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Affirmative Action Should Make Us Think About Others

Jess Melvin, Writer

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As students begin to look at college and career options during this second semester, the anxiety of getting accepted can be overwhelming. Affirmative Action, a set of policies put into place in the 1960s that seeks to elevate minorities by encouraging inclusion, can affect this process. Its policies focus on ethnicity and sex. Different laws cover other minority groups, such as those with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, and age-specific groups, such as the elderly. Affirmative Action can be found across the globe in a variety of interpretations. While its intentions are important, its implementation is faulted and should be reconsidered to help this nation truly progress. However, the future of changes to Affirmative Action is uncertain. “I don’t think Affirmative Action will change,” math teacher Knicholas Middleton said. “Politicians won’t undo Affirmative Action for fear of being seen as racist, but they won’t advance it in fear of being seen as a radical.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about Affirmative Action in the United States is that it encourages businesses and colleges to establish minority quotas, a set number or percentage of each race and gender they intend to meet to reach the bare minimum of inclusivity. While some other nations use and even encourage a quota system, it is illegal in the United States. Instead, the United States uses outreach and support programs, and oftentimes establishes “targeted goals.” However, the difference between goals and quotas can be hard to distinguish at times.

Affirmative Action, as it is implemented, is focused on dismantling systematic oppression. At its conception during the peak of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement, its legal protection of minorities was a promising step towards egalitarianism. While society has progressed since then, many minorities still face societal pressure and oppression, whether that be through slurs and attacks or underrepresentation. Policies like Affirmative Action contribute to the continual process of overcoming deeply embedded obstacles to ensure equal opportunity. It is true for all of society that, by uplifting one generation through equal representation in education and employment, each subsequent generation can be better equipped to succeed.

In the words of history teacher Tenesha Roberson, “Affirmative Action encourages people to look for talent in places they used to ignore.”

“If Affirmative Action has done anything good, it has at least pressured schools and businesses to consider applicants they might otherwise not give a second glance and search for talent in new places,” Middleton said.

Affirmative Action’s effect on minority integration is undeniable. Since its conception, the number of minority members following paths traditionally pegged as exclusively for white males has skyrocketed. For instance, the percent of women in Congress since 1965 has increased from 2.4 to 19.4, based on statistics from the Congressional Research Service. This change is also indicated by the rise in per capita income for each race based on the dollar. According to ColorLines, for every dollar a white man made in 1965, an African American man made merely 54 cents. As of 2010, this has risen to 62 cents, meaning on average more African American men are going into high paying careers. Though societal changes have also contributed to this growth, the idea of Affirmative Action has continually served as a specter to ward off discrimination so that true prejudice becomes evident and can be remedied.

However, the argument that Affirmative Action’s practice is, ironically, discriminatory, does hold water. Some studies of test scores required of members of major race groups for admission to Ivy League colleges found that expectations for Asian and Caucasian Americans were higher than those of African, Hispanic, and Native Americans. This challenges the idea of a meritocracy, or a world in which those with the most qualification and ability are chosen for the position. According to DoSomething, a non-profit organization, the theory of mismatch means adding an equivalent of 150 to 310 points on a minority’s SAT score.

“All of my students that I have helped have gotten into college, as far as I know, based on merit rather than race,” counselor Amy Hamilton said.

Even so, the experiences of the individual can have an effect on standardized test scores which do not necessarily translate into ability. According to a 2012 study by Virginia Commonwealth, the average rate of minorities graduating colleges that utilize Affirmative Action is comparable to white students at 48.7%. Perhaps, the influence of inclusion that these colleges foster contributes to the overall academic success rate

The basis of inclusion on broad racial categories gives the same assistances to all members of that race in ignorance of ethnicity. For instance, Ashkenazi Jewish Americans, one of the smallest minorities in America, are included in the white group, despite antisemitism and historical injustices. As well, Irish and Chinese Americans have experienced harsh discrimination, even historically having immigration and occupation restrictions. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act fed Sinophobic rhetoric by banning immigration from Chinese laborers from 1882 to 1945, and signs reading “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” and “Irish Need Not Apply” could be found on business windows for centuries. Despite separate cultures, people are grouped with the rest of Americans who share their skin tone. Mixed race individuals are also restricted by these cut-and-dry categories. Categorization eliminates the distinction of culture and blends groups of different ethnicities into oversimplified race groups. While racial prejudice does affect minorities, the practice of categorization is offensive and only serves to worsen racial divisions.

The policies of Affirmative Action, while noble in thought, are outdated in practice. Rather than completely abolish it, America needs to rethink and revise it. Race and gender relations in the United States are much more complicated than this simple system can properly address. And, while ethnicity and sex can be a factor in privilege, so are ability, economic class, and individual hardships. Each person’s story is different, and giving benefits based solely on a single aspect of someone’s being does nothing but to further alienate and separate. Instead of grouping people into oversimplified qualifiers to easily force integration, the government should carefully and deliberately improve Affirmative Action to give true equal opportunities for all. While it may be hard to get through to government officials due to the nation’s current tumultuous climate, action can be taken. Recognize your prejudices and work to be a more inclusive and accepting individual. Support policies that integrate, not separate, and keep in mind the hardships and privileges affecting each person.

 

 

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