*In its upcoming session the Supreme Court will decide whether race will be a factor I college admissions. Their ruling will be a major factor in determining the degree to which we live in a post racial society.
The last time the Supreme Court took on this issue, the justices discovered that in a system where a certain amount of points would mean acceptance to the University of Michigan, identifying as a racial minority would mean bonus points. Opponents of affirmative action decried the unfairness of the system arguing that minority students were being shown preferential treatment.
What was not mentioned was that race was only one way of getting bonus points. Having a parent as an alumnus, or going to a high school that typically sent students to Michigan also gave the applicant an advantage over the field.
Historically these other factors, that were not under attack, would benefit Caucasian applicants. This is because of racial discrimination in previous admission policies and mortgage practices that kept minorities out of certain school districts and communities.
So what has changed?
American society has seen multiple generations of people benefit from affirmative action policies so any preferential treatment for the family of alumni will not have a racial component to it. But there are still racial division in the housing market that will affect school choice and college preparation. Race is a factor here if for no other reason than white men are likely to earn more money than any other racial group for accomplishing the same task.
What those who argue against affirmative action fail to understand is that the United States will likely never be a post racial society – the country was built on a racial construct and continues to try and overcome that. There is a difference between racial and racist. The former is about point of view, and culture; the latter is about a power dynamic in which the aforementioned point of view and culture is a Shibboleth.
In the wake of the Civil Rights movement the United States has evolved into a post racist society. What this does is make it highly improbable that racial minorities will encounter overt opposition to their prosperity based on race. Nevertheless we all cannot help but approach life and specific situations in life with our own unique point of view, and in the United States just about every point of view is informed by the country’s racial history. Hence no post racial society.
But does that mean affirmative action programs should use race to give some people seemingly unfair advantages? Of course not.
However that question assumes that race only operates like this in American society through affirmative action programs. Consider the story of Jeremy Lin.
Lin has recently become a star professional basketball player. His journey to the National Basketball Association (NBA) started in high school where he helped his team win the California state championship. Despite a strong resume Lin did not receive any athletic scholarship offers from schools noted for their basketball programs. In college Lin repeatedly played well against teams known for developing professional players. At both of these levels of his basketball career Lin’s basketball skill and physical attributes (he is well over six feet tall) should have drawn attention from people at the next level of basketball. Yet he was unrecruited to college and undrafted to the NBA.
The fact that Lin is an Asian-American has been identified by friends and foes alike as a reason he has been overlooked thus far. In the world of professional basketball being African-American from a school with a reputation for producing talented players gives an average prospect an unspoken advantage because the decision makers for NBA franchises have seen that story play out before. This modus operandi can be tolerated if not celebrated in a private business out to make a profit like a professional basketball franchise. That is, it is difficult to justify telling an NBA general manager who to hire to make money.
Colleges are a different ballgame though. The same modus operandi cannot be accepted in a public non-profit institution theoretically designed to prepare citizens to contribute to society. Racial minorities in higher education are not quite as rare as Asian-Americans in the NBA, but for many college administrators it is all too easy to envision the white student from the private school succeeding at their school ahead of the black student.
Scientists have concluded that race as we understand it is not biologically based. But inasmuch as we believe in it and operate based on our misunderstanding of it, it is a powerful force in society. And therefore it should not be ignored.
That is why affirmative action serves a valuable purpose in the United States.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]