Affirmative action fails to acknowledge minorities

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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was flipping through the TV channels when I saw Rev. Jesse Jackson on the air. A news show host asked Rev. Jackson whether Dr. King?s statement ?????? ?I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? ? is contradictory to current affirmative action practices.
Rev. Jackson?s response was a definite no, that the United States? racist policies of over three hundred years of slavery were proof that it was not. That was when it dawned on me that the debate between pro- and anti-affirmative action groups is caused by a fundamental problem: Americans have very little understanding of the extremely complex reasons why certain minorities are so underrepresented in American higher education institutions.
When we think about controversial issues such as affirmative action, we must be reminded that there is more to this argument than simply a black/white dichotomy. Affirmative action seeks to benefit minorities who attend higher education institutions at lower proportions than majority counterparts. However, one subgroup of minorities that do not receive benefits are Asian- Americans. Asian-Americans are overrepresented in colleges and universities across the United States.
I do admit that that my views are partly motivated because I am an Asian-American and because I do have a stake in the issue. Achieving admission to any prestigious law, medical, or business school is a zero-sum game ? every spot given to a less qualified underrepresented minority is one taken away from a more qualified white or Asian-American applicant. However, the question that bears attention is not whether my arguments are based on selfish reasons, but whether my points are valid. I strongly believe that the aspiration for equality trumps selfish agendas.
In 1965, a policy was created requiring government contractors to use affirmative action in order to hire a representative amount of specific racial minorities. Since then, this rule has moved into, among other areas, the realm of undergraduate and graduate school admission.
To say that the issue of affirmative action is controversial is an understatement; there have been countless court cases on the topic that have been argued all the way to the United States Supreme Court (Grutter v. Bollinger and Bakke v. University of California). Advocates of racial preferences contend that there are two main reasons why it is important to keep these policies: first, some subgroups face inherent handicaps in obtaining higher education because of race; and second, education is the solution to many of the problems facing these racial subgroups. The latter is more convincing: most of us agree that education is paramount to success in our country. It is the former argument that is erroneous. Underrepresented minorities are not disadvantaged in academic performance because of the color of their skin.
A few of you might be thinking, ?Some minorities face a relatively large number of obstacles in attaining higher education.? It is true that in general, various minorities face daily struggles such as poverty at a higher rate than others.
However, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between correlation and causation. While there may be a correlation between some social problems and being an underrepresented minority, we cannot say that these problems are caused by the color of their skin. By instituting programs to reward people solely on the criterion of race, a sort of skepticism arises about the capabilities of underrepresented minorities.
Another argument, champi-oned by many political leaders, including Rev. Jackson, is that affirmative action policies are necessary as a compensation for years of racist policies. This is a very awkward claim. The sole purpose of policies of racial preference is to help achieve and maintain equality. To turn them into some sort of payment would defeat their original purpose. However, the compensation argument is hard to argue against because it is so highly politicized.
The solution to all these problems is hardly a simple one. However, until people start asking real, hard questions, we will never achieve an understanding of the problems faced by minority communities. How is it that other minorities, such as Jewish and Asian-Americans, have flocked in large numbers to universities and colleges despite historically racist policies? I am not saying that there is an easy answer, but it is vital that we achieve a better understanding of the problem before we attempt to solve it. We cannot expect to find an answer if we do not even know what the proper question is.
And finally, we cannot afford to view such issues in black and white. A common misconception is that affirmative action policies help underrepresented minorities and that a lack of support for said policies means that we do not care about egalitarianism. In fact, racial preferences hurt those people they intend to help because they attempt to cover up and mask serious underlying problems facing the beneficiaries.
Affirmative action is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This is not a new concept: In 1865, Frederick Douglass said, ?And if [he] cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!?

Alexander Su (asu@) is a senior social and decision science major. His main goal is to promote discussion about affirmative action. He encourages all responsible replies.