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Affirmative Action

 
 
blatham
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2003 02:35 pm
I would like to engage a debate on the affirmative action question which is presently before the US Supreme Court. However, rather than fall to uncareful cliches, I would like the discussion to follow from a close reading of the linked NY Review of Books essay by Ronald Dworkin. I'll post just the preamble here for interest, then add the link to the body of the essay.

It's possible that not many will wish to wade into this discussion under my request for a full and careful reading. That would be unfortunate, as complex topics require some amount of work, but the alternative is not very appealing.

Let me finally add that I am quite busy presently, so those of you who wish to dig in, please feel quite free to discuss the issues and arguments without any thought to my contributions.

Quote:
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16271
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Apr, 2003 08:24 pm
Comment on Aaffirmative Action
Thank you for posting this question and the Dworkin article. I am no legal expert, but he certainly seems to have touched on at least many of the important points and ideas.

For openers, I found the following passage to be very interesting.

Dworkin wrote:


First, I'd like to say that I have always favored affirmative action in principle. That does not mean that I've favored everything that has ever been done or recommended in the name of affirmative action.

In my early days of affirmative action awareness I may have thought of it as compensation for past wrongs. That idea evolved in my mind into the idea that affirmative action was a way of helping groups that had been discriminated against or otherwise disadvantaged by the society to overcome the resulting disadvantages.

What I like in the above quotation is the emerging recognition that affirmative action is necessary in order to ensure a favorable future for the entire community. And that this goal is, first, admitted in the Bush push for the Texas plan; and second, that the goal of a good future via affirmative action is sought after by both major US corporations and the armed forces.

I think this new focus takes us out of the past and away from ideas of compensation, and places us in the present with a healthy view toward the future.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Apr, 2003 08:43 pm
blatham - Just to clarify. You said "I would like to engage a debate on the affirmative action question which is presently before the US Supreme Court." Are you looking for a debate in the legal points (i.e. the legal aspects of how the court should or shouldn't rule..) or the social issue (and any court decision's impact either way..) overall?

I think the points of law are pretty narrow in this case in the end.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Apr, 2003 09:21 pm
I just read the full article and it is well written but I do question one of his legal assumptions.

Quote:
Even if it is beneficial for universities to use race-sensitive tests in admission, however, and even if no moral principle forbids this, we must still ask whether the Supreme Court's own precedents require it to strike down the University of Michigan's plans. The equal protection clause does not, of course, forbid government to make distinctions or classifications among citizens. But the Supreme Court has ruled over many decades that classifications according to race are inherently "suspect" and must therefore be subject to a "strict" scrutiny that imposes the following three tests. Race-sensitive admissions plans must serve some "compelling" goal, universities must not be able to pursue that goal adequately without them, and they must be "narrowly tailored" to achieving that goal.

Do racially sensitive admission plans serve a compelling goal? The briefs supporting the University of Michigan cite two different goals as compelling, and it is important to distinguish between them. The first is the social goal that the corporate and military briefs I mentioned emphasize: equipping more minority students for leadership in order to attack damaging racial stratification in politics, business, the professions, and the military. The second is the educational goal of classroom diversity: universities argue that a racially diverse student body helps them to fulfill their most basic pedagogic functions because students with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives can contribute to each other's education.


In this 1st paragraph he (correctly) states the USSC "test" for AA programs. In the 2nd paragraph he ignores (avoids?) the purpose of those tests items to advance the idea that the goals meet those tests.

The idea of the 3rd test is to have an exit strategy. They have to be able to say what criteria will be used to say that the goals have been acheived and then when those goals are meet they are supposed to terminiate the racial preferences.

To my knowledge the UofM Law School has no criteria for determining when "damaging racial stratification in politics, business, the professions, and the military" is acheived or when the diversity provided will no longer help students improve their education and I don't know that any measures for those that could ever be developed that would satisfy the court. From a legal aspect I think he's on awful weak ground on that single point.

