Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” However, this dream that changed the course of American history, this dream that granted us equal opportunity, is jeopardized today in California. The campaign to reestablish Affirmative Action wants our children to be identified by color. With critical thinking, we should doubt whether Affirmative Action is what we really want.
Back in 1996, California Proposition 209 banned Affirmative Action. The proposition states: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” But the newly passed law, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, attempts to strike down the public education part, which includes state universities. SCA 5 was passed in the California Senate in January 2014, but the California State Assembly refused to pass the bill and sent it back to the senate. Even though the potential legislation has not been put into practice, the attempt to do so has caused a huge controversy over Affirmative Action.
The supporters of SCA 5 claim that we should compensate the historically underprivileged groups and individuals through the privilege to get higher education. Yes, American citizens may have such moral duties, and it is good to see more individuals from an underprivileged community become more educated, for education hugely influences a person’s socioeconomic status. Nevertheless, the problem is with the method. The method to help the underprivileged must not be the same method by which they were discriminated against. With this method, students in other racial categories who deserve to become a part of the university community lose their spots. Simply put, SCA 5 will bring another form of racial discrimination, creating new victims. So, are we going to find another way to compensate them or do we just let this cycle of discrimination continue?
Judging people based on race, no matter what, is racism. This is not what we want to perpetuate. Instead, we want to eradicate the notion that race, which we are born with and unable to select, is a personal asset or defect. Likewise, our national hero Martin Luther King Jr., who was an innovator in civil rights, wanted the American society to stop race-based thinking and provide less biased judgment on a person as well as groups of people. We have been proud of the dream that our society would distinguish based on individual characteristics under our control instead of skin color, but contemporary citizens are about to shatter our hopes of creating a future without discrimination based on race.
I believe that particularly shortsighted supporters and politicians pursuing self-interest impose a huge threat to our society. The whole SCA 5, labeled as a “fight for equality,” is in fact politicians' linguistic trick on American citizens. SCA 5, proposed by Hispanic democrat Edward Hernandez, is apparently expected to admit a larger Hispanic population into higher education. Why? One reason is that he himself is Hispanic, and the other is that since the Hispanic group is 38.1% of the Californian population, certain politicians can gain more votes from the large group by advocating the bill. This sly behavior that focuses only on political victory is about to demolish the idealistic path on which our society should walk and the path MLK would have wanted us to walk. We must be more alert and aware of traps like this. We should be conscious about why SCA 5 is dangerous to our population.
Along with the obvious reason that it is racism, Affirmative Action may “compensate” some of the historically disadvantaged groups, but impair the others. The reason Asian Americans in California have stood up against SCA 5 is that they are expected to have a narrower faction of the student body because Asian Americans are considered overrepresented under the color-blind policy. However, Asian Americans must not be the ones who undertake the burden. They were also heavily victimized by racial discrimination. For example, most Asian Americans could not attain American citizenship due to the Naturalization Act of 1780, and they faced serious racial violence. Take a look at the Japanese Internment camps during World War 2. Japanese Americans were locked in internment camps during the Second World War for having Japanese ancestry even if they were born here. It is complete nonsense that these same victims are once again discriminated through affirmative action. Who should judge which groups are victimized and which groups are not? What about the degree of compensation given to each group? Affirmative Action surely makes the problem much more complicated.
Besides the contradiction and complexity, many are confused about the relationship between race and economic status and thus, falsely judge that race is still the main factor that jeopardizes African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities. This is but an illusion. A few hundred years ago, race did matter. Students were segregated in schools, and people were segregated in trains and buses based on race. Today, race no longer matters to that extent. There are some exceptions, such as preventing black children from taking AP classes. Yet, the exceptions are not supposed to happen because the US legislation forbids discrimination in public schools. Therefore, pro-Affirmative Action people cannot assert that racism exists in principle because the problem is about enforcement of the principle. Implicit racial discrimination, unfortunately, is still existent, but increased cultural and social interactions among races have diminished some discrimination and will continuously do so. Affirmative Action is hardly influential to the gradual social transformation, and can even be detrimental to the progress by transforming implicit discrimination to explicit discrimination.
It is not racial status but economic status that matters. Property ownership determines a person’s social status. It is true that race and economic status are correlated, and this correlation is a legacy of past discrimination. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 35% of the US population in poverty are African American, 33% Hispanic, while only 13% are other races. But the thing that we must target is not the cause from the past but its heir, which is economic status. In the US economy, it is very difficult for the poor to flip their destiny or move up the ladder, so the correlation even after achieving equal civil rights has maintained status quo. Hence, the whites who accumulated wealth within the past few hundreds of years retain their positions. On the other hand, the underprivileged who could not do so cannot escape poverty. Since the underprivileged are a majority of low-income citizens, the race-blind policy would aid mainly African Americans, Hispanic and other minorities in poverty. Privileging the poor regardless of race is necessary to not only discard new racial discrimination policies, but also to help the underprivileged break education barriers.
Affirmative Action does not increase social mobility. According to its supporters, giving advantages to the previously underprivileged may help people in poverty and their communities move closer to the middle upper class. In fact, this is an illusion. If a certain quota is set for one minority race, it will be filled with the elites who are wealthy within their minority. This is based on the logical argument that the poor have fewer resources in education so that they are less likely to be successful in academics. Hence, economic elitism in America has been and will be maintained regardless of race, and the American society will be socially immobile.
We must be careful when we make a judgment on this issue and throw some questions at ourselves. What if the racial preference system is implicitly utilized to support a certain group – for example, the whites? Why don’t other fields such as the NFL or NBA implement Affirmative Action if it logically makes sense? Isn’t there any other way to assist the underprivileged and increase social mobility (which Affirmative Action doesn't do)?
There are actually many alternative ways, and some of them are already practiced in states without racial preference in college admissions, according to Richard D. Kahlenberg, a renowned expert in education. He states that the ban on Affirmative Action “often led to sharp drops in African American and Latino student enrollment initially.” However, he also addresses that states implemented “race-neutral strategies to indirectly boost their enrollment, such as providing a leg up in admissions to low-income students of all races,” and these strategies did boost enrollment. In addition, new programs such as aiding the low-income population in secondary education can be devised to increase the actual academic competitiveness of the population. These low-income targeting policies would directly assist minority and underprivileged groups living in poverty.
Education is a long-term policy and investment that grants individuals their economic and social power. The issue over educational policy is extremely complex, but clearly the solution must not be to set a quota for each racial group to ease admissions to a university for exclusive groups. Temporary overlooking will not solve the problem, but rather, insightful concern and creative approach will. We still have a dream to achieve, so let’s not spoil it.