Because this rant is long overdue.
First of all, it should be duly noted that while it’s important to recognize good intentions in policy-making, they cannot serve as a substitute for the triumph that would come with enacting successful policies. Of course this seems like a no brainer, but one would be surprised prevalent the mistake of fact defense is used in criminal laws. In criminal law, good intentions can mitigate the blame associated with a crime, but never erase the blame. The same applies to politics.
When it was kickstarted in 1961, affirmative action was the potential trump card that people hoped would “ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” (http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/eo-10925.html)
The fact of the matter is that over 200 years of institutionalized slavery and discrimination has conferred more than modest privilege to whites in the U.S.. For white males, history has served this privilege on a silver platter. Lynchings may be behind us, but there clear indications that minorities are still victims of discrimination. For example, in 2012, the median income for white non-hispanics was 42% more than that of blacks and 32% more than Hispanics. There is also an income discrepancy between men and women, with women earning $0.77 for every $1.00 that a male earns. In other words, on average, men make 23% more than women do. And though trends show that the average household income has increased as a whole, the discrepancy still remains—and if anything, is gradually getting larger. (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p60-245.pdf) The 2004 U.S. Census reveals that not only do whites dominate the upper two fifths of the income distribution, the majority of whites fall into that sector, while the majority of blacks and Hispanics fall into the lower two fifths. Income aside, discrimination has managed to penetrate nearly every other sector of society. Unemployment rates are nearly double for blacks and Hispanics than for whites for both men and women. (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2011/ted_20111005.htm). Furthermore, in the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely to be targeted and given harsher sentences. For example, though whites and blacks engage in drug-related activities at comparable rates, blacks are 2 to 11 times more likely to be arrested for drug-related crime. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/fourteen-examples-of-raci_b_658947.html) Blacks also receive sentences that are on average 10% longer than sentences for white offenders for the same crime. If that doesn’t raise more red flags than a wrong way sign on the interstate, then call me colorblind. And to top it all off, nude-color bandaids still only come in shades of peach.
If you are white and you live in the U.S., you’ve got privilege. A lot of it. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable knowing that—good. That means we’re getting somewhere.
In the spring of 1961, the Kennedy administration enacted affirmative action to curb discrimination and level the playing field. And yet, the statistics still stand—inequality is persistent as ever. Is it because affirmative action doesn’t work or because it’s not being done properly?
First off, I would like to debunk any and all arguments that affirmative action somehow marginalizes qualified white folks. Pardon, but whites still make up the majority of those being admitted to and in the nation’s top universities, and the majority of those who graduate. Just look at Harvard. 54% of those who are admitted (that’s over half, folks) are white, which means that minorities AS A WHOLE comprise less than half of those admitted. For those enrolled in these universities, minority composition tends to fall below the national average. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/how-americas-top-colleges-reflect-and-massively-distort-the-countrys-racial-evolution/267415/) Even after affirmative action was implemented in the ‘60’s, graduation rates have increased for all ethnicities (http://www.supportingevidence.com/Education/H_S_Grad_Rates.html) and for men and women alike (http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2011/gender-gap-in-education.aspx). People of color are still heavily underrepresented in management positions (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2011/ted_20110914.htm) and considering the unemployment statistics for minorities, the overall percentile of people of color in these positions are in the single digits (http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.pdf). And don’t even get me started on the possible racist reasoning underlying the ‘reverse discrimination’ argument (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/13/white-definitions-merit-and-admissions-change-when-they-think-about-asian-americans).
IN NO WAY DOES AFFIRMATIVE ACTION LEAD TO ‘REVERSE DISCRIMINATION’ AGAINST WHITES.[i]
So has affirmative action done anything other than offend some privilege-hungry white folks? (Note that I said some. Being a person of color myself, I have to assume that everything I say will come under scrutiny. Such is the nature of discrimination). The truth is affirmative action has increased the enrollment of people of color in college by 57.2% (http://www.civilrights.org/equal-opportunity/fact-sheets/fact_sheet_packet.pdf). Furthermore, the percentage of women enrolled in institutions of higher education have increased from 41.3% in 1961 to 71.3% of high school graduates in 2012 (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm). Though this increase is not due solely to affirmative action policies, but it wasn’t until after it was implemented that the percentage of women enrolled sharply increased and eventually surpassed the percentage of men (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2012/02/16/the-male-female-ratio-in-college/). And the fact that the graduation rate at 4-year institutions is 61% for females and 56% for males indicates that this did not result in a mismatch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mismatching#Mismatching).