Overall he presents a strong argument and I only have one other qibble with the entire essay. In his 2nd paragraph he says
Quote:


Ok, he says "traditional" criteria won't work. This just seems to be a bit of a cop out IMO. Considering race IS a "traditional" method. It's what segregration was all about. Using race here is just as traditional. I understand it's an easy identifier but no one ever said that you can violate the Constitution just because not doing so is hard. Instead of using race they need to find another way of getting the diversity amongst the student body. Perhaps it's time they started looking at some untraditional methods.

Overall I think the UofM will lose this case. I would HOPE that the court will not force them to change the policies immediately and will give them 3-5 years to find/develop an alternate method of getting/maintaing the diversity they seek but I don't know if the court would be willing to keep itself in the middle of this for that long.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Tue 29 Apr, 2003 09:27 pm
I agree wholeheartedly with the Bush team's wording and intent to end Michigan's current practice of AA.

I think the race-neutral alternatives put the focus on grades, rather than color-- and this is a great incentive for ALL students. Plus, the students who are edged out due to being the wrong color won't be offended by unfair treatement--because (halleluia), it WON'T BE unfair treatment.

But, this had better go hand in hand with legacies and athletes, dammit.
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Apr, 2003 06:22 am
Reply to Fishin and Sofia
When we say that we cannot allow race to be a factor in determining admission to college because to do so is to employ the same criteria that we are trying to get rid of in the first place is in my opinion a kind of sophistry, a game of verbal slight of hand.

There have always been "fashions" in interpretations of the constitution. Decades ago it seemed both legal and perfectly fair, to all fair minded whites, that it was okay to enforce segregation as long as equal facilities for blacks were provided. So said the supreme court. Likewise, I think this business about getting away from traditional criteria is nothing more than words, words, words, behind which those with segregationist instincts can take cover while they allow a deeply engrained societal problem to fester.

To enforce college admissions based only on academic testing is like starting a hundred yard dash with ten champion runners but with two of them weighted down by hundred pound backpacks. Such a system is loaded in favor of those segments of society wherein children are trained from little up to compete in an academic environment. Those who do not come from that favored part of society and who only realize late in their teens how important education is, have no chance. Some allowance must be made to correct this imbalance.

Sorry about not having a legal background and having to rely on common sense.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Apr, 2003 06:56 am
Decades ago it seemed both legal and perfectly fair, to all fair minded whites, that it was okay to enforce segregation as long as equal facilities for blacks were provided
----------------------------
This was obviously wrong-headed. MOST importantly, because the black schools were not equal.

I do think AA served an important purpose, but how long should it go on? I believe if black skin color continues ad infinitum to be an admission factor, it sends a dangerous, defeating message to blacks.

I think Civil Rights and AA have levelled the playing field. I believe blacks are capable of competing for school slots and jobs. I believe laws are in place to address discrimination.

Taking this down to the bottom line: Why do posters believe blacks need special consideration based on nothing more than their race?

From reading it seems to be one of the following:
Their parents don't value education, and don't motivate them to work at their education...
They are 'culturally' inferior...

There are a growing number of Black Americans, who are increasingly insulted that their race is set apart for special considerations, as if they are cognitively unequal to their white and Asian counterparts.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Wed 30 Apr, 2003 07:17 am
Re: Reply to Fishin and Sofia
Hazlitt wrote:
When we say that we cannot allow race to be a factor in determining admission to college because to do so is to employ the same criteria that we are trying to get rid of in the first place is in my opinion a kind of sophistry, a game of verbal slight of hand.


There is no slight of hand involved or necessary. The Congress passed the Constitutional amendments and laws that prohibit government, employer, etc. discrimination based on race. All that has been done with AA is to reverse the scenario. Instead of using race as a disqulaifier to limit minorities it is now being used as a qualifier to encourage minorities.

Quote:
There have always been "fashions" in interpretations of the constitution. Decades ago it seemed both legal and perfectly fair, to all fair minded whites, that it was okay to enforce segregation as long as equal facilities for blacks were provided. So said the supreme court.


Yes, in several cases the USSC did. Because that is what the court is suspposed to do, apply the existing laws to the situation at hand. As a result the laws were changed and the subsequent rulings reflect those changes.

