Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Placebo Of Affirmative Action

It’s time to abolish a distraction from the actual causes of racial inequality.

Mohamed Amin, a 2nd-generation Bangladeshi-American, hugs a classmate at their grad ceremony. He graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science and will attend the Univ. of Wisconsin on a scholarship. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty)

“Rarely have we been so surprised by a focus group,” wrote the New York Times’ Patrick Healy and Adrian Rivera last month. The two were shocked that the twelve college students they’d picked for a Gen-Z focus group turned out to hold some deeply skeptical views on affirmative action.

When asked if they supported a program that used “race or ethnicity as one of many criteria in admissions” to college, only one put up his hand. Among the reasons the others (of both sexes and most races) gave for opposing the use of race:

“I feel like, by introducing affirmative action, that would further otherize that population that’s receiving that benefit because it could be looked at as, ‘Oh, look at that. They’re only here because of this.’” … “The biggest issue with affirmative action is that it implies that people of color wouldn’t be able to get that position on their own” … “Affirmative action really doesn’t fix the overall socioeconomic disparities between the groups that lead to those problems in the first place”

And there you have the issue — in the simplest form. In a civilization like America, rooted in the rights and opportunities of the individual, no one really wants to believe they achieved what they achieved simply because they are a member of a group.

It’s a stigma. And this is particularly true for a member of a racial minority — someone who may well have overcome low expectations to succeed in school, worked harder than their peers, triumphed over a tough background or broken family and resisted the easy out of resentment. To do all that and then suffer the indignity of others doubting your right to be at an elite college because of your race must be psychologically excruciating.


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