The Supreme Court of the United States recently agreed to hear Fisher v Texas, which challenges the policy of affirmative action. The court is more conservative than it was in 2003, when it last heard an affirmative action case. Due to certain characteristics in Fisher v Texas, the court’s likely ruling against affirmative action might not destroy the practice with one swing of the axe, but if it were to, the results would be immediate and profound.
The already small number of minority college students would get even skimpier, and campuses would grow more homogenous. Opponents of affirmative action argue that colleges should consider candidates solely on their achievements and that affirmative action discriminates against those whites that are not admitted to let in a less-qualified minority candidate.
On the surface, it’s hard to see why the law should force racial diversity onto a supposedly meritocratic system. In a perfect world, affirmative action wouldn’t be necessary. When Sandra Day O’Connor defended affirmative action in 2003, she was optimistic that the policy would no longer be needed in 25 years.
Today, America is far from perfect, and the same reasons that made affirmative action necessary when it was created in the mid-’60s still make the policy necessary now. Removing affirmative action from the books will make college admissions more racially discriminatory, not less. The societal forces that disadvantage minorities more than whites will have no means to counterbalance.
Even with the assitance of affirmative action, black and Latino populations are underrepresented in higher education. Thirty percent of the white population over 25 holds a four-year degree, which makes them much more likely than blacks, 17.3 percent over 25 with a four-year degree, and Latinos, 11.4 percent, to graduate college. If you agree that institutional misbalances in the United States created this gap, congratulations, you are correct. The numbers are pushed down by certain factors associated with immigrant populations, but more blacks and Latinos should be receiving higher education.
America is perpetually in denial about how race affects achievement, education and wealth. There are many reasons for this lack of dialogue; the difficulty for whites to empathize with non-whites’ racial experience is one of the largest barriers. Being, or passing as, white in America basically means not having to experience race. As a Latino, I’ve never had that privilege. I remember the first time someone was blatantly racist toward me, and that incident, the first of many, forever changed how I view myself. Whenever a shopkeeper hovers over me, or a white mom from my ritzy suburb crosses the street to avoid me, or a cashier tells me “food stamps aren’t accepted here” when I walk into a store, I always attribute this behavior toward me as a result of my race.
Obviously, all of these things can happen to whites as well, but whites wouldn’t attribute this discriminatory behavior to their status as white. The actual motivation for the behavior is irrelevant, maybe some of it was racially motivated, but it probably (hopefully) wasn’t. What does matter is that my status as non-white means that I am excluded from a certain definition of American. Being non-white in the United States means dealing with race and minority-status every day.
The quasi-raceless status of whites in the United States is extremely important to the affirmative action debate. Removing racial and ethnic considerations means the malevolent social forces affecting college admissions will not be countered. For example, when considering applicants, the 2011 State of College Admissions report indicated that the most important factor for being admitted was success in college preparatory courses, and eligible minority students are 20 percent less likely to enter such classes. If race is removed from consideration and achievement is the only factor in admissions, then admissions will reflect the existing societal discrimination against blacks and Latinos. Forcing race-neutral policies in place of affirmative action ignores the challenges that minorities still face in this country. The truth is, those who don’t experience race every day are the only ones who can afford to ignore it.
David Ruiz is a senior majoring in English. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.