Quote:
Likewise, I think this business about getting away from traditional criteria is nothing more than words, words, words, behind which those with segregationist instincts can take cover while they allow a deeply engrained societal problem to fester.


As oppossed to using AA programs to buy off the silence of minorities and ease the guilt of whites? It seems to me that the AA programs provide more cover than anything else we have out there. Every time black activists threaten to protest in the streets over an issue white America rushes in and comes up with another AA program to shut them up and keep them off the streets. The problems and issues don't go away. AA Programs are an appeasement, a temporary purchase of the silence of minorities so that whites can go about there day without being inconvienced.
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 04:43 am
Why Afirmative Action is needed
Sofia wrote:
Taking this down to the bottom line: Why do posters believe blacks need special consideration based on nothing more than their race?

From reading it seems to be one of the following:
Their parents don't value education, and don't motivate them to work at their education...
They are 'culturally' inferior...


Sofia, as you correctly point out, although I have not quoted you on the point, we now have laws that insure that it is illegal to discriminate against blacks in college admissions, and that blacks are free to seek admission to these institutions on the basis of their academic records, and that if their record is sufficiently high, they must be admitted and cannot be kept out on the basis of race.

This is all to the good, but it does not solve the problem. It has now been about 140 years since the end of slavery, but during the period between the end of the civil war until some time in the 1950s, there was severe discrimination against blacks. This discrimination was embedded both in the white culture and in the laws of the land (this is so well documented as to be beyond dispute). Cultural discrimination continues to the present time, and there continue to be efforts to skew the legal system against blacks.

The result of this is that there is a cultural lag among a very significant number of blacks which causes them to be unaware of the value of education or to scoff at the value of education. The result is that children are raised by the millions in this educationally blighted atmosphere. The primary source of the problem can be traced to the long period of legal discrimination. That part of the problem that can be attributed to the willful disrespect of education on the part of some blacks is, I agree, morally deplorable, but can also be seen as largely arising from the culturally and educationally deprived environment. I say educationally deprived because schools are basically locally funded and since blacks live mostly in poor neighborhoods, they tend to have less money for their schools. The fact is that whatever the cause, the result is the same: we have a large portion of our population that needs to be raised out of its educational deficit.

Many black children who grow up in the environment mentioned above reach their teen years and only then, when it is too late, realize the value of education. They want of go on to college and to try to catch up, but under the system that you advocate, they are stopped at the door and not admitted.

Affirmative action, as you point out has been effective in raising the educational and economic level of blacks. It is my belief that the time has not yet arrived when the country can afford to abandon a system that has been so effective. It is crucial for the total good of all Americans that we solve this problem. If we abandon the programs that have been so effective in introducing black young people into the mainstream culture, we will in effect throwing all those well meaning students, who desire to do better, back into the culturally deprived environment. I would like to point out that when I use the phrase "Culturally Deprived" I am speaking of educational deprivation and the lack of valuing education.

My attitude is that we have a problem. It does no good to affix blame or to elicit guilt or to deny the existence of the problem. What is needed is to solve the problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and get it done.
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 04:54 am
Reply to Fishin
Fishin, I confess that you have me completely at a loss to refute your legal arguments.

I still contend, however, that a hundred years from now, at a time when the legalisms can be separated from the emotions, those arguments will be lumped in the same classification as the old "separate but equal" doctrine. They will simply be seen as supporting a status quo discriminatory system.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 06:50 am
Re: Reply to Fishin
Hazlitt wrote:
Fishin, I confess that you have me completely at a loss to refute your legal arguments.

I still contend, however, that a hundred years from now, at a time when the legalisms can be separated from the emotions, those arguments will be lumped in the same classification as the old "separate but equal" doctrine. They will simply be seen as supporting a status quo discriminatory system.


How the results are seen in 100 years will depend much more on how the issues that remain are attacked/resloved. If discrimination isn't eliminated then BOTH views will be seen as the status quo.

