Are White Students Being Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action?

I notice that whenever I 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.

Race % of Pop. 15-24 % of Enrolled
White 59.7% 62.3%
Hispanic 18.3% 12.5%
Black 15.6% 14.3%
Asian 3.5% 6.5%
Indigenous 1.5% 1.0%

Source for Population Demographic data, 2009.
Source for College Enrollment data, 2009.

White folks are STILL disproportionately likely to go to college despite formal Affirmative Action programs that attempt to recruit students of color.  Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students are disproportionately less likely to go to college, and the only other group with college-going rates that exceed their percentage of the population are Asian students.  But even that is misleading because to understand Asian success in the United States is also to understand racism.  After all, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and similar policies that even continue today, for most of U.S. history, it was virtually impossible for someone of Asian descent to legally immigrate to the United States unless they had an advanced degree.  Thus, there is a disproportionate number of folks of Asian descent whose parents are college educated, but when you break down the data by socioeconomic status and ethnicity, low-income Asians are, again, disproportionately less likely to go to college!

Predicting Success:
Where did your parents go to college?

Which brings me to the factors that actually act as predictors of success for students as they look to attend college.  Two of the primary predictors of success for educational attainment and occupational earnings are, quite simply, your parent’s education and level of wealth.  If your parents went to college, you are more likely to go to college.  So what does that say for communities who, until the 1960s, were denied access to all but a few colleges and universities?  If your grandparents didn’t even have the option of going to college, and your parents’ success in education was most easily predicted by your grandparents’ success, did your parents go to college?  And if your parents didn’t go to college, are you as likely to go?  This is one of the many ways that the system of racial oppression continues to be reinvented.  Sure, we no longer live in a country where it’s legal to bar, say, Black folks from attending your college, but when the system values the skills and knowledge most easily acquired through a parent who went to college, the end result is the same when Black folks have been historically denied access to education.

Thus, whether it’s because of the policy of legacy admissions, whereby students are accepted because their parents went to the college (which, at the University of Michigan holds almost as much sway as race, income level, and athletic scholarship combined), or because of the skills and know-how that come from having a parent who went to college, the end result is that People of Color are actually at a distinct disadvantage when they apply to college.

Standardized Tests:
Not so Fair After All

The perception that most White people have about Affirmative Action and standardized testing

One of the reasons that standardized tests are weighed so heavily in college admissions (upwards of 1/4 of the application at selective institutions) is that they are supposed to be, in fact, standardized, meaning that everyone who takes them should be on the same playing field, and it is meant to measure “objective” knowledge that is supposed to be available to everyone in our education system.

The problem is that this is a farce.

Despite the for-profit test-making companies crying foul, multiple studies have found that tests like the SAT and ACT are, in fact, culturally biased in favor of White folks.  One of the more comprehensive studies, for instance, found that the SAT uses language that disadvantages students of Color and advantages White students.  Essentially, on simpler verbal questions (ones that, in many ways, should be the “gimme” questions of the test), the SAT’s writers used White vernacular that was easy for White students to understand and difficult for students of Color to understand.  The cream on top of this study, though, was that on more difficult verbal questions that did not use White vernacular, many students of Color actually out performed White students, but not by enough to overcome the distinct advantage given to White students on the simpler questions.

In essence, if the tests talks like all the people around you talk, you’re going to do better!

Now, does this mean that the writers of the SAT are a bunch of card-carrying members of the KKK?  No!  My guess would be that the test was simply written by White folks, so the White vernacular didn’t sound particularly exclusive to them.  The end result, though, couldn’t be more White supremacist if the KKK had written the test themselves: students of Color are clearly disadvantaged on the so-called “standardized” tests that weigh so heavily in college admissions.

Spoiler Alert: White Folks, We’re the Monkey!

“Fair” Assumes an Equal Playing Field

What it all comes down to is a question of fairness.  White folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is “unfair” because it discriminates against White people.  What the term “fair” assumes here, though, is that we live in a society where there’s an equal playing field for all students, regardless of race or wealth.  Unfortunately, we just don’t live in that society!

The students who ask me about Affirmative Action almost always start with, “If two students are applying for college and all of their qualifications are equal . . .”  I always want to stop them right there and ask what that means.  What does it mean when “all qualifications are equal?”  Because in the system in which we live, there’s no such thing.

