Column: Affirmative action hurts everyone involved
Published: Friday, October 21, 2011 - 9:00am
As I was browsing NPR's website a week ago, I came across an article about a controversial bake sale held by a group of Republican students at the University of California at Berkeley.
The bake sale was intended to protest the proposed passage of Senate Bill 185, which would require public universities in California to consider race, ethnicity, gender, and national origin in application processes. Thus, the students had a different pricing system depending on the race and gender of the patron (for example, white patrons paid $2 for each baked good, while Hispanic patrons were charged $1), in order to draw attention to "reverse discrimination."
Berkeley students held a rally to protest the bake sale, and the Berkeley student senate condemned "the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group." The administration of the university attempted to prevent the bake sale, saying it was inappropriate and offensive. The Republican students have also been subject to a nationwide backlash, including threats to their safety.
I cannot understand why there has been such an uproar against the bake sale. For one thing, the group of Republicans have a right to free speech. But setting aside the free speech debate, don't the Republican students have a legitimate point?
Though I have not always known it by this name, I have always hated affirmative action. A lot of this probably has to do with the fact I am a white male. I have grown up seeing people given special scholar designations based on race, or going to the GAMES summer camp (a U of I camp for girls interested in engineering). I resent that these groups are able to openly exclude white males from their groups, but an organization cannot so openly exclude minorities and women for fear of being branded as white-supremacist and chauvinistic.
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines affirmative action as "an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination." The key word here is "favoring." Basically, affirmative action is a form of state-approved discrimination. Affirmative action is most controversial in college admissions and employment opportunities, although it does occur in other places.
The basic reasoning behind affirmative action has never made sense to me. Since when has our constitution said that some people have more of a right to education and employment just because they are a minority? And how exactly is affirmative action supposed to lead to a color-blind society when colleges and employers have to take race into account?
The most legitimate defense of affirmative action I have heard is that affirmative action is needed provide opportunities for people who started with disadvantages, such as sub-par primary education. I agree that the playing field in education is not level and that something needs to be done to help the people who started with disadvantages. However, I think this is a case of treating the symptoms and not the cause. We would be better served to find those disadvantages and fix them, i.e. providing better primary education, rather than trying to remedy poor primary education by giving disadvantaged students access to better higher education than they are qualified for.
Furthermore, there is evidence that remedial affirmative action instead hurts the groups it is trying to help. A study conducted by Professor Richard Sander at UCLA Law School found that affirmative action in law schools actually lowers the number of black lawyers. Sander concludes that without affirmative action, fewer black students would go to law school but far fewer would drop out.
Another argument frequently used in defense of affirmative action is that it is necessary to preserve diversity. My objection to this is twofold. First, race and gender are neither the best nor the only ways to measure diversity. Class, ethnicity, and political views, among other things, should be kept in mind when considering diversity.
Additionally, while I consider diversity in general to be a good thing, I do not think an organization should be so focused on promoting diversity that it hurts the organization's ability to function, which is what the U.S. Supreme Court argued in the 2009 case Ricci vs. Destefano. In that case, a group of white firefighters successfully sued the city of New Haven, Connecticut, for discrimination. The city had thrown out a set of exams for promotions because a statistically low percentage of black firefighters had passed the test. The Supreme Court overturned the district court's argument that giving promotions based on the results of these exams would discriminate against the black firefighters because the city would have to promote a statistically larger number of white firefighters than black.
A final argument I have heard to justify affirmative action is that it exists to make up for all the wrongs committed since the creation of our country. The idea is that since minorities and women were oppressed by white males for centuries, we need to make up for that by giving them better admission and employment opportunities than white males. This attempt to justify affirmative action is based on the preposterous theory that two wrongs will make a right. Following this reasoning, it makes sense for us to allow black hate groups to form and lynch white people. Or to let Israel bomb Germany in payback for the Holocaust. Affirmative action as a form of revenge does not make sense morally.
If some of you out there are still not convinced that affirmative action should be abolished, consider this question: When do you plan to end affirmative action? If 100 years from now the balance of discrimination shifts against white males, should they be the recipients of affirmative action? I think affirmative action should be abolished so that we do not have to worry about questions like these.