“Reverse discrimination” is a concept few on the left take seriously. Proponents say that affirmative action is a way to compensate for the wrongs of the past. However, in perpetuating race-based preferential treatment in the workplace and higher education today, are we not just repeating past mistakes?
In essence, two wrongs do not make a right; only when we equally consider everyone for college and employment will we be doing the moral and egalitarian thing. The direct and indirect harm caused by race-based preferential treatment disproportionately impacts Asian-Americans more so than it does any other group. Affirmative action has time and time again disadvantaged the very students it contends to help, with lower grades and higher failure rates for minorities under its protective umbrella.
It is time to heed this simple advice relayed by Chief Justice Roberts in one of his Supreme Court opinions: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
The phrase “affirmative action” first appeared in President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925, in which he stated the following:
The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.
How did “without regard to” become “with regard to?” A domino effect, born out of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, caused contractors, non-federally contracting companies, and colleges to consider race beginning largely in the 1970s. This led to the creation of specific policies and programs meant to boost minority representation in higher education and the workforce that are still, in one facet or another, around today. Thus, two things meant to be antonyms of one another became synonymous; there is no longer a differentiation between “affirmative action” and racial preference.
TARGETING ASIAN-AMERICANS AND CREATING A VAST RACIAL HIERARCHY
Claims that white students are the only ones negatively affected by affirmative action policies are flatly untrue. Asian-Americans are the most burdened college applicants, with the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT to gain admission.
Since the 1990s, Asian representation in Harvard’s incoming classes has remained nearly constant, fluctuating between 16 and 19 percent, despite the Asian population in the U.S. doubling over the same period. Yale also had its Asian-American composition shift very little from 2001 to 2008, never going above 13.8 percent or dropping below 13.5 percent. These two examples alone allude to caps on certain races at America’s top institutions.
We are telling an entire subset of the American population that they have to outdo the competition by a mile solely because of their ethnicity: how is that ethically permissible? A nation cannot end discrimination by discriminating. Holistic admissions are not holistic, and the empirical data suggest that quotas still permeate admissions decisions in higher education.
Additionally, a person’s race is not entirely representative of socio-economic background, and one should not receive advantages or disadvantages because of one’s ethnic or racial background. Minority communities do experience a higher rate of poverty than non-minority communities; but educational deficiency, caused in part by a lack of resources, needs to be addressed in a manner that bridges the gap earlier rather than later. Educational inequality in America perpetuates two different tracks that start in elementary school and finish in high school that then obliges universities to merge these paths into one. That is unfair to both categories of students. Ensuring better teachers and faculty, summer programs, and resources for kids in lower-income areas must be a priority. But just as a researcher cannot kill cancer by treating its symptoms, policymakers cannot end education inequality at its outcomes.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION HELPS MINORITIES, OR DOES IT?
There are many talented students in the United States all along the racial and ethnic spectrum. Affirmative action, as currently undertaken, perpetuates a credentials gap that unduly burdens students who would be a better fit at less rigorous schools. A study by UVA psychologists found that, of a sample of underrepresented minorities at 23 universities in the United States, 45 percent more of the women and 35 percent more of the men would have had success in attaining their goal if they were at a school where their entering credentials had been about average.
A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper entitled “Affirmative Action and University Fit: Evidence from Proposition 209” found that barring race in college admissions in California “led to a more efficient sorting of minority students, explaining 18% of the graduation rate increase in our preferred specification.” The effects were particularly impressive at University of California schools following Proposition 209. Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow and appellate advocacy program manager at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, observed the following:
- At UC-Riverside, African-American and Hispanic admissions went up significantly. Failure rates went down, and grades improved across the board.
- At UC-San Diego, more African-American students now made the Honor Roll, and failure rates for African-Americans and Native Americans dropped to six percent. Between 1997 and 2003, 50 percent more African-Americans and Hispanics graduated with a degree in a STEM field.
In summation, neutral college admissions processes that focus solely on the merits of the individual afford students better academic success and the pursuit of their desired major at a far higher rate than under the guidelines of affirmative action. There is a mountain of data that says so.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL LAW SHOULD PREEMPT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN ITS ENTIRETY
There should be neutral rules that apply equally to all. Those provisions already exist in the law, in the language of the 14th Amendment—
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
—and in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
—and in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act—
No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
But they are absent from judicial interpretations and practice. Thus the rules do not mean anything at all until we acknowledge inalienable rights as a cornerstone of American society. It is probable that a majority—8 of 15—of the “insiders” who helped frame the 14th amendment would interpret it as precluding race as any legal basis for distinction. Furthermore, the Congress intended for minority employment to improve under colorblindness, not color consciousness, in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Contemporary legal scholars should honor the intent of the framers. Granting preference to anyone on the basis of skin color or ethnicity is flagrantly unconstitutional, unjust, and intolerable in all possible respects. And, if affirmative action policies are a means to an end, it has failed as a means and engendered an end that is nowhere in sight. The diversity of race is a laudable goal, but far more important than an individual’s skin color is a diversity of viewpoints and intellect. Until all Americans realize that affirmative action is immoral and ineffective, we will continue the legacy of discrimination that already stains America’s past.