In ending of your response to Sophia you said :

Quote:
My attitude is that we have a problem. It does no good to affix blame or to elicit guilt or to deny the existence of the problem. What is needed is to solve the problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and get it done.


BRAVO! That IS the very crux of it.

My point is simply that AA, while attempting to address the problem, violates the basic principles in the problem to begin with and creates some new (minor) problems at the same time. It is an attempted fix but a weak one.

The author of the original article acknowledges that AA violates the basic principles of race neutral government administration but argues that we should continue onward indefinately anyway because other methods aren't easy. I think he overstates the hardship of developing other methods of achieving/maintaining a diverse student body and his argument leaves a standing program in violation of it's own objectives.

We won't get rid of discrimination by sanctioning it just as you don't solve the murder problem by killing everyone.
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 09:36 am
Question to Fishin
I've read books detailing the tremendous strides of the black community under Affirmative Action. I think these strides can pretty well be attributed to a combination of AA and good will on the part of some whites and initiative on the part of some blacks.

So if we are going to abandon a program that has been effective (it's main drawback being that the few whites who imagine they have been discriminated against have magnified that problem to the point where a majority of whites imagine that the universities are filled with unworthy blacks while whites can't get in no matter how good their grades are), what do you suggest as a program that will work and that will fit your idea of what is constitutional?

Please take this as a serious question. I'm not just waiting to hear something I can try to knock down. However, I do not regard the Bush/Texas plan as an improvement because it obviously leaves behind many deserving, striving blacks in schools where they do not make the top ten percent.
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snood
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 10:45 am
Thank you so much for asking that excellent question, Hazlitt.

And I think you characterized the hyperbole of those opposed to AA very well.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 11:13 am
I don't intend this as flip, but why don't the deserving, striving blacks do the same thing the deserving, striving whites do when they're not admitted to the university of their choice:

Bone up at a community college, and try for a transfer later.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 11:16 am
There is no question that AA programs had a significant impact. Was was the impact against though? The Courts allowed (and in many cases directed) AA programs to override the Constitutional barriers because they were a direct remedy to specific, identified cases of overt institutionalized discrimination. That type of discrimination isn't readily apparent any more. Where discrimination does occur it is much more subtle and AA programs can still be used in those cases that do arise or are uncovered.

The idea of AA as a social experiment provides no legal justification for overriding the Constitution or the Civil Rights Act. The government can deny one groups rights to fashion a remedy to another group who's rights have been denied but they can't deny anyone's rights in order to conduct a social experiment - regardless of the desirability of that experiment.

It isn't a question of abandoning AA. AA is the proper tool to use in the right circumstances. Those circumstances aren't what the UofM is saying is going on though.

For an alternative, The UofM Law School could eliminate the points awarded for race from their admissions program and instead establish affiliate schools of their choosing where graduates of those schools are awarded points instead. There would be no basis for a Constitutional challange if, for example, the list of "Historically Black Colleges and Universities" (HBCUs) were all affiliates.

If they developed something like a sliding scale for all of the undergrad schools (all the schools track and report their student body's ethnic and racial compositions..) where the schools with the highest levels of diversity get the highest point score then the student body UofM ends up with should reflect the diversity of the most diverse feeder schools.

The same type of data could be collected/ranked/sorted based on home of residence (based on census data), High school attended, etc.. or a combination of all of the above factors.

Doing this will not guarantee that the student body will end up with any set % of students of any race or ethnicity but by tracking what they do have each year the school can adjust their selection point criteria (i.e. award more points to graduates of HBCUs or those who reside and graduated from high a high school in a largely Hispanic city, etc..) to balance the incoming student body.

These types of point award scenarios are Constutional (and they have been tested in the courts..) because they don't use race as the criteria. There is no guarantee that someone who graduated from a HBCU is African-American.. but the odds are pretty damn good that they are...
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Thu 1 May, 2003 12:49 pm
unless someone comes up with a better plan, AA even with the flaws is all there is. Before throwing it out come up with something better.
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JamesMorrison
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 May, 2003 08:18 am
BM
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Hazlitt
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 May, 2003 08:30 am
Fishin'

I have read your alternative to AA a couple of times and am not sure I fully understand how it would work. Maybe I have to read it again and ask a question or two. Be back later.

