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What's So Affirmative About It?
by Edward L. Daley, The Bodacious Post
30 June 2003
our ultimate goal is to be able to look past the trivial differences
which divide us and either accept or reject individuals based upon the content
of their character, how can we ever hope to do that if we start out by categorizing
everyone by race?
Affirmative Action decisions by the United States Supreme Court have political
partisans on both sides of the ideological aisle claiming partial victory
this week. The high court found that while it was not acceptable for the
University of Michigan to afford undergraduate candidates extra admissions
points based solely on their race, considering race as a part of it's overall
admissions process was reasonable. In the first 6-3 decision (Gratz v. Bollinger), the high court struck down the undergraduate school's current race policy, yet in a related 5-4 decision (Grutter v. Bollinger),
it supported the UM law school's more narrowly applied policy. The dissenting
voices on the court regarding the latter of these cases were those of Justices
Rehnquist, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy.
The opinion of the five members who supported the law school's race policy was that it allowed the university to advance toward a "critical mass" of diversity. Chief Justice Rehnquist, however, called the system "a naked effort to achieve racial balancing." Justice Thomas wrote that "the University of Michigan Law School's mystical 'critical mass' justification for its discrimination by race challenges even the most gullible mind. The admissions statistics show it to be a sham to cover a scheme of racially proportionate admissions"
Fox News contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano was asked what he thought of the rulings, and while I won't bother going into detail about what he said, I will mention that he summed up his remarks by stating that, basically, the Supreme Court's ruling has overturned many state laws concerning racial preferences, including those of Michigan, the very state in which the cases it just considered originated. Napolitano also said that he expected a lot more litigation to result from these rulings, and as a matter of fact, Miss Grutter, the woman who filed the law school case has promised to continue pushing the issue of racial preferences in court.
Some pundits have argued that considering a person's race is fair because other nonacademic factors are often regarded during the admissions process. They cite legacy candidates as an example and point out that if it is acceptable when weighing a student's credentials to consider primarily white-favoring circumstances such as this, then considering black-favoring ones should be as well. That sounds like a reasonable argument on it's face, yet it seems that none of these people have ever asked one simple question... WHY are completely nonacademic related factors being considered in the first place, and shouldn't we be stopping that practice altogether instead of aggravating the situation by adding even more rotten apples to the barrel?
Indeed, perhaps it is reasonable to consider, for example, a person's economic background during the admissions process, primarily because poorer people do not have the educational advantages of wealthier people. How much money a student's parents have often does influence their ability to learn. It probably should be a determining factor when assessing a person's academic qualifications because the poorer student may not have realized their true potential, due to deficient educational circumstances prior to that point. But that doesn't mean we should just assume that because you're not white you automatically were disadvantaged economically or in some other way. We also shouldn't assume that because you are white you had no handicaps to overcome. Things like poverty and dysfunctional family environments are not race specific. If we want to lend a helping hand to the less fortunate among us, then we should do it, but not because they're minorities. We should do it because they're underprivileged.
An ABC/Washington Post poll has shown that "Americans overwhelmingly favor (69% to 26%) an affirmative action system that assists women and minorities - but only if it doesn't do so by disadvantaging white men." What I want to know is how can any Affirmative Action policy NOT disadvantage white men? There are only a finite number of slots open during any given year in any school. If one person is chosen because their skin color, for instance, happens to be whatever the administrators are looking for at that particular time, then someone else who doesn't have that skin color doesn't get into that school. They are necessarily disadvantaged, so the REAL feelings of the majority of people who took this poll seem to be that no one should ever be disqualified from being accepted on the basis of their race or sex. That means that most people think Affirmative Action is wrong, because that's exactly what it leads to!
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who authored the majority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger wrote "The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body," Really? So are we striving to achieve diversity for diversity's sake alone, or do we want diversity to be realized as a result of all people achieving excellence in all spheres of endeavor, regardless of their ethnicity, sex, religious beliefs or political affiliation? And just what is the "compelling interest" inherent in artificially hastening diversity at the expense of equality? If our ultimate goal is to eventually be able to look past the trivial differences which divide us and either accept or reject individuals based upon the content of their character, how can we ever hope to do that if we start out by categorizing everyone by race?
Justice O'Connor also wrote "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today." I suspect that 25 years ago millions of people in this country felt the exact same way that she does now. Unfortunately, what we hope will happen in the future is usually not very similar to what actually happens, and by any means, it's not germane to the questions which face us today. We're supposed to be concerned with the reality of the here and now, not some high-minded supposition regarding some distant future world. How can we as a race, the HUMAN race, expect to teach our children to look past physical dissimilarities when we either can't or won't do it ourselves?