Friday, June 27, 2003

A Zero Sum Game

Affirmative Action is not fair, there is just no way around it. It was and still is a flawed effort to right a wrong brought about by years of racial discrimination. There are two key problem with affirmative action as it relates to university admissions polices. The first is that it places the burden of righting a historical wrong directly onto the backs of students who had nothing to do with it. For every minority student who recieves beneficial treatment to get to the front of the admissions line, there is another student who is pushed back through no fault of their own.

As Michael Kinsley eloquently states in his latest column:

“Admission to a prestige institution like the University of Michigan or its law school is what computer types call a "binary" decision. It's yes or no. You're in, or you're out. There is no partial or halfway admission. The effect of any factor in that decision is also binary. It either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all. Those are the only possibilities.”

The second problem as pointed out by Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent is that the program leaves all minority students with the stigma that they could not have made it on their own. Did Clarence Thomas need affirmative action in order to be accepted to Yale Law School? I don’t honestly know, but everyone just assumes that he did and I think that is his point. Regardless of whether he benefitted from affirmative action or not, the assumption will always be made that he did.

Express-News columnist Jan Jarboe Russell wrote a column in Thursday’s paper that took Thomas to task for his dissent in the affirmative action case largely because she believes he should be indebted to a “system that allowed him, the grandson of a Georgia sharecropper, to graduate from Yale University Law School and ascend to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

So Russell just automatically assumes that Thomas has had his entire life handed to him on a silver platter by a benevolent government that felt sorry for him and he did not have to do any work on his own to get to where he is. I wonder why this would make him resentful. Personally, I am no fan of Clarence Thomas and I did not support his nomination to the Supreme Court. I believe his rapid rise to the top of the judicial world was due not so much to his race as it was to the combination of his race and his right-wing politics. But this is all beside the point. Attacking Thomas personally is a logical fallacy because it is not addressing his argument, which in this case has some validity.

Russell goes on to make this point about the reverse discrimination that Thomas alludes to in his dissent:

“The discrimination that Thomas is so worried about is against white people, who for generations wrote admission policies that systematically kept minorities out of colleges and law schools. This is a case of Thomas, a victim of racial discrimination, standing by the side of history’s bigots to deny other minorities the same opportunity he has enjoyed.”

History’s bigots? I wasn’t even born when most of this stuff was going on and my children certainly were not. What this reminds me of is those Old Testament stories of condemnations being handed down to people for multiple generations. “You and your children and your children’s children will be cursed and will be forced to wander the world begging for food, etc.” Or in this case my children and grandchildren may be denied admission to a school they would otherwise qualify for because of this generational curse.

I have always been a strong supporter of education and I would gladly pay higher taxes to make colleges more affordable for everyone who wants to go. I would like to see more of our tax dollars spent on improving educational quality in underperforming school districts. I think financial needs should never be a barrier to anyone who wants to continue their education. But race should not be a barrier either and unfortunately it will continue to be one on several fronts.

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