Affirmative Action Protests Signal New Era in Race Talks

Many people feel a twinge of guilt for thinking that the reason a black accountant may have gotten his job because of his skin color.

College students, seeing a Latino student may not be able to help but feel the same thing.

You should, but not because it makes you racist. Affirmative Action has degraded the achievements of racial minorities by rewarding people just for being black or brown or green or yellow.

The push back against Affirmative Action is not about being racist, or wanting to “fight back for the white man.”

Discussions about race are changing, and it’s due, at least in part, to the changing minds of young people.

Last week my sister called me from a college conflicted about an Affirmative Action protest at her school. A study was being presented to the Wisconsin State Legislature demonstrating that the University of Wisconsin discriminated against white students and Asian students based solely on their race.

My answer to that study would be “duh.”

Affirmative Action in education has created this stark inequality. White and Asian students have long endured a reverse racist application process, in favor of admitting more black and Latino students.

(We can argue about whether this is true “racism,” but anytime anyone, gets treated differently because of their race, it’s racism. That’s the definition, but more on this later)

To highlight this, a number of college Republican groups decided to hold Affirmative Action bake sales, generating even more controversy around the issues relating to Affirmative Action.

The idea is brilliant: charge white male students a certain rate, and everyone else a different (lower) rate based on race.

My sister’s response to this was not surprising and actually is the archetype example in what seems to be a paradigm shift in the way our generation views race relations.

In earnest, she wondered if these protesters might be right. Isn’t it racist to let less or even comparably academically qualified students into college based on the fact that they are come from a minority background?

On the other hand, shouldn’t we be taking special steps to encourage minority students to be attending first-rate institutions of higher education?

My answer again would be “duh.”

Ok, maybe “Yes, duh.”

Both of those statements seem unarguably true.  That’s why these bake sales are so astonishing. By taking Affirmative Action and changing the venue, the idea is we set up a lens through which we can now view this policy in a different way.

If we would say “This is wrong,” when it comes to food, why is it right to do with education? Or in the work force?

Colleges all over the country shut these bake sales down and for what? Inciting a little controversy? Creating dialogue?

This is the height of hypocrisy, particularly considering the University of Wisconsin had to apologize after they Photoshopped a minority student onto university materials because apparently “one of those” wasn’t readily available.

More to the point, my sister – a middle-class white female having come back from studying abroad in Nepal and acutely aware of what inequality looks like –  looked at this policy of racial bias and saw inequality, regardless of her skin tone or the tone of those involved.

She’s right. There is an inequality. Intelligent minds can disagree on the types of advantages that ought to be granted to minority groups in order to allow their voices to be heard, but the reality is this is our government created policies to perpetuate inequality.

If true equality is what we’re striving for, to take a popular phrase in Madison right now, this is not what equality looks like.

I see a a slightly different potential outcome as well. College students, notoriously liberal and altruistic, see a problem with the way race is handled in this country.

Affirmative Action is like taking Lipitor because you have high cholesterol and then still going to your favorite steakhouse every Friday night.

The problem isn’t being addressed, just one of the symptoms.

There is a growing consensus among academics that the effects of poverty – a problem disproportionately facing black and Latino families – can stunt the growth of a child’s mind as early as three years-old.

Poverty, not race, is the driver of most inequality (I know, you’re shocked money is the real problem).

By the time someone is 17, their race has very little to do with whether or not they’re set up to succeed.

Go read Freakonomics or talk to a teacher if you don’t believe me.

This protest of affirmative action isn’t a racist gesture to “keep minorities in their place.” Quite the contrary.

This protest is aimed at rejecting the notion that race should be a definer of your quality as a student/potential employee/person.

Isn’t that what our parents have been telling us since we were born?

The inherent problem with Affirmative Action is, at what point have we reached the level where minorities no longer need the help?

It’s true, people with disadvantages outside of their control (a child’s circumstances based on their parents income at three years old ought to qualify), should get some help, but when have we, as a society, done our part in that child’s life?

When should my tax dollars stop being spent? When should we stop giving advantages to people?

This new generation sees the government forcing colleges and employers to pick winners and losers based on race.Weren’t we taught that to judge people based on skin color is racist?

Regardless of who is being helped and who is being hurt, they see an inherent flaw in whats going on.

Good, because there is one.

There are cities all over the country where white, middle-class families are the exception not the rule. Do the poor white families get reverse Affirmative Action in Buffalo? Cleveland? Of course not.

We put a policy in place that seems to make sense: give people who are disadvantaged,  minority students and job-seekers an extra advantage to succeed.

Good idea.

On the other hand, we never determined a way to say, “Ok, enough is enough.”

We see examples every day of people who are able to overcome extreme obstacles in their life, black, white, Latino, Asian.

“If they can do it, so can you,” seems to be an appropriate summation of the counterargument.

From poverty to prosperity, it’s a romantic notion, but an achieveable one. We used to call it, “The American Dream.”

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