Affirmative Action: The Truth Behind the Lies

After the decision by the United States Supreme Court regarding Affirmative Action was announced last week dozens of articles have been written to applaud or oppose it. This article will do neither.  It is about time for our community to get off the merry-go-round of lies that have been peddled to us for way too many years and start working on our own rules for success and full access to the American Dream!

The debate about affirmative action has been nothing but a thick smoke screen of specious sounds bites and stunning silence that has ignored the truth in order to paint a false picture. Affirmative Action has been the favorite whipping post of many people (especially conservatives) for decades.  It has to be the beauty that continues to be defined as the beast.  Much of the debate around affirmative action has been centered on the red herring of racial preferences.  It is the height of hypocrisy that white America loves to cry about the racial preference card when it comes to college admissions and/or government contracts when resources are directed their way every day based on race and historical advantages.

These advantages based on race occur every day but have roots in yesterday.  The access to a strong network based on family and neighborhood ties that were built over generations where minorities were intentionally excluded from competing in those areas is a preference based on race.  Wealth passed on from generation to generation that was gained in large or small part due to slavery, segregation, and/or discrimination of minorities is a preference based on race.  It does not matter that today that same discrimination is illegal as long as the fruits from the past discrimination are still ripe to help give an advantage.

Affirmative Action is not about reparations to minority groups for past discrimination.  It is not about handing out preferences based on race (although society already does a good job against minorities).  It is about eliminating the racial, gender, and ethnic preferences that are still a big part of our society today.

It is actually about merit.  Merit is not what your momma or what your daddy or your granddaddy did.  It is not how well a silver or bronze or gold or platinum spoon fits into your mouth.  It is about you.  What have you done on your own?  Very few people stand on their own.  Most of “us” stand on the shoulders of the people that came before us so if your father’s or grandfather’s or mother’s or grandmother’s shoulders were bent due to the weight of the inequality of their time then you may not be able to reach as many stars as someone without that disadvantage.  When a child that grew up in a good to elite school system with plenty to eat, little to fear in traveling to and from school and enough resources to pay tutors to prepare for the SAT and/or ACT has good grades and great test scores is it nature or nurture?  The same can be asked about the child that has average grades and scores but grew up in a mediocre school system where failure is not only expected it is embraced and yet this student is able to surpass all expectations.  Is that nature or nurture?  Who is really more impressive?

There is a wealth and opportunity gap in this country and there always will be.  Whereas thewealth gap is real and quantifiable, the opportunity gap may not be completely quantifiable; and the problem is that both gaps are in large part based on racial preferences.  The wealth gap numbers speak for themselves and are a bit shocking.  The opportunity gap may be a lot smaller than it was a hundred years ago but it still exists and it exists in part due to lack of opportunity for minorities that are still a part of our society today.

Those gaps continue for many reasons, the least of which is institutional racism that still exist today. Yet, those gaps based on very  real racial preferences are masked by the lies of omission (we never discuss these truths) and/or the specious excuses given to distract from the tower of inequity built upon an elitist system that is inherently racist.  The driving assumption behind the attack on affirmative action is that undeserving and unqualified minority students are given admission to elite universities solely based on their race, gender, or ethnicity.  The funny thing is no one can seem to define what is “qualified” or who is the most “qualified.”

Who most deserves admission into a highly competitive, highly selective, and highly ranked state university?  Does the student with access to the most money and therefore the best equipped to provide resources to the university deserve to be admitted first?  Should the admission hierarchy be based on the student’s prior achievements, even if those achievements may be as much a function of being born into a family with resources as it is the student’s internal drive?  Should it be based on a student’s demonstrated track record of overcoming obstacles and barriers to his/her success?  Should it be based on the student’s likeliness of success in college?  Should it be based on being able to provide a unique perspective to the mosaic of discourse in the pursuit of higher learning than most of the other student body?  Should it be based on all of the above?

No one seems to be willing to step up and answer those questions.  Instead we are left with the elitist fiction of social Darwinism that only the students that have the numerically best grades, test scores, and activities have earned the right to admission in the small number of “elite” schools that are the only repository of knowledge.  A convenient talking point and definition of who is qualified that will always favor the wealthy and empowered, while also deftly dodging the the reality that a big part of the formula to evaluate who is most “qualified” is flawed and skewed to their advantage.

A big part of the current system of evaluating students for admission to college is flawed.  It is flawed in large part due to the dependence on standardized tests that are not good predictors of likelihood of success in college, but the tests are very good at giving an advantage to children with resources and disadvantaging minorities.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Surprise!

The bottom line is this.  Our community has to stop accepting the lies of the past and start thinking for ourselves.  We have to be clear about our own paths to success.  We have to build, maintain, and reinforce our own networks to build our own wealth and power (which includes funding and attending HBCUs).  We can no longer be slaves to the majority’s definition of what is a relevant school or what constitutes “qualified.”

Texas, Florida, and Michigan love their college football and basketball teams, which are over represented by minorities.  I wonder if the coaches from those schools found as much mistrust and animosity from minority star high school athletes during the recruitment process as affirmative action has faced over the years if all of a sudden the value of diversity in the student body at these universities would start to be discussed?  Crazy idea?  Most first steps towards revolutions are.