Is Affirmative Action Needed? Preferences Don’t Fix Problem
January 15, 2003
By Abigail Thernstrom
Do you believe in judging people by the color of their skin? Or do you think that precisely such judgments have been at the heart of America’s ugly racial past and should play no role in our nation’s life today? That is the question that the affirmative-action case involving the University of Michigan’s undergraduate college and law school has placed squarely before the Supreme Court.
A black or Hispanic applicant to the college gets a lot of extra points just for being, well, black or Hispanic.
In competitive college admissions, members of certain racial or ethnic groups are privileged. Asian-Americans are not among them, though. Asians are a race, according to the U.S. census, but when it comes to admission to highly selective colleges like Michigan, they’re white. Or, rather, they’re treated like whites by admissions offices. Neither Asian nor white applicants are eligible for automatic extra points, whatever disadvantages they may have experienced.
The white or Asian-American teenager whose single parent works a minimum-wage job is not considered disadvantaged. But competitive colleges drop their admissions standards significantly for African-American and Hispanic students—even those who live in Scarsdale and whose parents are wealthy lawyers.
The system makes no sense, yet it survives. And in the name of racial and ethnic equality, it is passionately defended. Look at all the discrimination and racial inequality around us, these defenders will say. We need to do something. But they exaggerate the level of discrimination. And racial double standards (aka affirmative action) are no fix for inequality.
It’s true that blacks’ and Hispanics’ earnings are typically lower than those of whites and Asians. But income inequality today is mainly the result of educational differences. At the end of high school, the typical black student is reading at a junior high school level. The Hispanic picture is not much better.
Black and Hispanic underperformance in the K-12 years is a national catastrophe. Racial preferences in college admission, by seeming to level the playing field, are just fool’s gold. They do nothing for students who need not a pass—a waiver—but a basic education.
Real equality will come only when black and Hispanic youngsters learn as much as whites and Asians before they get to college.
The civil rights groups should be taking to the streets once again. But not in defense of racial preferences—privilege based on skin color.
Good schools for all children should be their cause. They’re make or break for America’s non-Asian minority kids.
©2003 New York Daily News
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