I’ve got a whole bunch of awesome irons in the fire at the moment, but that means that I don’t have as much time for writing new material (hence the number of guest posts recently). However, I have been thinking a lot about affirmative action recently, and I thought it would make sense to repost an older article I had written.
I recently had a student come up to me after I gave a presentation at a conference, and he said something I often hear from young White people: “I agree with most of what you said, but you didn’t talk about the ways that White people are institutionally discriminated against.” When I asked him to clarify what he meant, he said, “Well, like affirmative action, for instance. It is reverse racism!”
Considering how often this sentiment is expressed and considering the recent debate about what reparations can and should look like spurred by the amazing Ta-Nehisi Coates article in the Atlantic entitled, “The Case for Reparations“, I figure it’s time to repost an article that I originally titled “Are White Students Being Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action” (though my friend Scott bemoaned the passive voice used in the title).
I notice that whenever I can do question and answer sessions with young people (high school and college students), the same questions come up every time. First, a White Man usually asks why Black folks are allowed to use the “n word” but he’s not (read my response here). Then a White young person usually asks, “How do you feel about Affirmative Action? Because from what I understand, White people (particularly White Men) are actually now at a disadvantage in college admissions because of Affirmative Action, and it’s not fair that I will have less of a chance of getting into college because of what happened in the past!”
Ask any White person how they feel about Affirmative Action, and you’re almost guaranteed to hear that it is “racist against White people” and that it is “unfair” or “reverse discrimination” and that they oppose it. Further, most White folks will tell you that they are, in fact, actually less likely to get a job or a position in a school than a Person of Color because of Affirmative Action policies.
This is not true. Not only are White people not being discriminated against actively, White people are still benefitting regularly from a system that was built from its inception by White people for White people.
You see, White folks will often tell me, “White people make up 72% of the American population, but they only make up 62% of those admitted and enrolled in degree-granting institutions.” And the tricky part of that statement is that it is not false, not in the slightest. It is, however, wildly misleading.
The Demographics of Success
Demographics are tricky. In the United States today, there are A LOT of older White people. Simultaneously, though, there are also A LOT of younger People of Color. Thus, while the percentage of the American public that are White hovers around 70%, the percentage of traditionally college-aged folks is much lower: 59.7%. The critics are right, though, that 62.3% of those enrolled in degree-conferring institutions are White.