Colorblind: Reconsidering Race-Based Affirmative Action

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to hear again a case on race-based affirmative action, perhaps it is time for us as students to reconsider the efficacy of this widespread policy beyond its constitutionality. Regardless of one’s own ideological and emotional biases, the reality is that there is in fact an extremely unfortunate minority achievement gap that has led a sizable portion of certain minority groups to be undereducated and underprivileged. Actions taken to rectify this situation and expand social and economic opportunities are not only noble but also necessary for the betterment of our society.

I am supportive of actions taken to help those who have not received the same resources or opportunities as many others. This is especially true for America’s underprivileged youth, who, at the luck of the draw, have been born into families that cannot provide them with the resources, financial and otherwise, to succeed. Even taken at face value, it is logical for an admissions officer to take these factors into consideration. Normally, admissions should be based solely on merit. The implication of this statement is that someone who was raised with fewer opportunities should be given more credence to their innate merit, intellect, and hard work. There are many factors that must be taken into consideration — if the person could not afford new books or computers or tutors; if their parents provided no emotional encouragement or may have even been emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive; if they learned English late in life; or if they grew up in a neighborhood where success was discouraged and where educational facilities were lackluster. If a person overcame such obstacles to achieve the same results of someone who did not have these same challenges, then the first applicant surely has demonstrated more merit than the second applicant.

Yet what is important, and where proponents and opponents of affirmative action diverge, is the conflation between poverty and race. Of course, it is clear that not all minorities are poor and that not all poor people are minorities. Yet race-based affirmative action flies in the face of this logic. The statement made by a policy of race-based affirmative action is that every member of a minority group is inherently prone to poverty — that somehow, solely because you were born with a certain skin color, we must treat you differently. This policy appears almost archaic in that it indicates that every individual of a minority group is innately different because of his or her race or skin color.

Brown University's admissions office must move beyond racial divisions.

What becomes further meddled in the conflation of poverty and race is that there are alternatives to race-based affirmative action that are conveniently overlooked. This issue is not an all-or-nothing scenario where the elimination of affirmative action will automatically trigger a buildup of the ultra-affluent on college campuses at the expense of those who were born with a deficit of opportunity. Specifically, I propose that race-based affirmative action be replaced entirely with a socioeconomic status-based affirmative action system that awards any applicant who has had difficulties and obstacles such as those mentioned earlier. Thus, this system will provide a more just advantage to the disadvantaged. My proposal is not so much a repudiation of affirmative action but instead a compromise between its opponents and proponents. Specifically, it will eliminate the need to differentiate based on race and will focus entirely on the merit of the applicant, which of course takes into consideration the availability of opportunities. If it is true that members of minority groups tend to come from poorer and more underprivileged families, this policy will work to their advantage.

What is most significant about this policy is that it ensures fairness in admissions. It is inherently unfair for a rich black student to receive an advantage over a poor white student. This is also not at all a rare situation. In place of this injustice, a socioeconomic status-based affirmative action system will treat all races as equals and assess their applications simply based on their respective merit, as a function of their opportunities (or lack thereof). On the other side of the same coin, the system will eliminate discrimination in applications entirely because it could mask the reader from the race of the individual. Without knowledge of the applicant’s race, the reader will be able to read the application in an unbiased manner and thus they can only consider that person’s merits. I am reminded of the famous and often-repeated lines of the visionary Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Let us stand for equality, break down the barriers erected between races, and treat each individual with colorblind lenses by assessing exclusively their merits and personal character.

 

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