The Negative Ramifications of Affirmative Action

Jill Kunishima

By definition, Affirmative Action is “a policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment.” By definition, Affirmative Action sounds innocent enough. However, due to various incidences, including the fiasco created (inadvertently) by Proposition 209, which seemed to fire up pro-Affirmative Actioneers more, the institution that is Affirmative Action has been further distorted, and is unhelpful to all.

Proposition 209: The Refueling
Proposition 209 showed up on the ballots back in1996. It basically asked for a halt on Affirmative Action programs (with some exceptions.) The measure would eliminate state and local government Affirmative Action programs in the areas of public employment, public education, and public contracting, which involved "preferential treatment" based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The specific programs affected by the measure, however, would depend on such factors as (1) court rulings on what types of activities are considered ''preferential treatment" and (2) whether federal law requires the continuation of certain programs.
The proposition was met with mixed reactions, but in the end, Affirmative Action was eliminated. However, by reintroducing the concept, the negative ramifications were soon felt, arguably more so than before.

Firsthand Experience
At the time, my most prevalent concern with Affirmative Action (not knowing what it was called at that time) was college admission. As with everything else in life, I
believed that those who put in the most effort are those who should be admitted into a college, nothing more to it. By 1999, however, my previous ideas of what is right and what is wrong were shot down quickly as I heard of other minorities getting into schools where I had not been admitted with lower scores and GPAs than myself. What was this? I soon learned that this treatment had a name: it was called Affirmative Action, and in my mind, it was no different than racism.
Laura Ng, a student at of George Washington University, echoed my concern when she told of her story:
"Back when I was in high school, I stumbled upon the University of Michigan's Website. On it was an 'online calculator' of my chances of being admitted. I keyed in my stats, extracurriculars, community service activities and race, and according to the calculator, I would have a 99 percent chance of admission to the University of Michigan if I were African-American, Latino or American Indian. If I had been white, I would have only a moderately high chance of being accepted. But as a member of the Asian race my chances of being accepted were the lowest among all the groups."

My View
The inherent wrongness of Affirmative Action was evident to me then and increasingly evident to me now. I don't see how a privileged past disentitle one to educational and career-oriented opportunities more than anyone else? Just because one's ethnic group wasn't discriminated in the past, does not mean people have a right to discriminate against one now. It also propagates the idea that certain people need assistance to succeed, which insinuates inherent handicap in those groups. But overall, it's discrimination. And how can discrimination be fought with discrimination?

Other Views
Stephen L. Carter, an African American man who has been scorned by the politically Left and Right for his “neoconservative” views makes a good point about Affirmative Action in his book, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby. While acknowledging the fact that Affirmative Action probably did get him into a top law school, it also put him in a “box”, the Affirmative Action Baby box. This box, like all others, closed him in and was unhelpful, as it had people thinking things like: “Affirmative Action Baby! Do not assume that this individual is qualified!” In his book he argues that all should be based on merit. He argues that in addition to being unfair, Affirmative Action “further ghettoizes African Americans by not allowing them to compete against "the best.’” Affirmative Action has “also lowered general standards to meet racial quotas rather than spurred minorities on to being `’too good to ignore.’” It's been ``a convenience,'' and a way of avoiding more costly, difficult solutions.

Affirmative Action Meets The System: The Past Thirty Years of Affirmative Action
In addition to the fiasco created by Proposition 209, Affirmative Action has made headlines for a while now. One of the most infamous cases involving Affirmative Action was Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. Allan Bakke was a white applicant, who had been rejected twice by their medical school, even though he had a higher grade point average than a number of minority candidates who were admitted. The case ruled that the University of California at Davis could allow race to be one of the factors considered in choosing a diverse student body in university admissions decisions, however the Court also held that the use of quotas in such Affirmative Action programs was not permissible. Therefore, the University of California at Davis' medical school had, by maintaining a 16% minority quota, discriminated against Bakke.
Yet Affirmative Action still runs rampant, as evident in the recent University of Michigan debacle (which, by the way, is conceptually reminiscent of the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case.) This debacle was a result of the fact that the University of Michigan "grades" applicants on a 150-point scale. African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics and get 20 points for their ethnic background, which is "equal to raising their grade-point average a full point on a four-point scale." These standards were met with controversy in the past few months when President Bush, various members of the political and academic arenas clashed on their views, resulting in a heated lawsuit.
These lawsuits are a reminder to me that something constructive must be done to help this volatile situation.

To conclude, as a person of color who has been harmed by the ramifications of Affirmative Action, I can honestly say that I, as a whole, agree with the critics who believe “color-blindness is best.” It is not to say that diversity doesn't matter, but admission to college or finding a job should not be based on the color of your skin, regardless of whom it benefits, and that's the bottom line.