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Analyzing Affirmative Action
I got a thirty-six on my ACT.
I also scored 2210 on my SAT, including a perfect 800 on the critical reading section. My GPA is 4.0, despite the fact that I’m taking four AP classes at a time, in addition to numerous honors courses. I’m enrolled in the concurrent enrollment program with my local community college and am well on my way to an associate’s degree before I’ve even graduated high school.
I’m a member of the National Honor Society, a Science Olympian, and Editor-in-Chief of the school literary journal. I have over a hundred volunteer hours, I’m a published writer, and I was elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at Girl’s State. I was cast in the school play and chosen to speak at graduation.
At this point, I should probably also mention that I’m white.
The video was entitled ‘Welcome to Stanford’ and looked fairly interesting, so I clicked on it. Then I was treated to twenty minutes of arts spotlights, research opportunities, and student interviews. They interviewed thirteen students- six were male, a fair proportion.
Three were white.
Of course, there’s no proof that the rejection letter in my email inbox was because neither of my parents were Vietnamese or Nigerian immigrants. It’s possible that I was passed over simply because my SAT scores weren’t high enough or I had too few volunteer hours. Maybe it was my lack of a steady job or because my essays were not overwhelmingly perfect. Stanford refuses to tell you why you were rejected; I’ll never know. But I can’t help but wonder.
In the April issue, there was an article by Charlotte Rosenblum on affirmative action called “Is It Because I’m White?” The writer declared that race-based college admissions are still necessary to help disadvantaged students get ahead. She gave a quote by Lyndon B. Johnson to make her point- “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race, and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
Now obviously, in the sixties, this was perfectly sound reasoning. In the sixties, racism (legal or not) was still rampant, and the vast majority of African-Americans and other minorities were faced with poverty and poor educational oppotunities. In the sixties affirmative action was necessary.
This is not the sixties.
One of the biggest problems with the ‘letting them catch up’ argument is that it’s anachronistic. Nobody in their right mind today would reject a student because he is black or Hispanic (or a she.) Even if they hadn’t realized such discrimination is wrong, they’d know public backlash would be enormous. In the society of 2013, discrimination against minorities in public institutions is practically dead.
“But they’ve still been disadvantaged by hundreds of years of discrimination!” proponents argue. The problem with this tactic is that it treats all black people- past and present- as exactly the same. It does the same to all whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans, too.
Yes, blacks were discriminated against. Yes, whites treated everyone else horribly in the past. But does that mean all whites today are inherently evil? I have never worn a white hood or burned a cross on anybody’s lawn. I have never massacred Indians or even used racial slurs. Also, there isn’t a single student in our generation that was told they couldn’t use the drinking fountain or forced to ride in the back of the bus. Nobody applying for college today was sent to a WWII internment camp or sold as a slave. A minority person today is not in nearly the same position that a minority person was in thirty, sixty, or a hundred years ago.
“What about the poverty cycle?” you might ask. “Doesn’t that give people a disadvantage?” Of course it does. But not all minorities are poor, and not all poor are minorities. Whites get caught in the poverty cycle too, and many blacks have been able to lift themselves out of it. If we’re going to help people improve their socioeconomic status, base decisions on socioeconomics instead of skin color. Why is a middle-class black student more deserving than a homeless white student, if both have worked equally hard?
The problem with affirmative action is it makes hard work irrelevant. The April article asked how affirmative action was any different from programs that favored, say, athletes. The difference is that one can improve athletic, or artistic, or academic ability through practice and diligence. One cannot change their ancestry, no matter how hard they try.
In fact, if a student has worked hard, I don’t see why skin color should even be considered. I was under the impression that the civil rights movement was designed to destroy exclusion based on skin color, not just change the preferred shade. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that one day he’d be able to vote, that one day he’d be able to approach the police without fear, that one day white children and black children would be able to join hands as friends. His dream has, for the most part, been fulfilled.
My dream is a little smaller in scale, but one that’s just as important for my future and for that of our generation- I have a dream we’ll finally be able to take the ‘racial identification’ question off of applications. I have a dream that my resume will be based on my accomplishments and hard work instead of my photo.
And just like Dr. King, I have a dream that we will one day live in a nation where we “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of (our) character.”
Yes, Charlotte, it probably is because I’m white. And that needs to change.