What You Don’t Know About Affirmative Action

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Where would this country’s 14 million non-Hispanic black and Multi-racial African-Americans be without affirmative action?  14.6% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 87% of blacks age 25 and older had a high school diploma or equivalent. However, even after affirmative action, Blacks and Hispanics are more underrepresented at our top colleges than since 1980.

My 1st cousin attended Wesleyan University, moved on to receive his Master’s degree from Yale and a Ph.D. from Harvard-eventually landing a teaching position at NYU at the age of 26. But, he does not constitute the ‘rule‘, rather the ‘exception to the rule‘-still in effect. Black students are just 6% of freshmen but 15% of college age Americans. So, have they benefited by gaining admission at top schools such as Harvard? There are greater numbers admitted to less selective colleges, but highly selective school admissions remains unchanged.

The courts ruled that colleges and universities can consider race or ethnicity as but one element in the admissions selection policy, but it is not to be a sole consideration to effect equity in education.

Executive Order 10925, signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, was the first civil rights era mandate for the country to “take affirmative action” to “promote and ensure equal opportunity for all qualified persons” regardless of things like race.Affirmative action was given more protection through Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But starting Monday, in a courtroom in Boston, we will begin to see how almost 40 years of legal precedent can change — especially if a lawsuit filed against Harvard University moves to the Supreme Court and its newly appointed conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Starting tomorrow, the group Students for Fair Admissions will challenge Harvard’s use of affirmative action. The group – led by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum— will argue that Harvard engages in “racial balancing,” something illegal, to discriminate against its Asian-American applicants. The group will try to show how Harvard denies these students by rating them lower on intangible traits like courage, kindness and leadership.

“Harvard is systemically saying that Asian candidates are not likeable and don’t have good personalities … which is nothing but racist… It perpetuates, feeds and creates stereotypes.”
–  Lee Cheng, a lawyer and secretary of the Asian American Legal Foundation, which supports the lawsuit.
The U.S. Justice Department has backed the suit. But it’s worth noting that the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action lawsuits in the past.Think of the case filed after Abigail Noel Fisher, a white students applying to get into the University of Texas in 2008, was denied admission. Fisher charged that she had been the victim of discrimination because of her race, and argued that students of color with the same credentials were accepted into the school.

Isn’t affirmative specifically a ‘back or white’ issue for America? Technically speaking, no matter how Asians see themselves, they will more often than not be placed or perceived as more white than ‘other‘.

Moreover, who how or what defines the social construct of ‘race’ and which groups in America have been systematically and strategically denied access to opportunity, education and educational institutions? Original denials and general exclusions as far back as the early 1600s and as recent as 2018-applies to whom? Civil rights pertained with specificity to African-Americans, as it was this group who were the primary recipients of broad discriminatory practices, stemming from prejudices among whites.

Though advocating for inclusive practices, basic rights and considerations, as well as equitable access as a general freedom and right enjoyed by whites, the act in 1964 was signed with African-Americans in mind. Jewish populations have been subject to quotas, and yet the depth and breadth of our systems do not systematically discriminate against this group.

Asian populations emerge from a predominately homogeneous society without discriminatory practices or policies in place solely based on skin color or pigment-the amount of melanin they possess. Whatever the limitations imposed in their home countries, skin color has no historic relevance. Also, in this country, speaking of academic achievement in education, there is a widely held view[stereotype] that Asian students are exceptional performers. Access to educational institutions has no historic relevance here either.

Awful it is certainly, but because of past treatment of black people in this country, quotas were adopted by many settings, education included. African-Americans have to be included purposefully and according to policy, in order to fulfill and comply with these policies. Policies arising from a prejudicial view and narrow perspectives, about  blacks, were transparently reflected in practices.  As go cycles, the practices were implicitly sanctioned. Thus, blacks were selectively denied access to almost ALL American freedoms and rights.i For instance, institutions such as Harvard did not even consider admission of blacks until 1865 with Richard T. Greener was the first black to graduate with honors five years later. [Technically, he was not the first admitted- 1847 Beverly Williams and it’s complicated.]greener

The issue is much deeper, and has many complexities, in many ways, people of color are still fighting for full civil , legal and human rights in the 21st Century. If there were no quotas,which is an unfortunate reality, the progress of black people in the U.S., and globally, would be almost nil.

A most sincere hope for America is for a nation where all of us are judged by character, determination and skill alone. Regarding potential, we all possess potential. All we need to optimize that potential is an environment where each is individually and collectively supported, encouraged, and what we look like, where we live, what our gender identity or preference is, does not determine the access or opportunities placed before us. That was and still is a dream yet to be completely fulfilled.

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Until then, each of us must still strive to do and be our best, and hold on to the belief that no matter what, real and raw talent cannot be denied-no matter where one attends college! Because, after all, ‘and still we rise’!!!

Leave your thoughts in the comments area! Let’s talk.


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