Affirming Inferiority

By Marrisa Sanchez

Since its inception decades ago, the phenomenon known as “affirmative action” has ostensibly given millions of minorities—from African Americans to Hispanics—what is deemed their “rightful” leg up.  Ethnic background and race—these are advantageous attributes on a minority person’s application for a job or, oftentimes, for admission to universities.  Gone are the days of the quota system, so no college has a certain “number” of “minority spots” to fill.  But nonetheless, virtually all of the nation’s elite universities cite “race/ethnicity” as an admissions factor, according to The Princeton Review’s 366 Best Colleges 2009.  Proponents of affirmative action argue that such policies not only grant racial and ethnic minorities the assistance they need, but also allow for diversity in a given environment (for our purposes, on a campus). 

Ironically, what such supporters universally fail to realize is that such a mentality—minorities needing more assistance than their white peers—is in fact the exact mentality historically used by actual racists.  For whatever reason, the college admission committee views blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans (to name a few) as being inherently less capable than their white (and, in Stanford’s case, Asian) counterparts.  While admission officers will no doubt ardently deny such a mentality, their very consideration of race/ethnicity in the evaluation of an applicant proves otherwise.  Many elite universities such as Stanford have moved to need-blind admissions, eliminating finances as even a potential factor in the admissions process.  Furthermore, they carefully examine each candidate in his or her own context by evaluating a student’s achievements relative to the academic and extracurricular opportunities open to him or her.  A girl from rural West Virginia will not be judged the exact same way as a boy attending a prestigious Upper East Side preparatory school.  Rather, applicants are (ostensibly) admitted based on their intellectual curiosity, academic prowess, and, most importantly, potential to achieve great things during and after their Stanford experience. 

Therefore, the admissions offices of many prestigious universities have successfully removed certain factors from the admissions process that students cannot actually control—so why does ethnic background continue to be considered?  The logical answer is that admissions officers must believe that certain minorities are inherently inferior and thus their accomplishments, when compared to those of a white person, should be weighted more heavily because they overcame obstacles they faced as a result of their ethnic background.  For instance, as a senior in high school I was named a National Merit Scholar for my performance on the PSAT.  But, as a Hispanic, I was also awarded an award given solely to Hispanics who maintain a high GPA and perform well on the PSAT.  A similar award exists to be given to black students.  Honored though I was to be named a National Merit Scholar, my pride in the achievement was clouded somewhat by the fact that the College Board—and consequently its admission office sponsors—did not expect much from me as a Hispanic.  Doing well on the PSAT was especially difficult for me, apparently, because of my ethnicity, so I therefore deserved special recognition for my achievement.  Contrary to the presumable aims of the College Board, I primarily felt insulted.  Here was this institution, which, knowing virtually nothing about me save my score on a single test, automatically assumed that I was at an inherent disadvantage because I am not fully Caucasian. 

Supporters of such programs glorifying minority achievements argue that, statistically, Hispanics and other minorities generally have much lower scores on such tests and thus those that perform well deserve special recognition.  But this argument insinuates that minorities perform poorly on standardized tests because they are, frankly, dumber than their white counterparts.  These institutions insinuate that race/ethnicity inherently hinders an individual, when in reality I believe that is the last message they want to be sending.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for eliminating affirmative action involves the excuse it gives people to discount minority achievements.  For instance, when I was admitted to Stanford, I had several of my white (and, coincidentally, male) peers curtly tell me that it was only because I was Hispanic.  On a rational level, I know that my ethnic background was not, in all likelihood, the “thing” that got me into Stanford.  I worked tirelessly throughout high school, graduated at the top of my class, and passionately pursued certain extracurricular activities.  And even if I did benefit from my minority status, even if a form of affirmative action helped me get into Stanford, I still oppose it.  Ultimately, I want to be judged on my own personal merit, not my ethnicity.  But because of affirmative action—in fact, merely because race is often considered in college admission—spiteful people can degrade the achievements of minorities, attributing a great accomplishment to nothing but being born a certain color.  And how pitifully racist is that?

A final key argument made by proponents of nuanced forms of affirmative action is that it allows for ethnic diversity on campus.  Alright, fair enough.  But if all races and ethnicities truly have an equal potential for success, as I (and virtually all admissions officers profess to) firmly believe, would not “diversity” occur naturally even when race is not considered in the admission process?  If each applicant is admitted on their own personal merit, different ethnicities and races should be represented more or less proportionally.  By arguing that without such racial considerations campuses would be homogenous, the world of elite college admissions actually implies that whites are actually the “superior” race because Caucasians would be admitted in much greater numbers.  Such a mindset hardly supports the existence of a post-racial nation.

All in all, affirmative action policies in college admissions (in their many forms) sadly tend to reinforce inherently racist perspectives.  While I acknowledge that the presumed aims of such policies are not evil in their own right, we must also recognize that, as enacted now, they are actually entrenching the approach to ethnic relations antithetical to those values modern universities profess to espouse—cultural equality, tolerance, etc.  By giving certain minorities an admissions advantage, these institutions prevent minorities from truly proving that they are as intellectually capable as whites.  And, let me assure you, such capability is indisputable.

This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 3, Issue 2, Winter 2010. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s