Affirmative action, or skin-based judgement

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Two wrongs don’t make a right. Although this seems like a no-brainer, it’s a concept that eludes most supporters of affirmative action.

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its 7-1 decision to uphold the current admissions process, which considers race as a factor, at the University of Texas at Austin. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, filed a claim against UT for denying her a spot in the entering class of 2008. In her defense, she said that she was rejected despite having the grade requirement and a competitive application. She also noted that she was more qualified than some of the admitted minority students.

As a minority student, I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court did not come to a more decisive conclusion. It should have banned affirmative action instead of simply sending the case back to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Affirmative action is, at its core, racial discrimination covered by good intentions. It often hurts the very students it’s trying to help by shrouding their credentials with doubts. Questions like, “Did I get in because I’m black/Latino/Native American/Asian/etc.?” or, “How would I have fared if I were white?” are inevitable.

If the students themselves can feel uncertain about their competence, then it’s natural for others to also question their merits. This is why Fisher felt that she was cheated by the admissions committee — i.e. they chose someone less qualified than her simply because they’re looking to “diversify” the campus.

Admittedly, the UC campuses, particularly Cal and UCLA, saw a decline in the admission rate of blacks and Latinos after the affirmative action ban, Proposition 209, took place in 1996. However, what these statistics do not account for is the fact that white students also saw a decline in their acceptance rate. This means that it’s unfair to simply point fingers and blame the ban for a less diverse campus. In fact, at Cal, students who face hardships at home often get a second chance in the admissions process, while their race is hidden from the reviewer.

Instead of using affirmative action in the admissions process, universities should try harder to facilitate education at low-income elementary and secondary schools. After all, the dividing line exists between different class levels, not races. A middle-class student will most likely receive a better education — which translates to a better admission chance — than a low-income one. Thus, the problem stems from economic inequality, not our history of racial prejudices. Consequently, making racial-based decisions will neither fairly increase diversity or right past racial wrongs. Justice Clarence Thomas, the only black judge in the Supreme Court, agrees, “The University would have us believe that its discrimination is likewise benign. I think the lesson of history is clear enough: Racial discrimination is never benign.”

Image source: jnarvey via Creative Commons

Anh Thai ponders about insidious world problems in her Tuesday blog. Contact Anh Thai at [email protected]