I mean, let’s talk educational spending, for instance.  No matter how you slice it, when you get down into the data about education spending, there is a tremendous disparity between the amount of money spent on White pupils and on pupils of Color.  This is because we still use the draconian system of property tax to fund our schools.  As is pretty common knowledge, People of Color are disproportionately poor for a wealth of reasons (including but not limited to their disadvantage in access to higher education), and in poor communities, schools are funded terribly compared to in wealthier communities.  The way I used to describe it to folks when I taught in a lower-income area of Chicago is like this: In Winnetka (a wealthy, mostly White Chicago suburb), your school might be drawing a 10% property tax on multiple million dollar homes; on the West side of Chicago, your school might be drawing a 10% property tax on empty lots and dilapidated buildings.

And whether or not we like to admit it, money buys a better education.  When your school has money, you can hire more teachers and have smaller class sizes (which are directly tied to higher achievement), you can offer greater enrichment and tutoring programs, you can offer more courses in foreign languages or art and music (learning which stimulate brain activity), you can offer more access to technology, and so on.  The benefits are almost endless.  On the other hand, when your schools don’t have much money, your kids are kinda screwed.

And it’s not just in the classroom that extra money means more opportunity.  Families with more wealth are able to afford their children more opportunities (tutors, cello lessons, sports camps, and so on) that not only look great on a resume and college application but that support and enhance cognitive development.  Those kinds of opportunities are the exact things that give students with such privileges the edge in competitive college entrance environments.  Now, do some students of Color have access to these kinds of opportunities?  Absolutely!  Are some White students denied these opportunities?  Undoubtedly (which is why Affirmative Action programs often take into account family income for White students).  The reality, though, is that students of Color are disproportionately  denied access to these resources because of a simple thing called trans-generational wealth accumulation.

You see, though some gains have been made in the earning power of some People of Color, what matters more than income is wealth.  Income refers to the amount of money someone might make in their work from week to week or year to year.  Wealth, on the other hand, refers to the accumulated assets that a person or family has.  Essentially wealth is everything a person owns minus their debt.  And by that measure, there’s some pretty stark inequality:

If you’re anything like me, those numbers are a bit shocking in their simple disparity.  So how is that the case?  Well, consider that wealth tends to be passed down from generation to generation.  Parents help their kids with buying property or with getting an education, and the wealth that is passed down grows for the next generation.  And when it comes to trans-generational wealth accumulation, White people have a pretty long head start.

The REAL Affirmative Action

The point is that whenever we talk about how people of Color of low-income folks are receiving an unfair advantage with Affirmative Action programs, we having the wrong conversation.  The conversation we should be having is about the real Affirmative Action programs that give White folks a leg up in overt and subtle ways.  I don’t have to worry  if I get a spot in college because of the advantage I had on the SAT or because of the lessons my college-educated parents taught that people will say that I only got in because of the color of my skin.  And post-college, I can rely on the fact that my name sounds White, which is going to increase my chances of being hired over a Black person by 50%.

We don’t have that conversation because it’s not in the best interest of those who are in control.  Think about it.  White folks are in the top positions in most colleges and are the heads of most large corporations.  White people want their kids to have access to the best jobs and educational opportunities just like every parent, so we’re sure as hell not going to give up the game and admit the ways that we benefit from informal, unstated Affirmative Action programs every single day.

That’s the real Affirmative Action that we should be discussing.

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52 thoughts on “Are White Students Being Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action?

  1. joshfriedberg

    THANK YOU! This reminds me of a lot of horribly (and unintentionally) racist beliefs I used to have about affirmative action. One of the things, though, that I didn’t see mentioned in my quick read-through, is what happens if you do take claims of qualifications seriously, and then try applying them to white students: many white students, with or without the opportunities you mention, are simply assumed qualified because their race doesn’t work against them, which is to say they are assumed qualified because they are white. At the same time, there’s a great article I read in a book called Privilege: A Reader about legacy admissions, called something like “Why are droves of unqualified kids getting into our top colleges? Because their dads are alumni,” that points out that legacy admissions does far more damage to colleges’ academic records than affirmative action ever could, if someone does take such claims of qualifications seriously. At any rate, this post points out that affirmative action is absolutely necessary regardless of claims of unfairness and “reverse discrimination.” Thanks for posting!