That’s the big question isn’t it? Opponents of affirmative action typically argue that “favoritism” for ethnic minorities and women has caused them to be placed in colleges that have too demanding a workload and too difficult a curriculum for these so called “affirmative action admits.” As one can imagine, it’s quite difficult to make this argument without appearing to imply that minorities and women are less qualified, but there are those who have tried (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390444799904578050901460576218). These critics argue that giving admissions preferences to these students while ignoring their moderate to below-median academic performance can decrease their chances of graduation.
Oddly enough, this doesn’t seem to be the case in the top 10 schools where the minority graduation rate is well above the national average, and most above the 90th percentile (http://compare.univstats.com/2013/04/top-10-mba-graduation-rate-comparison.html). Why is this? Either “mismatch theory” does not apply in these cases—and consequently, the question arises, in what circumstances does it apply—or the principle behind mismatch theory is overlooking a few details. Evidence points towards the latter.
First, it attempts to explain the comparatively low graduation rate of minorities without considering that this is in fact, a national trend and that perhaps mismatch theory has less to do with the trend than how the socioeconomic cards are dealt out. Second, it condenses a complex, unquantifiable bundle of sociological and psychological factors into a one largely indeterminate and quantifiable 100-point SAT score boost. Minority preference may be a part of the problem, but by no means is it the entirety of the problem. Environmental influences no doubt have an impact on someone’s academic success, but a large part of it has to do with self-motivation and discipline, personal goals, and academic preparation in primary and secondary school. The theory also ignores the fact that so-called “affirmative action admits” may be looked upon as simply that—someone whose ethnicity was a trump card on their admissions application, but otherwise has no place in that university.
Going to a relatively prestigious university myself, I have also encountered this particular opinion on several occasions, and to put it in plain English, it infuriates me. Not only does it completely negate all the effort that I and others like me put into academics, it insults my intelligence and frankly, is no short of racism.[ii] I didn’t get a free ride to where I am now because of the color of my skin or because I lack a Y chromosome, just like many others didn’t get a free ride to the university because they’re local or because they’re vaguely acquainted with an admissions officer. Not to mention the irony of calling out the so-called “favoritism” of affirmative action while completely ignoring the institutionalized version of nepotism: http://www.businessinsider.com/legacy-kids-have-an-admissions-advantage-2013-6.
But most importantly, if mismatch is a consequence of affirmative action, it’s likely because affirmative action is not being applied correctly. I love diversity as much as the next black woman, but minorities are not present in universities merely to expose and educate white folk about different socioeconomic “perspectives.” Yet this seems to be the argument for the majority of politicians and critics
The way affirmative action is being implemented today with or without the publicized use of quotas is almost literally the institutionalized equivalent of saying that “because I’ve got two black acquaintances, I’m not racist.” Because I know enough Spanish to ask where the toilet is, I’m culturally conscious. Because the president is black, we as a country are clearly past discrimination. Because women compose 18.5% of the seats in Congress, sexism is history. Just because a certain college has fulfilled its 20% quota for minorities (which, by the way is often lower for top-tier colleges in the country), doesn’t mean it’s a diverse, progressive institution.
And that is my take on affirmative action, folks. While the intentions behind the policy are noble, we have yet to see society’s attitude towards it catch up. Only then can we see it as a milestone in the movement towards a post-racial society.
Other educational links:
a woman has twins and gives them up for adoption
one of them goes to a family in egypt and is named amal the other goes to a family in spain they name him juan
years later juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. upon receiving the picture she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of amal
he responds “theyre twins if youve seen juan youve seen amal”