Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Affirmative Action vs. Entitled White Kids

Time to step away from feminism for a wee bit and talk about the issue of affirmative action. Because unfortunately white people won't stop whining about it.

I grew up in a white, rich, suburban town, so naturally I was socialized to hate affirmative action from the moment I knew what it was. Racism! Reverse Discrimination! We don't need that stuff, the civil rights movement is over, no one's racist against black people anymore, right? And naturally, most college applicants despise anything that might keep them from getting into their top school, so going into my senior year there was extra adversity towards affirmative action. "You might not get into the school of your dreams because a black kid with a slightly lower GPA might be given your spot." As if we were somehow entitled to college admission.

When I got to college, one of my first classes was Introduction to Law, where everything I thought I knew about affirmative action was turned on its ass. I learned that racial quotas were actually unconstitutional and effectively illegal, and that in order to be considered constitutional an affirmative action admissions system has to consider all pertinent elements of diversity - race being one of them, of course, but also things like overcoming adversity, traveling abroad (something plenty of rich, white kids do), volunteer and work experience - basically, you don't have to be black to benefit from affirmative action. After that course, I had an entirely different perception of affirmative action, and it only evolved from there when I realized the value of cultural diversity in the classroom. Not that my school is extremely diverse, we do have a lot of international students and ethnic minorities but we're still mostly white and middle to upper class (you can't throw a hockey puck without hitting someone wearing a North Face or Ugg boots). Still, during class discussions it's always great to hear from someone with a different cultural perspective in the classroom, especially when they're about social and political issues.

Some may argue that it's racist to even suggest that African American and Hispanics still need a boost to achieve equality in this day and age. While I think the narrative of a white person stepping in and saving the day may be problematic, it's not racist to point out the ways in which we're NOT a post-racial society. It's not racist to point out that de facto segregation still exists, with many low income areas highly populated by ethnic minorities and most wealthy suburbs dominated by white people. It's not racist to point out racial gaps in wage, employment, and education. It's not racist to say that most suburban schools (especially the ones with state-of-the art facilities and some of the best teachers around) are mostly white, while run-down, inner city schools have mostly African American and Hispanic students. It is racist to say that all black people are poor and uneducated and cannot advance themselves, while all white people are wealthy, well educated and capable of succeeding in the professional world, but am I making those kinds of generalizations? No, I don't believe I am. If I did by accident, I apologize, because I swear to god I don't think that way.

So yeah, affirmative action may not be a perfect system, it may mean some really smart, white people don't get into their top schools and have to settle for their second choices (oh no!), but it's also still necessary. I'll be interested to see how the Supreme Court case goes, I'm hoping the ruling will be relatively similar to the last two.

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