A little while ago, we discussed what privilege exactly was, and how it affects various members of society. Today, we will talk about how privilege affects specific racial groups, the relationship between the various racial groups, and how all of it plays out when it comes to college admissions.
First off, we must take a look at Proposition 209, a law established in California that prohibits the use of racial and gender preferences when it comes to college admissions in the University of California system, effectively banning the process we commonly know as “affirmative action.” Local uproar has been going on for many years between the Asian and the Latino community, vying for the representation in admissions which both racial groups deserve. Other states (Michigan) as well as private institutions (California Institute of Technology) have upheld similar policies.
This socio-political controversy has been going on for decades beginning with Regents of the University of California vs Bakke in 1978, the justices going back and forth with their stance on affirmative action whilst providing specific guidelines on how affirmative action is to be allowed (for example, using an automatic point system with a fixed number of points added to the applications of underrepresented minorities was deemed unconstitutional).
Interestingly enough, both proponents as well as dissidents of the affirmative action policy reference the Equal Protection Clause part of the 14th Amendment, which states that no person—regardless of their ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, and what have you—will be denied “the equal protection of the laws.”
This leads to an obviously sticky situation. We now return to UCLA, located in the heart of Los Angeles, an urban home to a very large Latino population as well as the nation’s most famous Chinatown. The Latin community seeks to reestablish affirmative action, whereas the Asian community wishes to keep the affirmative action ban permanent. Unfortunately, within this crisis, we forget to ask why these racial groups are fighting for the same slice of pie, when we should be asking why all racial groups are not given equitable accessibility to the entire pie as a whole.
This entire situation then begs the question: Why does affirmative action exist?
Affirmative action serves to provide an opportunity to racial groups that have been severely marginalized in the past due to institutional racism. It seeks to provide a pathway to foundations of higher education for those who simply do not have the resources that a “privileged” member of society would have in order to make themselves eligible for a college or university (SAT tutoring, private admissions counselors, private high schools, etc).
Interestingly enough, however, we must understand that affirmative action, in its current state, is marginalizing to all racial minority groups involved, whether they are supported by the policy in admissions or not. For example, “underrepresented minorities” who benefit from this system are perceived by society as “lesser,” which is a terrible stigma in itself that propels racial prejudice due to affirmative action.
On the other hand, “overrepresented minorities,” more specifically, Asians, do not receive the benefits of affirmative action due to their high numbers of representation in colleges and universities, and actually find it more difficult to be admitted. As such, we see that despite similar atrocities committed upon Asian Americans (The Coolie Trade, Japanese Internment Camps, and many more), these groups are not given the same benefits.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the affirmative action crisis, and we can see that there is a very serious social dynamic that rests within the heart of this political controversy. However, there are two clear problematic fallacies that affirmative action fails to address:
1. The institutional racism (as well as sexism) that plagues students in institutions of higher learning despite their pro-affirmative action policies.
2. The limited scope of affirmative action that inadvertently marginalizes all racial minorities involved, even ones it seeks to positively represent.
Affirmative action, despite its clear contributions to society, is far from perfect. Policy makers as well as education reformers currently seek to establish new and specific guidelines that would allow affirmative action more sensible with the context of modern society, such as having affirmative action focus on students who lack the resources and opportunities to attend higher education due to their low socio-economic status, rather than those who fall under a certain broad and ever-evolving socio-biological construct known as “race” or “ethnicity.”
Stay tuned for next chapter, where we will focus on how privilege affects gender and sexual minorities.