  2. Okay. Here is how I feel about affirmative “blacktion..” If I were in a hospital, and I was given the choice of two doctors who went to the same college, one was white and one was black, and the white one had an A average after completing his/her schooling, and the black one finished with a C-, but because of affirmative blacktion, they were forced to hire him at this hospital, who do you think I would choose? The truly qualified white doctor who worked their arse off to get an A average, or the minority doctor who did poorly with a C- grade? Do you get my point? Another white doctor who is very qualified to work at this hospital is not hired due to the fact that they have a specific quota of minorities that they need to hire! It just doesn’t make any sense.

    • I could go on and on about how many false assumptions there are in the above comment (about “merit,” “qualifications,” and also what black people are capable of, not to mention that quotas are rarely implemented on such a level as to cause any of this to possibly be a representative situation), but for now I’ll just say, read Jamie’s article (again?) and think about the implications of white people getting forms of affirmative action everyday.

      • I’ve gotta second Josh here. Miss J, First, I’m not sure you read the article because if you did, you would understand that what you described is not possible. Quotas are illegal and do not exist. Some schools use a point system, and a certain number of points can be awarded for everything from legacy admission to athletics to income level to race. There is no school where race weighs heavily enough to cause someone who is a C student to get into school over someone who is an A student, regardless of the race of either person.

        Secondly, if we’re talking about something like the medical field, there is something called the State Board Exams. Each doctor must pass them in order to practice, and it measures the minimum knowledge and experience that a doctor must have in order to practice without endangering anyone. Thus, even if your fallacious situation COULD occur, the Black doctor would have had to pass the state Boards. If they weren’t well enough prepared, they couldn’t treat you. Now, we could likely look into things like cultural bias in things like the State Board Exams and the Bar, but that’s another discussion entirely.

        Lastly, the fact that you started off, “Here is how I feel about affirmative ‘blacktion..'” belies the inherent racism in your post. Your unwillingness to engage with the actual evidence posed and your retreat into the straw man argument of “Overqualified White person doesn’t get in because stupid Negro does” only serves to dumb down the discussion and lead us into a rhetorical shouting match with no evidence.

        Thanks for your post, though! It helps to prove my point delightfully!

    • You obviously know nothing about med school admissions. Literally nobody who got a C average in college gets into med school in the US. People with 3.9s have trouble getting into med school quite often.

    • You assume that affirmative action means that a quota must be met and that unqualified people must be taken; that is a common but wrong assumption.

  3. […] and that privileges us over people of Color in life or death things like employment and wealth, education, health care, police brutality, and presumption of guilt is built upon the very White Supremacy […]

  4. […] 2. Perhaps the only conversation with White folks that drives me MORE crazy than the one about the N-Word is the one about affirmative action.  ”It discriminates against White people.”  ”I won’t even be able to get into college or get a scholarship because of all of the affirmative action for ‘minorities.’”  After banging my head against the wall in the conversation over and over (again, people of Color, how do you even begin to deal with this business?), I decided to write out a defense of affirmative action that proves, once and for all, that White folks are NOT being disadvantaged by such policies.  Now I can just link people to the post!  And it’s getting a lot of google traffic these days.  The second most viewed piece of 2012 is, Are White Students Being Disadvantaged by Affirmative Action […]

  5. “And whether or not we like to admit it, money buys a better education. When your school has money, you can hire more teachers and have smaller class sizes (which are directly tied to higher achievement), you can offer greater enrichment and tutoring programs, you can offer more courses in foreign languages or art and music (learning which stimulate brain activity), you can offer more access to technology, and so on. The benefits are almost endless. On the other hand, when your schools don’t have much money, your kids are kinda screwed.”

    The government spends more money per pupil on black students than on white students. Furthermore, black students are far more likely to take advantage of extra help, e.g., test prep for the SATs. Yet the “achievement” gap (i.e., race differences in intelligence) remains.

    Consult the Kansas Desegregation Experiment.

    Sources:

    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/04/the-myth-of-racial-disparities-in-public-school-funding
    http://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/why-chris-hayes-fails/
    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

  6. Radish, read the whole source, something you clearly did not do with ANY of the sources I presented, as they explain what happens when you DISAGGREGATE the data. Lumping the stats by state and looking at them nationally serves to hide the reality of educational funding.

    What all three sources are doing is ignoring the ways that schools are locally funded, even within many districts. The direct school funding for neighborhood schools is based on the property tax values of the surrounding property. It is literally impossible for schools in low-income areas to fund at similar rates to higher income areas, and federal educational spending for low income schools cannot come close to filling the gap (see the second source and third source above).

    Your third source says the following: “The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.”

