Affirmative action isn’t racist…unless you are

Opinion

Hello, and welcome to another awesome year of getting lit in the opinions section with Janvi! I hope your summers were full of adventures and that the school year has been treating you well so far. For those of you who may not know me (or have forgotten, for shame), I’m a senior and I’ve been contributing to the KO News since 10th grade. I love sharing what’s on my mind, and that usually means things like navigating the wacky experience that is high school, and topics relevant to us from the great big world out there.

By the way, if you have something specific you want to share with me, like a comment or suggestion for an article, let me know!

Today I’m jumping right in with something that can seem really confusing and controversial: affirmative action. A couple years back, someone told me that I, as an Asian, should feel angry that affirmative action would make the college process more difficult for me. Now you may be wondering, “Wait, isn’t racial discrimination the opposite of what colleges are supposed be doing?” and you’re absolutely correct! That’s exactly what I thought. So I ended up doing my own mini-investigation on it (by which I mean an intense Google session interspersed with snacking), and now I’m here writing this to tell you all what I’ve come to learn and why affirmative action is something I’m actually fully in support of.

Affirmative action is a policy used by colleges and universities to provide more educational opportunities for minorities in terms of gender, sexuality, race, etc. For the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on race specifically. Plainly stated, though it may not be the deciding factor, race, color, and ethnic background are definitely taken into consideration in college admissions. Not to be mistaken for a racial quota, the point of affirmative action is to try to ensure that students aren’t denied admission based on race.So one would think that when our applications land in the hands of an admissions officer, they see us just for what we are on paper and make decisions solely based on how good or accomplished we are as people. There’s a fancy name for that: meritocracy. Really rolls off the tongue, right? And in a perfect world where everyone started on a level playing ground with the same opportunities, that’s how it would be! But, as I bet you’ve already guessed, that’s not how it is in the least.

People are on different playing fields quite literally from the moment they’re born, depending on how much parental leave their parents get, to quality of childcare, to how many processed foods they have in preschool. Those factors are heavily influenced by socioeconomic status, which in turn has a lot to do with race. To be frank, we are not living in a post-racial country. In fact, we live in a country where even “ethnic names” could have an application thrown out. While every case may not be this extreme, it’s impossible to deny the effects of race on opportunities we’re given in life. Affirmative action seeks to kind of offset the huge educational gap that our country’s race/wealth gap has created. It’s certainly a good start to fixing the many many issues in the education system I mean seriously, there are so many educational gaps you’d think they’d at least throw in some Old Navy coupons or something.

“Janvi,” you say, “that’s plain not fair! If I’ve worked so hard, how come someone else gets picked over me just for being a certain race?!” Okay, I can see where you’re coming from. No one’s saying you didn’t work hard! But remember, as I mentioned earlier, race is virtually never the single deciding factor in a college offer.

Second, your particular situation in life may afford you some privileges that others lack, and a rejection to you may become a trivial bump in the long run whereas acceptance for someone else is their ticket to an awesome future. And besides, it’s almost a non-issue in day-to-day life because we never know the true reason behind an offer or denial from a college. So if you’re worrying about how it affects you on a day-to-day basis don’t! Instead, consider how rather than blind “equality”. Equity (i.e. being “more fair” to people who need it more than others) is what’s really going to level the field and bring us closer to that meritocracy.

Anyways, I’ll keep it real with you. Nothing’s perfect, and this is no exception. The major argument against affirmative action is that it seems to discriminate against Asians; there’s actually a huge lawsuit going on by a group of Asian-American students at Harvard who say their school’s admissions policies are biased against them and that they had to do consistently better in high school and on standardized tests than their peers did in order to get in.

I personally don’t think that this problem should totally be attributed to affirmative action, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. By the way, if you are so inclined, there’s a really cool article on the New Yorker’s website called “The Uncomfortable Truth About Affirmative Action and Asian-Americans” written by (surprise!) an Asian-American woman who went to Harvard, which explains the situation really well.

My takeaway from this is that affirmative action is flawed, that’s for sure, but you know what? I can think of quite a few things off the top of my mind that are WAY more flawed than a program that’s trying to right one of the many wrongs that are, unfortunately, ingrained in the fabric of this country. I have no beef with affirmative action, and neither should you! And that’s all for now, folks. I’ll be back with another hot take in no time, and until then, stay woke!