Affirmative distraction: Another morally dubious policy

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Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

Photo by Pixabay via Pexels

Clarence Thomas is arguably the most powerful black man in America. The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, a new book that has come out, argues that Clarence Thomas sees the world through an identity structured around afro-pessimism which asserts that white liberals and leftists remain unreliable and that black people must not depend on the government, but rather themselves and their community. I bring Justice Thomas up to emphasize this patronizing attitude that liberals and leftists can simply solve the problems of the world by checking off a certain amount of boxes for diversity, and hooray! Racism has been solved. 

Frankly, I’m deeply skeptical of movements that seek to redress past wrongs before stopping current ones, and you should be too. Institutions of the state and bureaucracies are deeply involved in creating and perpetuating the inequality and suffering caused to African Americans and other groups. One needs to look no farther than the treatment offered during the opioid crisis juxtaposed to the criminalization of crack cocaine to see that our institutions shirk their duties to provide equal protection under the law. Be it inner city schools, access to clean water or police officers shooting black people within their own homes, it remains clear that dependence on them is wholly unreliable. So, it seems unclear that one would increase the powers of bureaucracies rather than severely limit the amount of harm they are able to do. 

While I understand the noble intentions behind affirmative action, it fundamentally remains a Faustian bargain, allowing colleges to claim their commitment to public service while ignoring those disadvantaged by the policies. It is not your responsibility to make the elusive liberal feel good about helping to ‘save’ you. Do yourself a favor, and cast off the chains of white paternalism. Prove to the world that you do not need ‘diversity quotas’ to save you. Only through self and communal cultivation can the path to liberation begin. 

Additionally and unsurprisingly, the people who end up paying the brunt of the cost of affirmative action are not white, but rather those who’ve consistently been punished for the color of their skin. This begs the question of whether one has an obligation not to disadvantage innocent people around them. Many claim that since Asian test scores and average wealth surpass everyone else’s, their disadvantages are trivial and their concerns are irrelevant. Our society tries to sidestep the moral dilemma of whether pulling ahead by pulling innocent people behind is legitimate by trying either to accept affirmative action as a given, or to see affirmative action as an impersonal algorithm.   

Affirmative action is not only a moral mess, but also a practical one. Gail Heriot, member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights points out that affirmative action produces fewer black scientists, black engineers and black medical doctors. They produce fewer black college professors and very likely fewer black lawyers. She reasons that by having selective institutions lower their standards for black applicants, lower rung schools do the same, which overall results in African Americans being left with a major starting credentials gap, resulting in a lack of the skills necessary to succeed at the colleges they remain at. By seeing certain racial groups as important to balance, rather than focusing on individual students, people become pawns in the game of tokenism. Pawns are not the beneficiaries of chess, and neither are minority students. 

Whatever groups you find yourself a part of, you should keep an eye out for the recently settled federal court case, Harvard vs. SFFA to see both if it goes to the Supreme Court, and how it will change the educational landscape for the better if we move away from affirmative action, or as others see it, positive discrimination.  


  Isadore Johnson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at isadore.johnson@uconn.edu.

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