    First, it doesn’t sound to me like the money being spent in that district was being used in ways that would advance educational achievement, AND it does not say where the new schools went within the city. Further, if you simply talk about a district-wide student-teacher ratio, you are again misunderstanding how schools are funded. In Chicago, there are schools in wealthier areas of the city, for instance, where the student-teacher ratio is 23 or 24, but I taught in one of the lowest income public schools in the city, and ours sat in the low-to-mid 30s. Thus, average those, and it’s going to make some schools look a lot better.

    Once again, so long as you refuse to disaggregate the data, you either make yourself look like you don’t understand statistics OR you are using statistics to prove your racist point.

  7. This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read! One of the stand-out points being the so-called “White vernacular” excuse. You’re saying that if the SAT’s used more “Yo’s” and “You know what I’m sayin’s” in its questions, blacks would score better?? Also, if college entrance tests were only meant for “White folks”, why do Asain students, percentage wise, do better than us “White folk”? Like I said, your whole article is ridiculous! Knowhatumsayin, yo?

    • Hey, Mike . . . I hate to tell you this, but your racism is spilling out all over the place. You might want to check that or people are gonna start thinking you’re a real asshole.

      To use White vernacular simply means to use examples that are more accessible to White students than to students of Color. For instance, the word “subdivision” is more likely to be used in a suburban or rural area to describe a neighborhood. However, in cities, houses are never organized into “subdivisions.” They are organized into “blocks,” “neighborhoods,” “wards,” and “parishs.” Considering that people of Color are far, FAR more likely to live in an urban area and far, FAR less likely to live in rural or suburban areas where “subdivision” is used, a word like “subdivision” could be considered White vernacular. Thus, if a math question asks students to calculate the area needed to add four new houses to a subdivision, that might be confusing to students who don’t regularly hear that word to describe their neighborhood.

      So no, I’m not simply saying that we need to include “knowwhatumsayin” in the test, though your mockery of a dialect other than your own makes quite clear that your own racism blinds you from seeing the point of the article.

      As far as your comment about Asian students outperforming White students, if you read the blog, I already addressed that issue:
      “White folks are STILL disproportionately likely to go to college despite formal Affirmative Action programs that attempt to recruit students of color. Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students are disproportionately less likely to go to college, and the only other group with college-going rates that exceed their percentage of the population are Asian students. But even that is misleading because to understand Asian success in the United States is also to understand racism. After all, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act and similar policies that even continue today, for most of U.S. history, it was virtually impossible for someone of Asian decent to legally immigrate to the United States unless they had an advanced degree. Thus, there is a disproportionate number of folks of Asian decent whose parents are college educated, but when you break down the data by socioeconomic status and ethnicity, low-income Asians are, again, disproportionately less likely to go to college!”

  8. I am amazed with how some people cannot get over the fact that the world is not an even playing field and this is something that is trying to help even out a system that has been placing minorities lower on the scale the farther that time progresses. People are too ignorant to look at the big picture with unbiased eyes.

  9. Jamie- you don’t get paid enough to respond to each of these bigoted replies with as much class and kindness as you have. How you do-what-you-do on a daily basis is beyond me. What a thoughtfully provoking thread, the comments alone are worth the time & effort (except Mike’s, he is an asshole).

  10. […] on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of […]

  11. […] on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming thataffirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of […]

  12. […] on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of […]

