Opinion column: Affirming racism

By David Johnson

It’s ironic that many of the same people who rightly fought to outlaw racial discrimination now advocate that very thing. Having grown up in a largely minority community, my parents always taught me to judge people’s character and make nothing of the color of their skin; our goal should be a completely color-blind society. Surely, the law of the land should have no mention of skin color. Instead, we’ve codified race into law and officially use skin color to make assumptions about people’s backgrounds, aptitude and potential.

America’s new racism is affirmative action. Certain minority groups, identifiable by the color of their skin, and nothing else, receive different treatment in areas such as college admissions and employment. Such rules exist primarily to account for past injustice; the evils of black slavery and the removal of Native Americans have had long-standing effects. Additionally, the guidelines exist to try to narrow the gap in education and wealth between rich and poor in our nation, but these guidelines aren’t based on these criteria. Rectifying this situation with more racism is not the solution.

Affirmative action is wrong because it makes such blanket, stereotyping assumptions. There are always exceptions to the rule. For example, if one is the child of a recent African immigrant doctor, he may have led a very comfortable life, lived in a large house in a nice neighborhood, attended an expensive prep school, traveled the world and summered at the family vacation home. And for good measure, let us say one of his parents is white. Per affirmative action, this individual will receive preferential treatment, when clearly he was born into a more fortunate existence than many white children. If affirmative action is supposed to be helping those who are still bearing the consequences of past injustice, something is certainly wrong if this individual is given preferential treatment in applying for college and scholarships.

The biggest evil in affirmative action is its implication for the aptitude of members of certain races. An outside observer will notice the different college admissions or employment standards for members of different races and infer that expectations for certain minority groups are lower than for others. In this sense, even if it wasn’t the original intent of the program, affirmative action codifies the racism that this country fought so long to destroy – the belief that certain races perform better than others.

This leads to the biggest insult of all: the fact that unless you sit on the college admissions board, you have no way of knowing whether a certain minority student earned their admission like everyone else or was given a potentially undeserved boost by affirmative action. One can believe, probably correctly, that minority students earned their spots. I say probably because when Florida outlawed race as a factor in college admissions – opting instead for criteria such as economic background and relative high school performance – the level of total minority enrollment statewide stayed unchanged. But with affirmative action, one might assume that race could have played a role in the admission of any particular minority student. And that’s plain wrong.

In order to start remedying the problems of the past, we must immediately end affirmative action as a race-based program, looking instead for other criteria such as socioeconomic background. There is clearly a wealth and education gap in our country that correlates somewhat along racial lines, but there are so many exceptions to the rule that continued race politics will only work to harden divisions and prevent us from achieving a color blind society.

Taking these steps will help to slowly rectify economic disparity, but it does little to alleviate the legacies of the past, another motive of Affirmative Action. Slavery and oppression did great damage to millions of African-Americans and Native Americans. Just as a court can award monetary compensation for damages done, so could we award monetary reparations to those descended from displaced Native Americans or African-American slaves. But like a civil settlement, reparations would signify the end – no more affirmative action, no more race politics and no more white guilt. I want to put these in the past, and I know I’m not alone.