Generally speaking, I am an unrelenting opponent of government intervention. Let the free market decide the optimal outcome; often times, it is the system most beneficial to society as a whole. On the subject of affirmative action, however, my opinions are slightly different. I wholeheartedly disagree with the Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold a ban on affirmative action.
The truth is that the challenges facing minority communities today are not born from free-market phenomena, but are rather shaped by political, social and economic realities. It is our government that, for the first half of the last century, explicitly and consistently pursued policies that came at a great disadvantage to people of color in this country. Our government pursued polices of oppression and division such as segregating schools and tying public school financing to property taxes. However, instead of attempting to elucidate all the ways that citizens of color are disadvantaged, I will attempt to address two of the main objections to affirmative action.
The first and most frequent objection is that affirmative action causes a distortion in a meritocratic system. While I value meritocracy as a metric upon which to judge candidates, I do not feel that static comparisons of curricular achievements are appropriate metrics for judging merit.
Consider the fact that the average African American senior in high school has roughly the same reading level as a white eighth grader in this country. Stereotype threat can cause minority groups with negative stereotypes to perform worse on tests. If African Americans’ lower test scores are taken into account without considering contextual evidence, you are no longer creating a fair atmosphere. The playing field is not level.
More importantly, however, there is psychological evidence – championed at this university by Professor Carol Dweck – to support the representation of intelligence as an entity that can grow, as opposed to a fixed quantity. In other words, intelligence is something that is cultivated and as such should be evaluated with reference to the opportunities for growth that were available, rather than some kind of fixed character trait that has an upper limit. In other words, the academic, social and economic environment of a student matters. Students should be evaluated with reference to their origins and environments for a system to be truly meritocratic.
The second and frankly most objectionable argument was put forth by Justice Kennedy when he wrote, “In a society in which those [racial] lines are becoming more blurred, the attempt to define race-based categories also raises serious questions of its own.” Could he be referring to the mere 2.4 percent of Americans who identify with two or more races? Surely they could not have “blurred” the fact that 97.6 percent of Americans are racially homogenous.
Even when taking a clear distinction between whites and non-whites, we see that non-whites have a median income that is $18,300 lower than that of whites, or roughly 65 percent of the white median income. This is especially relevant because public school financing tends to be tied to local taxes. A report coming out of the Center for American Progress stated, “Children attending school in higher-poverty districts still have substantially less access to state and local revenue than children attending school in lower-poverty districts.” Take these two facts together and you get a pretty damning picture of racially delineated disadvantages in this country.
Affirmative action is a crucial step towards righting some of the political wrongs that have been committed by the United States. It is a necessary correction to an unfair system and it is a real tragedy that the Supreme Court has expressed dissent towards the process.
Contact Anthony Ghosn at [email protected]