair advantage to minorities based on race (and, in some cases, women based on gender). It’s that simple. AA was designed to give underprivileged youth a boost in college admissions (it also helps underprivileged adults seeking government employment). By itself, this is not an ignoble cause. There is no doubt that poorer communities live in a vicious circle of poor education leading to poor jobs leading to their kids having poor educations and poor jobs…and on an on. This is clearly something that needs to be addressed, but affirmative action is not the answer.
Problem numero uno with AA seems so obvious that it is often taken for granted. AA is based on race. No where does it specify that a college applicant must be poor, or live in a particular neighborhood, or go to a particular type of school, or have fewer than a particular number of TV channels. No where does it specify that they need to have faced certain hardships, nor does it require that they even be underpriveledged at all. Therefore, a minority student born to wealthy, upper-class parents (and yes, they do exist) is in no way disqualified from receiving preferential treatment.
What this means (see if you can follow along here) is that a rich (or otherwise “privileged”) black, or Latino, or American Indian student is admitted to a college before an equally-qualified yet underprivileged white or Asian student.
Affirmative action therefore does not help underprivileged students, but rather minority students. The equation to represent this thinking would be X=POOR, (where X=an African American, a Latino, or a member of any other group considered a minority). X=POOR, X=IN NEED OF SPECIAL HELP, X=UNDERPRIVILEGED. These equations, for various obvious reasons, do not compute. Minorities are not inherently poor, and indeed as time goes on more and more are climbing up the ladders towards the middle and upper classes. To assume that ALL minorities need assistance in getting into college or getting a good job is racist in itself, but it also disqualifies those who deserve the assistance who cannot get it because they happen to be white or Asian.
This brings up another issue which I will only touch on lightly: reparations. Some people believe that AA is a form of reparations- a way to make up for all the bad things white people have done to, well, everyone else. I am against reparations because I don’t believe that the children of today should have to pay for the mistakes of their (often distant) ancestors, and nor should they benefit from their hardships. History cannot be (or, at least, should not be) rewritten by money or privilege. Affirmative action as reparation even ignores history altogether by forgetting that plenty of other groups- Irish Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, and more- also faced terrible hardships when coming to this country (this is not to say that their lives were as difficult as those of African-Americans, but to question where the line is drawn between “privileged” and “unprivileged”).Things are not as simple nor easy to separate the American people into “minority” and “privileged” and assign help accordingly, but that is what AA tries to do.
A final issue that is important to note is discussed by Barack Obama, from the article:
“If you’ve got 50 percent of African-American or Latino kids dropping out of high school, it doesn’t really matter what you do in terms of affirmative action. Those kids are not getting into college,” he said.
Affirmative action does not and will not ever guarantee that minority kids get a good education. That is up to them.