In a beautiful media stunt this February, governor Jeb Bush of Florida cried conveniently in front of a Baptist church supposedly because his black aides were being criticized for his abolishing affirmative action. He lamented, Im not crying for me. Im crying for you, Leslie, and others who have to make the ultimate sacrifice. Gag me with a stick.
Criticism for opposing such an important yet misunderstood program like affirmative action is warranted.
Public discourse has typically characterized affirmative action as a situation of theft. The less competent minority unfairly takes the job or university admittance from the innocent, more qualified white man. He is a victim of reverse discrimination, racial preference, identity politics and quotas. Now, this popular image is either an accurate portrayal of how racial minorities and women have suddenly become dominant takers in society or a contrived message of propaganda designed to maintain the current system of unequal power. Guess which one.
Affirmative action is not reverse discrimination or minority preference. Discrimination is an insidious practice where someone from a powerful group rules out an applicant based on their less powerful statues without considering anything else. On the other hand, affirmative action is a program where race and sex are simply taken into consideration. They are not the only factors considered.
Anti-affirmative action propagandists try to make it sound like people are getting jobs or college admittance just because they are a racial minority or a woman. It is an either-or proposition. Either you consider applicants based on merit and qualifications or you accept applicants based on their race or sex. Surprisingly enough, qualifications can be examined and at the same time some weight can be given to the benefits of approving minority applicants.
The notion of qualifications is even further clouded when you examine how these supposedly objective qualifications are already biased against minorities. The inherent racial and cultural biases of standardized tests like the SAT have long been acknowledged, even by its designers. Moreover, every evaluation given to people, from grades on papers in high school to job performance evaluations, has had a high probability of being slanted. Women are viewed as more foolish and frivolous than men. Racial minorities are seen as lazier and less intelligent than whites. Even Asian Americans, whose success and intelligence is typically played up in popular culture, have to deal with judgments of being poor communicators and outsiders. Those notions do affect judgments made about them by evaluators from childhood and on. So, are these less qualified minorities actually less worthy of acceptance? Or have they actually been working twice as hard to get half the approval and high evaluations that white men do?
The fact is racial minorities and women face systemwide discrimination and economic marginalization. They are not proportionally represented in high-paying jobs or on college campuses. Affirmative action is necessary to counteract the effects of discrimination and achieve diversity in the workplace and academia.
Additionally, affirmative action is necessary to balance out the unfair advantages that whites get through the Old Boys Club. With more whites working in management positions, whites are more likely to get internships through their brothers. With more whites attending college with money to spare, whites are more likely to get a job from someone who had been in their fraternity. With a longer history of college attendance in the family, whites are more likely to benefit in college admissions from having family who are alumni. We absolutely do not live in a meritocracy. The deck starts out stacked against marginalized groups and affirmative action simply levels the playing field.
That playing field is tipping precariously in areas where affirmative action has been abolished. Some may have heard how the University of California has retained about the same number of minority students after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a proposition banning affirmative action there. Far fewer will have heard the number of minorities at UCs most prestigious campus, UC-Berkeley, has dropped drastically. They have just managed to regain more minorities on the chintzier campuses.
Even worse than that easily misleading situation, many conservative politicians, including that friend to the oppressed George Bush Jr. and his brother Jeb, have promoted an ill-devised alternative to affirmative action. This plan would guarantee college admission to a certain percentage of students at the top of their classes.
Unfortunately, this plan does not recognize that the abilities of female and racial minority students to rise to the top of their classes are hindered by prejudice. Female students are called on less than male students in the classroom throughout grade school. Being steered toward less advanced courses and assumptions that they will not go to college undermines racial minorities. The deck is stacked.
In Michigan, attacks have been made on affirmative action at the University of Michigan law school. To make matters worse, everybodys favorite drunken driving and apparently now fiancée-beating Republican state Sen. David Jaye has sponsored Senate Joint Resolution C. This would prohibit affirmative action in employment, public education and public contracting. Of course, it is housed in flowery civil rights and nondiscrimination language, but measures intended to hurt minorities typically are these days.
However, the logic and necessity of programs like affirmative action will win out in the end. Conservatives may not be ready for diversity, but diversity is ready for them.
Brian Emerson Jones, an interdisciplinary studies in social science sophomore, can be reached at email@example.com.