Affirmative Action is Institutional Discrimination

I’ve always been a fan of using facts in opinion articles. When I was an editor for The Student freshman year, I noticed that, many times, people wouldn’t cite anything to support their argument. Sometimes it may have been because the facts would have repudiated their article, but, most of the time, the inclusion of supporting facts would have greatly strengthened what they were trying to say.

There are some areas, however, where the inclusion of facts actually obscures the issues at play. Affirmative action is one of these areas, in which people will throw statistics, philosophies, “white guilt” and the kitchen sink at anyone who opposes its policies.

I really appreciated Katrin’s article on the subject two weeks ago for two reasons. First, she was able to argue an aspect of the case against affirmative action that I would be completely unable to argue myself. Second, she eschewed the factual-battering-ram approach, instead using personal experience to show how affirmative action breaks down in application. There are limitations to that approach, yes, but she recognized that and utilized her approach in a manner that was extremely effective.

In fairness, the articles published last week in response to hers largely declined the use of facts as well. The one using the fewest blatant factual appeals was by far the most cogent, while the one appealing to Supreme Court decisions and the text of the College’s amicus brief was a non-sequitur wonderland which led the reader from an “argument” for affirmative action to an attack on finance capital and the market in general. In keeping with this trend, I’m going to go a little lighter on numbers than I often do in my articles. When it comes to moral considerations, it’s best to leave the numbers out sometimes.

The main problem with affirmative action is that it discriminates, whether on the basis of race, gender, hometown, parents’ educational status or athletic ability. The quota system has been effectively outlawed, but colleges are allowed to take various factors, such as those listed above, into consideration “at the margins.” It doesn’t matter, though, where colleges use race as a determining factor in admissions: any use of it constitutes discrimination on the basis of race. The same is true for any of the aforementioned factors.

Discrimination does not need to have a negative effect to be considered discrimination. If I were discriminated against by Williams, if they decided that they didn’t really want a white guy, or a Christian, or an Iowan, but I was accepted to Harvard because they wanted another Republican, discrimination benefits me. Even if it benefits a person, discrimination is still wrong. Furthermore, even if you are discriminating in favor of someone — if you were accepting him over someone else with the same qualifications because he was of a minority race, for example — you are still discriminating against them. Implicit in such discrimination is the idea that the minority student needs a leg-up on the competition in order to combat the disadvantages of being a part of his or her race or class.

Discrimination is wrong because it subscribes to a notion of racial (or socio-economic, or religious, or locational) determinism. The use of discrimination implies that you can draw legitimate inferences about a person on the basis of his race, class or birthplace. Deterministic models are clearly wrong, because you can’t assume that a person is lazy, rich or a Democrat because of his or her race. One of my best friends on campus is a black Republican; few of my white friends come from “privileged” families; the only stereotype that holds true in my friend group is that one of my Asian friends has a 4.0 GPA, and that’s not a result of her race but her work ethic.

Discrimination and determinism are wrong, but the government has held that it is permissible to do things that are wrong if it is for a justifiable reason. What is the reason used by colleges to justify their discriminatory practices? Currently, the byword is “diversity.” What the diversity justification essentially boils down to is the idea that, by accepting students from many countries, races and socio-economic backgrounds, a college can force students to interact with people of varied viewpoints and past experiences, which will benefit their education by requiring them to learn from others, abandon stereotypes and become more cosmopolitan.

Diversity breaks down as a cohesive justification for discriminatory practices rather quickly. First, it returns us to the realm of determinism; to assume that someone will have a different background or viewpoint on the basis of his or her race or socio-economic class is a deterministic idea. Thus, discriminatory determinism is used as a justification for affirmative action. Next, it assumes that confronting students with diversity on campus will force them to interact with and benefit from it. I won’t say any more on that subject, but I will refer the reader back to Katrin’s article. Additionally, while affirmative action holds positive goals in increasing the overall college completion rate among minorities to mirror that of other groups and in combating racism and stereotypes by bringing people face-to-face with those they may have been prejudiced against, it uses discrimination as a means to that end. That’s right: the idea of affirmative action is to use discrimination to combat discrimination. I have a final bone to pick with affirmative action: I thought it was supposed to provide a diversity of viewpoints, and yet this campus is overwhelmingly liberal. If we’re going to let any minority group in, perhaps it should be Republicans?

In all seriousness, diversity is not a legitimate enough end to justify the use of discrimination, even if it were to achieve favorable objectives. Affirmative action is unjustifiable, and so, therefore, is the filing of an amicus brief by the College to support institutionalized discrimination and racial determinism.

It’s nice to have a discussion about this now, but our thoughts likely won’t matter in a few months, when the Supreme Court renders a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas. Hopefully, that decision will finally label affirmative action for what it is: illegal discrimination. When it finally comes down to a matter of discrimination, I think Chief Justice Roberts says it best: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”