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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Michigan Bans Affirmative Action

In the recent November elections, beyond all the liberal grandstanding over the return of the Democrats to power, the state of Michigan banned affirmative action in all of its publcially-funded institutions.

This can, I suppose, be viewed as progress. It's certainly been recieved that way in conservative press - the triumph of civil rights over the soft bigotry of low expectations! The elimination of reverse racism! But let's be real. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with ephemeral rights analysis and a strong belief in the constitutional principle of race neutrality and everything to do with the subconscious bigorty and elitism of rich white suburbanites.

People have attempted, in advocacy of this amendment, to suggest that elite state institutions have an obligation to select only the best students, and those most qualified and able to master the difficult coursework that will be thrown at them. In the words of Thomas Lifson just prior to the vote,
Why on earth should admission to the most demanding and rigorous campuses be presumed to be a matter of distributional equity? It is a matter of who can understand, master, and use the education, not a matter of handing out benefits to aggreived constituencies.

Membership on the Berkeley football team is not regarded as a matter of distributional equity. Where is the state's large Asian American population when it comes to the Cal Bears, who are Rose Bowl hopefuls this year? Cal and UCLA are playing Saturday and it will be broadcast on ABC for the nation to see. Please keep a count of all the Asian American players you see on the field. It won't be too demanding. Asian Americans constitute almost half the students at the two highly competitive campuses — because of their hard work and intelligence, not because they were handed a boon by an all—caring goverment.

Disposing for a moment of the fact that the average person gains no particular long-term social or economic advantage as a result of playing football at the collegiate level, while a four-year degree is essentially a prerequisite for admission into the upper-strata of the country, both socially and politically; what makes people think that college admissions can actually evaluate students in such a fair way? Do people believe there's a magical algorithm for discerning which students will succeed and which will fail? The simple fact is, the exemplary students will make it in regardless of what programs are in place, and the dullards won't stand a chance, with or without racial consideration. The problem is, 80% of admissions candidates fall somewhere inbetween.

How do you even begin to compare? Michigan is one of the most racially segregated states in the country, with the African-American population residing mostly within the city-limits of Detroit. The average student who lives in Grosse Point has access to advanced placement classes, extracurriculars, the internet to research and two parents to help get them around - and is white. The average student who lives in Detroit has one parent, is likely on federal assistance of some sort, has far-below average healthcare, and is almost without question black. Is the former student 'more qualified' because she has a more impressive resume? Switch their positions, find out if the she still has time for the soccer team.

So why not income-based affirmative action? Because that method is, at best, imprecice and misguided, and more importantly, fails to take into account the pressing problem that racial segregation, whether it is economically coerced or legally mandated, is a social ill that plagues any society that wants to call itself free and liberal. All manner of idiotic explanation has been given as to why admissions boosts for traditionally subjegated minorities are bad. It has been said that it creates an atmosphere where the minority groups feel as if they are being condescended to, and where the accomplishments of members of those minority groups are tainted. As if they'd be better off working as a mechanic, without higher education of any sort.

Frankly, this isn't a problem of fairness in admissions. There is not now, nor has there ever been, fairness in admissions. It would just be a refreshing change if the unfairness were skewed towards a socially admirable goal rather than continuing to entrench a de facto aristocracy of a racially homogenous upper class.

What this is about isn't rights, and it's not about fairness. It's about the fact that the children of white suburbanites are being denied admission and that pisses the yuppies off. People will construct elaborate excuses as to why they believe what they do, but it always seems to be the thing that will benefit the person, doesn't it? People are anti-immigration because "they're taking our jobs," displaying a sense of nationalism and a need for the government to intervene on behalf of social goods. But they're anti-affirmative action because, in a collegiate setting, it's all about merit. The rich tend to be Republican because it means they pay fewer taxes, while the poor tend to be Democratic because it means there's higher redistribution.

Nobody would ever come out and say it, but the fact is, we're comfortable as a country believing generally in racial equality - but don't care if it ever actually happens, unless you happen to be a member of those minorities. But almost by definition, minorities rarely get their way unless they can convince enough people that they have a chance to become a part of that select few. It's pathetic that the Michigan voters decided to eliminate one of the only avenues to social mobility available to thousands of college-aged African-Americans in their state because they couldn't reconcile their feelings of racial identity with their liberal beliefs.

cranked out at 9:24 AM | |

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