Positive discrimination, or as many call it, affirmative action (AA) has been the subject of many a debate for what seems to have been time immemorial. In the United States, AA was originally set up in 1961 by President Kennedy to:
“take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”
In this article I will look at the effects of Affirmative Action in the USA (particularly in higher education) and whether other alternatives should be explored to best benefit the minorities AA seeks to empower.
An extensive UCLA study which looked at the effectiveness of applying racial preferences at law schools concluded that:
If the findings in this Article are correct, blacks are the victims of law school programs of affirmative action, not the beneficiaries.
Some of the points made were as follows:
- Generally, around fifty percent of black students are in the bottom tenth of the class, and around two-thirds of black students are in the bottom fifth.
- Entering black law students are 135% more likely than white students to not get a law degree.
- In 2001, about 86% of all black students who attended accredited American law schools would have been eligible for admission at one or more law schools in the total absence of racial preferences
This verdict is particularly damning because even when minorities are supposedly given a ‘level playing field’ they continue to perform poorer than their white counterparts. With the absence of AA we would subsequently see African-Americans performing better in higher education than they currently are. Not only would help in raising the image of minorities, but it would mean that the efforts of these people would no longer be discredited on the grounds of preferential treatment.
My solution to tackle the larger problem of minorities underperforming in places would be to enact a voucher system whereby the Government subsidises in part (or in full) the educational expenses of lower income students when they’re in high school.
Not only does this enhance the educational opportunity for socioeconomically disadvantaged families (which minorities make up a fair bit of) but it pushes public schools to drive up standards in order to maintain enrollment. This is in some ways akin to how in the UK private schools offer ‘bursaries’ which help provide a stellar education to families which could other not afford the often exorbitant fee these schools command.
If this were to work as I would envisage it to, socially disadvantaged groups like African-Americans would no longer drop out as frequently as they do and would eventually end up on the ‘level playing field’ which I feel AA has failed in providing them. Wealth is the decisive factor in academic performance, not race, and under this racial discrepancies in education would begin to be ironed out through financial aid prior to entering higher education.
Affirmative Action also risks disenchanting some other minorities, notably Asian-Americans who are negatively discriminated against. In fact, Harvard was recently accused of holding a bias against Asian-Americans in its admissions process. This incident is not an isolated one, with dozens of organisation joining forces to complain to the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Furthermore it is said that:
For Asian-Americans to equal their chances of admission to Harvard they have to score an average of 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students, and 450 points higher than African-Americans
I wonder who’s getting the short end of the stick?
My last point isn’t a particularly factual one but I think it holds some credence nonetheless. If we are to strive for the end of imparity then this can’t be alleviated through further systematic discrimination to recompense for the past. I feel that what AA does (and perhaps not deliberately) is creates a culture of self-victimisation and doesn’t recognise and encourage self-help; rather it creates a culture of dependency whereby minorities are in a perpetual state of needing racial preference to succeed. It’s been over 50 years since AA was instituted and I don’t feel the benefits have been as pronounced as they should be.
At the end of the day I want educational equality as much as the well intentioned AA supporters do, but I just think we’re tackling the issue the wrong way by placing our faith in a system that simply doesn’t work.
Disagree with me? Drop a comment below!