At first assessment, it looks kind of complicated. "Complicated" usually means loop holes and interpretations to suit the interpreter.
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fishin
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 May, 2003 10:57 am
Hazlitt wrote:
At first assessment, it looks kind of complicated. "Complicated" usually means loop holes and interpretations to suit the interpreter.


Well, as I said earlier, "easy" isn't an excuse to violate the Constitution or laws. I certianly didn't lay out a complete system just concepts/possibilities that could be central to one.

Either the school has a commitment to diversity or it doesn't. The UofM's defense in this case is that diversity is why they want to use racial info in selections. If they are being honest then they have no reason to use any loop-holes that may exist in any more complex system.

If they are lying and do use them then the government can take them to court and have AA provisons enforced on them along with any civil suits that may come about. At that point the use of AA is a remedy against a specific proven wrong again.
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snood
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 May, 2003 02:39 pm
I hate to c&p large articles, but I swear to God that Tim Wise said everything I want to say about this "debate":


Whites Swim in Racial Preference
By Tim Wise, AlterNet
February 18, 2003

Ask a fish what water is and you'll get no answer. Even if fish were capable of speech, they would likely have no explanation for the element they swim in every minute of every day of their lives. Water simply is. Fish take it for granted.


So too with this thing we hear so much about, "racial preference." While many whites seem to think the notion originated with affirmative action programs, intended to expand opportunities for historically marginalized people of color, racial preference has actually had a long and very white history.


Affirmative action for whites was embodied in the abolition of European indentured servitude, which left black (and occasionally indigenous) slaves as the only unfree labor in the colonies that would become the U.S.


Affirmative action for whites was the essence of the 1790 Naturalization Act, which allowed virtually any European immigrant to become a full citizen, even while blacks, Asians and American Indians could not.


Affirmative action for whites was the guiding principle of segregation, Asian exclusion laws, and the theft of half of Mexico for the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny.


In recent history, affirmative action for whites motivated racially restrictive housing policies that helped 15 million white families procure homes with FHA loans from the 1930s to the '60s, while people of color were mostly excluded from the same programs.


In other words, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that white America is the biggest collective recipient of racial preference in the history of the cosmos. It has skewed our laws, shaped our public policy and helped create the glaring inequalities with which we still live.


White families, on average, have a net worth that is 11 times the net worth of black families, according to a recent study; and this gap remains substantial even when only comparing families of like size, composition, education and income status.


A full-time black male worker in 2003, makes less in real dollar terms than similar white men were earning in 1967. Such realities are not merely indicative of the disadvantages faced by blacks, but indeed are evidence of the preferences afforded whites - a demarcation of privilege that is the necessary flipside of discrimination.


Indeed, the value of preferences to whites over the years is so enormous that the current baby-boomer generation of whites is currently in the process of inheriting between $7-10 trillion in assets from their parents and grandparents - property handed down by those who were able to accumulate assets at a time when people of color by and large couldn't. To place this in the proper perspective we should note that this amount of money is more than all the outstanding mortgage debt, all the credit card debt, all the savings account assets, all the money in IRAs and 401k retirement plans, all the annual profits for U.S. manufacturers, and our entire merchandise trade deficit combined.


Yet few whites have ever thought of our position as resulting from racial preferences. Indeed, we pride ourselves on our hard work and ambition, as if somehow we invented the concepts.


As if we have worked harder than the folks who were forced to pick cotton and build levies for free; harder than the Latino immigrants who spend 10 hours a day in fields picking strawberries or tomatoes; harder than the (mostly) women of color who clean hotel rooms or change bedpans in hospitals, or the (mostly) men of color who collect our garbage.


We strike the pose of self-sufficiency while ignoring the advantages we have been afforded in every realm of activity: housing, education, employment, criminal justice, politics, banking and business. We ignore the fact that at most every turn, our hard work has been met with access to an opportunity structure to which millions of others have been denied similar access. Privilege, to us, is like water to the fish: invisible precisely because we cannot imagine life without it.


