Jeff Sessions' Misunderstanding of Affirmative Action
By Olivia Case, NCCJ Volunteer
Racism has gone from hiding in plain sight to the forefront of our culture. Racism no longer needs to be polite nor graceful to appease social norms and societal standards. It some ways, this gives us a better reflection of the authentic United States. In more ways, it gives weight to the momentum of violence, and thus more violence is the result.
As our nation’s true face comes to light, the room for productive dialogues begins to diminish. With emotions stilted and political tensions stretched to the limit, there couldn’t be a worse time to bring rolling-back affirmative action into the discussion of race in this country, but that's exactly what Attorney General Jeff Sessions has done.
Affirmative action is a pillar of antiracist ideology in the United States. It’s just about the only thing we have done to provide the black community with equity after centuries of oppression, and still, it’s benefited the white community to a far greater extent than any other group of people.
Affirmative action, as it is now, mainly benefits white women. That’s my exact demographic. Asian Americans are hurt the most. They need an average 140 points higher on their SATs than white students to have the same chances of being admitted to their school of choice. This is known as the "Asian tax."
Incidents like this have led to a lawsuit carried out at Harvard University back in 2014, in which they were accused of passing Asian American applicants over for other people of color. It asserts that their process amounts to an illegal quota system, in which a proportional number of people of all races are accepted despite fluctuations in applications and qualifications. Edward Blum is the leader of the conservative nonprofit group that is suing Harvard. He asserts that white students are at a disadvantage.
I am a benefactor of this attempt to “even the playing field.” Many people of color aren’t.
Sessions has a fundamental misunderstanding of affirmative action, and while he is taking measures on ‘racism’ against white people, that definition also seems to be confusing to him. Yet, the federal government could withhold funds under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money, if Sessions gets his way. This would influence college admissions, and rides under the assumption that discrimination against white people is significant, and that affirmative action discriminates against them at all.
The Harvard class of 2021 is 14.6 percent black, 22.2 percent Asian American, 11.6 percent Hispanic, and 2.5 Native American and Pacific Islander. This is in contrast to the California state universities which don’t establish quotas, where the percentage of Asian Americans ranges from 32.4 to 42.5, with them making up 11.1 percent of the California population. These statistics indicate that there are more Asian Americans than other people of color apply to top schools, hence there being fewer seats available for them under a quota system.
Yet misconceptions prevail. In the 2013 case, Fisher v. University of Texas, Abigail Fisher was under the belief that she was being passed over for her peers of color who had lower grades and SAT scores. The university automatically accepts people in the top ten percent of their class, which Fisher was not a part of. These peers' other academic achievement, race, cultural background, and extracurriculars were taken into account. Her legal team argued that this is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The United States district court ruled in favor of the university.
Diversity is important. Research has shown that in college, it has positive effects for students' civic growth and participation in a globalized world. Many argue that poor white students are at a disadvantage under the current system, but admitting students based solely on economic status, while a crucial factor, has its downfalls. High achieving low-income students of any race are far less likely to apply to selective colleges and universities. It has been concluded in numerous studies that there is no race-neutral alternative.
So, it is not white people losing out, but primarily Asian Americans when it comes to the current system.
While anyone can be discriminated against for their race, racism itself is a form of systematic oppression which can only marginalize people of color. So, if affirmative action was to in fact deny opportunities to white people such as myself, although it would be wrong and detrimental, it wouldn’t have the same systematic impact.
As a white person, all I can do here is state the facts. They say that when you have privilege, equality feels like oppression. Simply put: it’s not.
For more information on NCCJ’s variety of social justice educational programs, click here.
The opinions and information expressed through our blog posts are solely those of the individual authors and not representative of NCCJ’s overall stance on related issues unless specified. Any information presented as fact could entail inaccuracies or be incomplete. We encourage open discussion through our blog, and welcome respectful responses from everyone.