Posted in Kelli

Affirmative Action and the Reason People are Still so Quick to Denounce it

Affirmative Action is a policy meant to help those of historically oppressed backgrounds see higher acceptance rates to schools, jobs, and scholarships. It was conceived just half a decade ago and related very closely to other legislature from that time, including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and began a mere ten years after the nation first saw widely-enforced desegregation. This policy was meant to combat some 320 years worth of slavery and Jim Crow era laws, refusal to hire Chinese people upon their arrival to the west coast, the displacement of Hispanic immigrants after World War I, the internship of Japanese people during World War II, and women’s inability to vote until at least 1920 (a feat only gained by white women). The policy tends to benefit students with such backgrounds, who face social barriers, as well as people who may face physical or mental barriers in the elderly or differently abled. They have many more challenges to face than their white, male peers, and the system seeks to reward and help them, promoting diversity and equality in schools and workplaces.

Despite all it stands to unite, there is a large base of people who tend to believe that Affirmative Action does more harm than good. Many people from this group have argued that affirmative action actually tends to produce lazier, poorly equipped people than intended. For many these same people, however, the real danger lies in the “reverse discrimination”, a fabricated concept that generally privileged people tend to believe is true when underprivileged people are the only ones that are helped. It’s important to note that many people believe that affirmative action is meant only to benefit people of color when, in fact, white women are the most helped group. Many of these people believe that racism, especially, is an archaic concept and fail to realize that racism hasn’t gone away, it’s merely changed. For many of these people, racism is exclusively a white man with a shotgun in a trailer park, spewing out slurs; they refuse to believe that it might be more subtle than that.

Unfortunately, since this is the case, discussions with opponents of Affirmative Action often have to be in terms they can understand: how does Affirmative Action affect young, white, able-bodied men? To put it simply, affirmative action does not actually affect the number of accepted white men as much as many people want to believe. In fact, research has found that if affirmative action were abolished today, the increase in the population of accepted white men would rise from its current 25% to 26.5%, just a single percent and a half. On the flip side of this, the population of accepted black students would be cut in half by the same action. A study at Rice University found that their black population dropped by 46% and their Hispanic population dropped by 22% when they abolished affirmative action in 1996. This clearly suggests that white men are actually not hurt as much by affirmative action as they believe, but minority students are overwhelmingly supported by it. Furthermore, people who are helped by affirmative action are also helped later in life. Studies suggest that more women and people of color are being hired in higher positions, in greater numbers, and the controversial wage gap has closed by 20% in the last forty years, even if it remains very wide.

One analogy that many people use to introduce the necessity of Affirmative Action is to compare it to handicapped parking. In two ways this analogy can be drawn. Handicapped parking is meant to allow the less physically abled easier access to the venues they need or want to reach. We grant this access because it is significantly more difficult for these people to make it to and from these venues for a number of reasons, while people who are able-bodied are equipped to handle a long trip to and from the very back of a full parking lot. If we draw the comparison between a disabled person’s lack of physical ability and a historically oppressed person’s current social barriers, the analogy can continue. We grant people of oppressed backgrounds this easier access because they are less likely to be similarly equipped as white males for the journey to college acceptance. This might be caused by a number of things, whether poor class status (between which and race there is undeniable correlation), institutionalized racism throughout their primary school districts, or generally less networking privileges granted to the children of white, well-off folks.

The second part of this comparison is relatable to the abled bodied: if you’ve ever found yourself circling the parking lot and coming upon an unoccupied spot reserved for handicapped people, you may have experienced frustration—if only that spot were available, then you’d have been able to take it. However, this is unreasonable and similar to how the process tends to be for school spots reserved because of affirmative action. In a crowded lot, someone likely would’ve gotten there before you and such a concept in terms of affirmative action are supported by the same numbers I used before: very few additional white, male applicants would be accepted if affirmative action were to cease tomorrow.

In conclusion, many of the arguments against affirmative action don’t actually hold any water: affirmative action definitively doesn’t affect white males as much as they think, people assisted by affirmative action tend to lead more successful lives, and the effects of belligerent racism are still alive and well. Many of these arguments are supported by racism almost singularly and this, unfortunately, is how the problem continues. Those who continue to use such arguments do not see why they are problematic because they fail to understand the core principles that allow racism, and discrimination within college acceptance committees, to continue. Affirmative action is not perfect, but at the very worst simply does no one any favors and at the very best supports historically oppressed people while not affecting white males in any significant way.

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