Tuesday, October 16, 2012

White People Arguing Affirmative Action

A somewhat sad subtitle to this piece about the SCOTUS look at affirmative action today. It is amazing to me that this issue, which generates so many feelings, is primarily being argued by a mostly white group of people.

You could say that these white lawyers are the best and were chosen for that reason (non affirmative action). You could say that choosing lawyers color would be a cheap way to make a case or send a message. You could say that’s just the luck of the draw. No matter what happens, entirely too many non-minorities are focusing on this issue. I don’t know how to solve it, but as a person of color, let me say that life for me hasn’t been the same it’s been for white people.


I don’t quite know how I feel about affirmative action. I do know that our racial makeup in the US (from the Census bureau) is:

  • white - 63%
  • Latino/Hispanic - 17%
  • black - 13%
  • Asian - 5%
  • Other - 2%

If we discriminated against every white person to give a non-white something, we’d be discriminating against 37% of the US. Not an insignificant percentage, but since nothing is absolute, let’s realize that this isn’t as widespread a problem as the lawsuit and discussion seems to allege. The case against women is much worse, especially when they are more than 50% of the population.

In the particular case, there’s an argument that using race instead of taking the top 10% of high school students in Texas public universities (UT in particular, hook ‘em horns) is discrimination. It’s curious that the plaintiff wasn’t discriminated against since she didn’t qualify for admission as a top ten percent student, but to me that’s beside the point. This is a discussion that should be examined.

There is an argument that it’s discrimination against Texas seniors, but that assumes that seniors in particular have had fair options before that. The fact that admissions is a mess anyways, and uses all kinds of subjective criteria, including ten percent by grade, not by skill, is a valid point to make, but I’m not sure it matters in the law.

Personally I think that using race to decide admissions is a poor way of building a diverse student body (or workforce). However I also think that Justice Robert’s comment (“the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”) is equally short-sighted and na├»ve if it means that no examination of race should ever be made.

I firmly believe people are racist. Prejudiced and bigoted as well, but race comes into play. Not with everyone, though not everyone that has a “colored friend” ignores race. Plenty of people are racist towards groups, but are fine with individuals. That weird “education/information” issue that solves problems hasn’t quite caught on enough.

I’d like us to have a way to examine and deal with discrimination when it occurs, not assuming we need to prevent it, or that it’s always going to happen. Let’s have some arbitration or easy-to-report/implement way of having review of cases. I’d also like to see colleges be more transparent with their admission process. Disclose notes on what someone was/wasn’t picked, perhaps even only to the applicant, but allow them to appeal the process somehow.

We won’t eliminate discrimination, but we can make things more transparent and deal with the real cases of discrimination without assuming that it will, or won’t, happen as a general rule.

LZ Granderson has a good take on the topic as well.

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