Keep affirmative action about race

By Paul Cruse III

There is no perfect policy or law. Affirmative action is no different when it comes to things like college admissions. Professors Michael Eric Dyson and William B. Allen acknowledged that idea in their opening statements at last Tuesday’s scholarly affirmative action debate. In addition, they both acknowledged that affirmative action doesn’t affect most people.

Professor Allen said, “affirmative action only affects the top 50 or so colleges and universities and, in the case of black folk, hardly more than 5 percent of all (blacks) who go to a university. Every other college or university accepts just about everybody that applies, if they meet very minimal qualifications.”

His idea is supported by a Pew Research Center study that found more than 80 percent of applying students were not affected by this controversial policy. But even understanding that affirmative action isn’t perfect and doesn’t affect everyone, it still needs to be in place, and it still needs to be about race.

To quote professor Dyson, “to understand affirmative action one must look at the historical context … since race was used as a demerit in the past, it is only just and logical to use it as a merit in the present.” The purpose of affirmative action is to level the playing field. Since blacks were historically discriminated against because of the color of their skin, they should be given a preference today to make things equal.

One example is that many schools give credit for legacies. If your mother or father attended a university in the past, you are given preference. Blacks, who have historically been unable to go to college, are at a disadvantage. Affirmative action helps correct that scenario as well.

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    People often suggest that affirmative action should be about socioeconomic level, but there are already policies in place that address that issue. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, helps students in need pay for college. In addition, many application processes look at a student’s economic affluence in their determination of who gets accepted. If affirmative action was changed in such a way, it would negate its purpose. After all, both poor and “rich” blacks faced discrimination.

    Though Allen believes that the race-based preferences practiced in affirmative action policies are flawed, he cannot deny that blacks’ educational progress was greatly hindered due to Jim Crow laws. He states, “no minority group has taken to education like the post-slavery blacks. Up until the 1920s, blacks’ pursuit of education was explosive; evidence of this can be seen in the over 120 historically black colleges that were constructed in the 40 years after the Civil War.”

    In order for blacks to “make up for lost ground,” policies are needed to counteract actions of the past. But when blacks use historical references in support of affirmative action, we are often called whiners and are told to “just let it go.” But these same critics also use past references for their counter arguments. They quote the Constitution and the words of our “forefathers” as legitimizing claims to why affirmative action is unjust.

    Why is that when it is black history that is being used as support, it is deemed unworthy or illegitimate, but when it is the history that critics choose it is seen as the perfect counter claim?

    One of the quotes most frequently used by affirmative action critics are the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

    Professor Dyson counters, saying, “As eloquent and inspiring as those words are, they are the words of an ideal future, not the words of the realistic present. Affirmative action is only the starting steps to a color-blind future. It is the basement, not the ceiling. Yes, one day Dr. King’s words will come true, one day affirmative action will not be needed, but that day isn’t today.”

    Affirmative action is needed to counteract discriminatory acts of our past. We cannot ignore these problems and expect them to fix themselves. Gandhi once said “… if you do nothing, there will be no result”; that rule applies here.

    Paul is a junior in political and computer science and is one of the very few blacks who benefit from legacy preference.