Since 1961, when President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 first brought it to the national discussion, affirmative action has been highly provocative and fragile. Some view it as a necessary and reasonable initiative to break down some of the remaining barriers of America’s discriminatory past, but others view it ironically as a perpetuation of discrimination and reverse-racism.
Amongst the myriad applications of the principle, which vary in stringency and degree, there are few as overt and controversial as its pertinence to college admissions. While many American colleges and universities are confidently explicit about their intentions to construct as diverse a student body as possible, most Americans rightly believe that one’s race should not necessarily dictate the diversity of one’s experiences, nor should it function as a merit or demerit in the college application process.
A new Gallup poll reveals that 67% percent of Americans believe that colleges should base their admissions decisions solely on merit — with no regard for race — a figure that is contrasted with the 28% of Americans who believe race should be considered.
In this case, the overwhelming majority is correct. Educational communities are right to encourage and cultivate diversity — it undeniably enriches every member’s intellectual and social experience. But the flaw in affirmative action, and ethnically based evaluation, is that a person’s race does not define the richness or circumstances of a person’s experiences that might contribute to a diverse community. In constructing a student body, colleges indeed ought to strive for diversity in background. But race does not, or at least ought not, define background, and it is racist to assume that it does.
America has clearly not yet reached a post-racial status, a status in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “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” is consistently practiced. Affirmative action, however, does not perpetuate this principle, but rather racial segregation. It patronizes minorities and it undermines their hard work and accomplishments while deepening cultural divides.
The principles of affirmative action are already entrenched in many facets of American society, not the least of which is college admissions. Practical implications aside, this trend represents a fundamental flaw in the nation’s race relations that must be overcome. Affirmative action is ultimately more harmful than helpful — it either patronizes or it disadvantages, it never elevates.