Wow. So, thanks to OneNewsNow, I learned about an interesting little event the students at Purdue University had last week: an Affirmative Action bake sale, organized by students of the Conservative Coalition for American Values. (Bake sale raises awareness at Purdue – OneNewsNow) Here’s a totally biased video about the event:
So, each person was charged differently for baked goods depending on their race. And what did this accomplish?
OneNewsNow interviewed Coalition spokesperson Naomi Whittaker. “Asian-Pacific Islanders are charged the most because, although they are a minority they are punished in a sense for being successful minorities,” she explains. “So…they will pay the most at $1.50 per baked good.”
Whittaker says Caucasians will be charged $1 and African-Americans 50 cents, with Native Americans getting baked goods for free. But she adds that if the students and faculty want to be judged based on character instead of skin color, then they will all be charged the same fee for baked goods.
“This reflects the quotas used in the public school system,” she notes.
The whole intent of the event was truly to propagate the myth that I put in bold above.
Affirmative Action is not about quotas. Affirmative Action is about resisting racism and other forms of discrimination. It does not unfairly support those who are not qualified; it favors those who have proven themselves the same as everybody else but who might unfairly be discriminated against because of the prejudice that still persists in society.
The video claims that:
In order to achieve true equality, Affirmative Action must end.
What such a claim fails to convey is that the specific reason we have (and continue to need) Affirmative Action is specifically to compensate for the fact that we do not have true equality without it. It is an initiative that attempts to provide equity.
Affirmative Action is designed as an attempt to resist privilege. And you know what? It works. It’s not perfect. It’s not ideal. But, it does level the playing field. Did anyone else notice all of the members of the CCAV were white?
Some conversations are now being had on the Purdue campus about this issue. Here’s a letter in The Exponent from freshman Marinett Cabero (02/25/09), demonstrating some of the mythology that persists on the campus (I’ve highlighted some concerns I see in the author’s point of view):
Why should a measure that was supposed to be temporary, only to be used during the Civil Rights Movement, still be in existence more than 40 years later? Simple, it should not. Affirmative action’s original goal was to level the playing field, making a job open to all applicants regardless of race. Rather than just achieve this goal, by the late 1970s it was clear that it had outlived its usefulness and morphed into something much worse: discriminating based on race, the very concept affirmative action attempted to eradicate. Many people have mistaken notions about affirmative action, thinking it helps minorities get ahead. The opposite is actually true. In reality, people who may not be academically prepared to go on to college or post-bachelor degree work will be thrust into situations where they struggle and ultimately fail. A more qualified candidate may be passed over another less qualified candidate based on skin color (which is the exactly what affirmative action sought to end). Take the example of the University of Michigan, where up to 20 points were awarded towards admission based on what race a person was. Finally, above all else, affirmative action moves us further away from Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a colorblind society, as race drives affirmative action. Therefore, affirmative action should be abolished.
I really hope that Dr. King did not envision a colorblind society. That would really diminish my admiration for what he stood for. I’d like to think that he envisioned a society where every race, ethnicity, and cultural background was appreciated for its uniqueness and never treated as superior or inferior. I think a “colorblind society” is a myth that maintains white privilege (as Stephen Colbert reminds us through satire).
Here is a response from Purdue sophomore Charleston Crouch (03/02/2009):
Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of a colorblind society with the intent that society would actually be colorblind itself. If you are not aware, and you possibly may not be, racial discrimination is still very much alive in many settings. There are things that are done not knowingly that come from one’s background and past experiences. The reasoning for affirmative action is just how you have stated it, which is to level the playing field. The reason it must continue is because there are inner-city school or public school children, who a lot of times are minority children, who have the potential or natural intellect to be great in any career. The children are not provided with access to the teachers or technology that another student may be; therefore they are accommodated for that. A student can only learn what is presented to them by their educators. So imagine that you lived in a low-class area and your school cannot afford many computers for you to learn as much as you have to get where you are, but you have the intelligence to use it and be great and haven’t been given that shot to show it. Most of your family members have not been to college before because of the past racial discriminations or economic problems, but you desire more. Today, the only way to get there is by going to college; without it any man or woman is at a loss. So why not admit some minorities to boost your college’s national appeal or even graduate some minority leaders? Which does not even really level the field entirely, but just gives a few people of different races a shot at success that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
I commend both these students for speaking out on their point of view, but particularly Charleston for calling out privilege.
Affirmative Action raises a lot of concerns, but only because people don’t understand it. I hope we can all continue to have conversations about privilege so that we can continue to deconstruct the inequality that persists in our society.
How do we go about that? What is the best way, particularly as higher education professionals, to respond to events like this? How do we address political points of view like the one presented by CCAV appropriately to protect our students and deconstruct privilege? Post your comments! Let’s get some discussion going!