Negative Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court today sent an affirmative action case concerning college admissions to the lower court to have them use the proper legal standards, so there’s no real decision — but when I discuss these kinds of cases with people, I am often surprised at how misunderstood affirmative action is.

Affirmative action began as a way to fix discrimination where it needed to be fixed. Imagine a factory in an area that is 50% minority. If the jobs in the factory required no experience, you’d expect 50% of the employees to be minorities, wouldn’t you? Just based on statistics. Well, of course that wasn’t always the case, especially in the 60s and 70s when affirmative action began. You’d have these places with 10% minority workers.

So what would happen is that the factory would have to explain themselves. If, for instance, they could show that of the job applications they received, only 10% were from minorities then perhaps that could explain it. But that usually didn’t happen. And so the factory was made to have a policy of accepting minorities to get to where they should have been had there been no discrimination.

Note: this never required you to hire someone who was not qualified. Never. Yet people who scream about “reverse discrimination” always try to give anecdotal examples of where that happened.

Most of the recent cases involve colleges, where there is a different objective. Colleges want to have a diverse student body. They like to get students from all over the country and all over the world, with different religions and beliefs and backgrounds and races. They also look to get people with different experiences and people who were leaders in their community.

It’s how you get a real education. Real education comes from getting lots of different viewpoints and not being in a room where everyone thinks exactly the same. (As an aside, I taught a Constitutional Law class for a semester at Curry College in Massachusetts back in the ’90s — the entire class was full of rich, spoiled white kids and I couldn’t get a good debate going no matter what the issue. It was terrible.)

Lawsuits such as the one the Supreme Court had today come from white kids who got better SAT scores but yet didn’t get in while a minority student whose scores weren’t so good did.

Are SAT scores everything? Do they predict future success? No, and all educators know that. They are an indication, but that’s just one of many factors to consider when accepting students. (Some schools now don’t even consider SATs when accepting students.)

Yet people scream “reverse discrimination” and only look at race when a minority person gets in over a white person. (For all you know, the minority applicant was an Eagle Scout who was High School President, plays a musical instrument, knows three languages, but tests poorly.)

And now we get back to the main point again — qualifications. Even if the minority student is not as qualified as the white student, he or she is still qualified. They’ve met the minimum requirement to get in, and once in, they will have to take the same tests and do as well as every other student or they will fail.

3 thoughts on “Negative Affirmative Action

  1. That last paragraph threw me a bit, Mike. Are you saying that, having met a specific level of qualification, a student becomes just as acceptable as any other student who met that same level?

    Doesn’t that disregard your previous paragraph where you give examples of how two students may be qualified, but one student may be more qualified than another student, but simply doesn’t test as well?

    Using the examples you gave, the idea that seems to come out of this is that being a minority is a valid qualification, while SAT scores are not. Does reversing the status of the two hypothetical students – one white, the other not – alter the scenario in any way? It shouldn’t, should it? Or DOES being a minority allow for an extra category of qualification that is denied to… well, the majority?

    And how about cities like Philadelphia, where the whites are a minority, numbering fewer than blacks in population and many governmental and academic positions? Does Affirmative Action continue to blacks? Or are whites also a part of that? Or is no one?


    • No, no — the point, which I thought I made clear, was that SAT scores are just one thing a school looks at. Having a diverse student body is another, as well as looking at what the student did in High School (concerning awards, student activities, and so on — you know as well as I do that athletes get accepted often even though their scores were lower than average, for instance).

      And the point I made was that this only applies to admissions. Once inside, every student is treated the same and held to the same standards.


  2. Peter – think of it this way, on many job listings they have some minimum qualifications to do the job and then they have a list of preferred qualifications – So if two people applied for the job and both had the minimum requirements, but the white applicant has more preferred qualifications than the minority one does, your supposed to NOT disqualify the minority applicant merely because their a minority. Which some businesses used to do quite often, hence needing the law for them to explain themselves (through showing their job applications and such) when they come up with a predominately white workforce in a city such as Philadelphia. Now, if this same result happens in a city that is predominately white, then probably no explanation needed – but if on the other hand, you wind up with a nearly 100% minority workforce in a predominately white area, that would be example of it happening in the other direction – which shouldn’t happen either, but does happen occasionally.

    From my point of view – some sticky problems of applying affirmative action are:
    1) What about all the minorities that DON’T apply because they’ve been discouraged from applying beforehand? (I’m HOH & I’ve been discouraged from applying from many jobs – So I know it happens.)

    2) With the shifting of the cultural mix & statistical data now showing that whites are becoming the minority in more and more areas, Is it applied in that case as well? (Many people who are trying to follow the law, don’t believe that it applies in this case.)

    3) How does the law deal with companies that intentionally reposition portions of their operations to hire more whites in one area, and more minorities in another area? (I also see this happening. Heck, just take a look at the example of the rampant Offshoring that’s going on – Isn’t that what those companies are doing in a sense?)


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