Sunday, November 12, 2006

Affirmative Reaction, pt. 5 - Worst of all, I am concerned that affirmative action reinforces certain stereotypes. In all candor, I confess that my initial impulse is to be not at all concerned about any “stigma” that affirmative action supposedly places on black college students of being judged less qualified by their peers. (Personal experience has taught me that those who make assumptions about black students based on the possibility that they may have benefited from affirmative action are prone to make unfounded assumptions about blacks in general, and that any effort expended on disproving their assumptions would be wasted.) My fear is that affirmative action reinforces a stereotype in the minds of blacks, namely that of blacks as supplicants, begging for scraps from the table of white educational elites, rather than using the tools currently at our disposal to improve educational outcomes in our community.

Affirmative action programs would seem to embed the notion in black students that their future opportunities and successes are contingent on the good graces of whites. Moreover, black youngsters learn the notion that the good graces of white society are not to be earned by their own efforts, but dispensed at the caprice of the white majority. Affirmative action may also reinforce the belief, at least among black parents, that black children are hopelessly unable to compete with white (and Asian) children intellectually and that the most that they can hope to be is what Dr. Carter would describe as the “best black.” Affirmative action programs seem to be of a piece with efforts to reduce or avoid competition among children in general, including everything from youth soccer leagues not keeping score during their games to having multiple valedictorians at high school graduations.

My sense is that proponents of affirmative action are also aware of the potential for damage to the self-esteem of beneficiaries. Maybe the self-defeating nature of affirmative action is best evidenced by the fact that the benefactors are never explicit about who actually gets the nod. If affirmative action is such a wonderful thing for the students and for society, then colleges should send “Dear Affirmative Action Recipient” letters to each student. These letters should state clearly that the applicant was accepted based upon the college’s affirmative action program, tell them what role their race played in their selection versus other factors (i.e.: how many “points” they received based upon their “disadvantaged circumstances”) and show how the student’s academic credentials compare with those of the average student accepted by the college. The letter might even list the name of the white (or more likely, Asian) student that was rejected in favor of the affirmative action beneficiary. The fact that this almost never happens tells us much about the motivations of the proponents of affirmative action.

We're almost done!

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