It is that context that best explains the duplicity of the President's recent criticisms of affirmative action at the University of Michigan. President Bush, himself a lifelong recipient of affirmative action - the kind set aside for the rich and mediocre - recently proclaimed that the school's policies were examples of unfair racial preference. Yet in doing so he not only showed a profound ignorance of the Michigan policy, but made clear the inability of yet another white person to grasp the magnitude of white privilege still in operation.


The President attacked Michigan's policy of awarding 20 points (on a 150-point evaluation scale) to undergraduate applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities (which at U of M means blacks, Latinos and American Indians). To many whites such a "preference" is blatantly discriminatory.


Yet what Bush failed to mention were the greater numbers of points awarded for other things, and which have the effect of preferencing whites to the exclusion of people of color.


For example, Michigan awards 20 points to any student from a low-income background, regardless of race. Since these points cannot be combined with those for minority status (in other words poor blacks don't get 40 points), in effect this is a preference for poor whites.


Then Michigan awards 16 points to students who hail from the Upper Peninsula of the state: a rural, largely isolated, and almost completely white area.


Of course both preferences are fair, based as they are on the recognition that economic status and even geography (as with race) can have a profound effect on the quality of K-12 schooling that one receives, and that no one should be punished for such things that are beyond their control. But note that such preferences - though disproportionately awarded to whites - remain uncriticized, while preferences for people of color become the target for reactionary anger. Once again, white preference remains hidden because it is more subtle, more ingrained, and isn't called white preference, even if that's the effect.


But that's not all. Ten points are awarded to students who attended top-notch high schools, and another eight points are given to students who took an especially demanding AP and honors curriculum.


As with points for those from the Upper Peninsula, these preferences may be race-neutral in theory, but in practice they are anything but. Because of intense racial isolation (and Michigan's schools are the most segregated in America for blacks according to research by the Harvard Civil Rights Project), students of color will rarely attend the "best" schools, and on average, schools serving mostly black and Latino students offer only a third as many AP and honors courses as schools serving mostly whites.


So even truly talented students of color will be unable to access those extra points simply because of where they live, their economic status and ultimately their race, which is intertwined with both.


Four more points are awarded to students who have a parent who attended the U of M: a kind of affirmative action with which the President is intimately familiar, and which almost exclusively goes to whites. Ironically, while alumni preference could work toward the interest of diversity if combined with aggressive race-based affirmative action (by creating a larger number of black and brown alums), the rollback of the latter, combined with the almost guaranteed retention of the former will only further perpetuate white preference.


So the U of M offers 20 "extra" points to the typical black, Latino or indigenous applicant, while offering various combinations worth up to 58 extra points for students who will almost all be white. But while the first of these are seen as examples of racial preferences, the second are not, hidden as they are behind the structure of social inequities that limit where people live, where they go to school, and the kinds of opportunities they have been afforded. White preferences, by being the result of the normal workings of a racist society, can remain out of sight and out of mind, while the power of the state is turned against the paltry preferences meant to offset them.


Very telling is the oft-heard comment by whites, "If I had only been black I would have gotten into my first-choice college."


Such a statement not only ignores the fact that whites are more likely than members of any other group - even with affirmative action in place - to get into their first-choice school, but it also presumes, as anti-racist activist Paul Marcus explains, "that if these whites were black, everything else about their life would have remained the same." In other words, that it would have made no negative difference as to where they went to school, what their family income was, or anything else.


The ability to believe that being black would have made no difference (other than a beneficial one when it came time for college), and that being white has made no positive difference, is rooted in privilege itself: the privilege that allows one to not have to think about race on a daily basis; to not have one's intelligence questioned by best-selling books; to not have to worry about being viewed as a "out of place" when driving, shopping, buying a home, or for that matter, attending the University of Michigan.


Tim Wise is an antiracist activist, essayist and lecturer. Send email to [email protected].

This article is reprinted here with permission from Mr. Wise. Any other duplication will require his permission.
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