Thoughts on Things On Which I Have Little Authority To Speak: Affirmative Action Edition

I bet you didn’t know you wanted to hear about Affirmative Action today! Well, you did, and I’ve got the perfect blog post.  A plethora of follow-ups, addenda, qualifications, nuances, exceptions, new thoughts, etc. are likely on their way.  

Affirmative action has well-intentioned and even effective underpinnings.  In practice, however, formalized affirmative action lends itself to rigid quotas and uses minority status as a proxy for all kinds of potentially unrelated characteristics.  It’s a huge disservice as it only furthers negative stereotyping, bitterness, and distance between majorities and minorities.

It makes sense to recognize that success and potential success don’t always translate into GPAs and SATs or degrees. That one must take into account the whole person — including background, race, gender, geography, income, family, etc. — when reviewing an application.  And, most importantly, it makes sense to promote and reward and empower people from historically underserved communities.

Because having a role model who looks like you, who talks like you, who comes from where you come from, who has banged up against the same glass ceiling as you did can make or break your own path to achievement.

But when all you are is a minority to a college admissions counselor or an employer, the totality of your experience is lost in the balck-and-white waves, and your success or failure becomes a metaphor for the success or failure of those you represent. U of Mich philosophy professor Carl Cohen:

Preferences…“do serious, long-lasting injury to the minorities concerned. Terrible damage,” said Cohen. “It raises questions about their competency for their whole lifetimes. It reinforces outrageous racial stereotypes.” If those admitted with lower academic qualifications turn out to do less well, “racists will say, ‘We told you so,’” he predicted.

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