I often smile when I hear people say they are against affirmative action. I often wonder: what exactly it is they are against? Over the years, affirmative action has meant different things to different people. Next year, the Supreme Court will make what I’m sure will be a landmark ruling on this issue as they have agreed to hear two cases involving rejected applicants to my alma mater, the University of Michigan.
I’ll go on the record and say that I’m in favor of affirmative action. As I define it, affirmative action is a way for this country to try and make things a little bit more equal. Let’s not forget, unlike most immigrants who came here voluntarily, black people came to the Americas in chains and were enslaved for 400+ years. And only recently (lets say the last 40 years), have blacks been given “serious” access to educational/political/corporate opportunities. So, affirmative action is a way for black folks and other minorities (heck even white women) to make significant gains in what traditionally has been an all white boys club. Whether that is in academia, corporate America or government, without some of the affirmative action programs of the 70s/80s/90s, there is no question that many qualified minorities wouldn’t be welcomed into the club.
Affirmative action is not about handing unqualified minorities opportunities. It is NOT about filling quotas. Most minorities will tell you (here let me speak for myself), that they do not want to accept an opportunity if they don’t meet a certain level of qualification. After all, we want to be a credit to our race. Thus, only consider us if we’re qualified. If Michigan only admitted me because I was black, that would enrage me. But I think they did because all around, I was a good candidate. I’m sure that I was not the top candidate, but I know for a fact that I was not the bottom either. So I don’t want to hear any nonsense about black folks (and other minorities) taking the spots of white students. All we are asking is that we be given equal consideration if we actually have the aptitude to do the work. That can be determined by looking at a number of factors (i.e. grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, essays, volunteer/community activities, musical talents, athletic ability, etc.). And yes, race could be thrown into the mix of criteria’s. But it should never be the only criteria or the deciding criteria.
With that said, I think that what is even worse than affirmative action is nepotism of family and friends. Anyone who is out there looking for a job right now knows that they have to network. Primarily because by the time most jobs are posted, there is already a candidate who has a fast track into the job. Usually, it’s a family member , former colleague, or a friend of a friend. And there, most often qualifications are secondary. People are more comfortable hiring a family member, former colleague or friend of a friend, than hiring a total stranger, who may be way more qualified. And since most minorities, don’t have the kind of network that descendants of the Mayflower have, they (we) are less likely to win these opportunities. Affirmative Action, if implemented correctly can fight some of this.
Ask any admissions counselor at a major university what they’re worried about, and it won’t be about having to admit minority students who don’t meet the grade. It’s more likely to be about having to seriously consider admitting all the children of people who’ve graduated or given significant donations to the university. Yup, it’s all about the legacy kids. That’s where the real battle lies. So lay off affirmative action. It’s not the perfect solution. But there is value to having it out there.