  13. I think that the obstacles you have mentioned are indisputable: everything from education to not having enough resources as white men have had (like myself). I think where I disagree with you is how to solve this. You are suggesting that we should practice affirmative action. Or, preferential treatment based on someone’s race. It seems like everything is wrong with this idea.
    1) Why can’t people of color reach the finish line on their own accord? (I’m using the video you have on here as a metaphor) I feel that affirmative action is using all the wrong solutions to solve this problem. People of color can make it to the top, we just need to remove the obstacles. Instead of guiding our efforts towards convincing society that we should use race based decisions (i.e. affirmative action) as you are advocating here, we need to put those efforts to removing the obstacles. Let’s work hard to make the school in the black neighborhood as good as the school in the white neighborhood. Let’s work hard to make standardized tests not biased. Let’s work hard to fix the prison industrial complex. Who can argue against the idea of making a school in poor areas as good as schools in rich areas? That’s a much easier fight to have. Colored people don’t need a handout, they need for society to remove the obstacles. Let’s focus our energies on the actual problems.
    2) It’s been shown to aversely affect people of color to be put in situations that they are not actually qualified for. Should we really send a student to a university that they are clearly underprepared for and that all their peers are significantly more advanced than them? Will that make them feel better? Studies show that of course not, and this makes sense. Why do we think we can “shortcut” success by just “placing” people in those areas that they are underrepresented? We need to offer opportunities, and we need to make the opportunities accessible for everyone. We don’t need to offer handouts. Again, let’s focuse on removing the obstacles.
    3) So now we are finally a free society that is not race based. Hallelujah! We’ve put all that race based decisions behind us and we are finally looking at the individual for their individual merits. Or are we? Wait, how is us focusing on race and using that as preferential treatment fixing the problem? It also begs the question, when do we stop giving one group preferential treatment (i.e. when do we stop affirmative action)? When is the playing field “level enough”? It’s non-sensical to, as a society, condemn racism as a means to success in life, and then have our main solution to fix the race inequality be one that is exactly race based? Why do we think this is a good idea when this is what we are trying to get away from from the get go?
    Imagine the future. We really must become a society that does not focus on race, but on achievement (a meritocracy). How is affirmative action leading us to that?
    I want the same goal as you do. I want a just society where everybody has opportunities to the life they want and this can be achieved with the same amount of effort as anyone else in society. I think we need to be honest and real here with a couple things. 1) Giving affirmative action, preferential treatment, is a band-aid solution that does not address the actual problems that certain groups have. Those groups will never succeed if we don’t actually fix the obstacles they face. In other words, if the schools still suck in poor neighborhoods whomever lives there is still not going to go to college.
    2) How will we reach nirvana of a color blind society? I know people don’t like this idea, but I’m sticking to my integrity here. I want that goal. I never look at a person with blond hair (I have brown) and think they are different or discriminate. I don’t even think about it! I want us to get there with colored people. I long to have a society where we see past the color. I can’t now, because the side of affirmative action is accentuating it and excarcerbating it.
    I’m not saying “being colorblind” is to not focus on the racial inequalities. But, let’s fix this “racism” thing for once and for all. Let’s focus on ameliorating all socio-economic brackets, but let’s not use race as a deciding factor.
    Affirmative action is a dead end fight. Society is not going to go for a program that favors one group even if that group has been discriminated, enslaved, etc. It’s just not going to work. But, think about it, no one can argue against removing the obstacles. I would like to see even the most right wing republican dispute the idea that poor schools should be as good as rich schools. That’s where we should focus our energies.

    • I can see your point that it seems counter-intuitive to try to combat racial inequalities by using discriminatory methods which favor certain races and classes. There is a temptation to see this as tilting the pool table, giving an unfair advantage to people on account of their race. However, perhaps it might be useful to step back a bit and see affirmative action as a temporary measure designed to achieve a goal – to put us closer to the situation of non-discrimination.

      Because you’re right, in a better world where black (or any racial) neighborhoods are not disproportionately poor, no one would need affirmative action policies. The problem for us right here and now, however, is that we are not there yet. And trying to help poor neighborhoods and poor families of color takes multiple measures, each of which contribute to each others effectiveness.

      One of the problems of “do everything else except affirmative action” is that some neighborhoods and families are to an extent trapped in a cycle of self-reinforcing poverty, and it takes a lot to break the inertia. Why not reach in and give the generations a little extra kickstart? Yes, improving the public school standards will certainly help get more kids into college. But why not achieve this end faster by also giving a marginal advantage to children from poorer backgrounds, to combat the host of other disadvantages inherent in being born to poorer parents? In the mean time, all the other things should still be happening, schools and public services should be brought up to scratch – but this takes time, and since affirmative action can be put in place without waiting for bricks and mortar to set, there’s no reason to hold back and deprive the current generation of help, especially when the knock-on effects will benefit the future generations too.

      The sooner affirmative action takes effect, the sooner we can be rid of it, and the sooner our currently poor communities will be wealthy enough to support families with better standards of education. For now, though, we still have a ways to go.

    • Also, sorry I forgot to address your point of “when do we stop affirmative action”, which was a good point. I think that as time goes on, and as policies become more effective at lessening economic disparities between certain neighborhoods and communities, we should gradually phase out affirmative action, or replace it with other measures. At the moment affirmative action is based on race, and this criteria for identifying the socially disadvantaged (which is already fairly rudimentary, though it has its utility) will gradually become less relevant. And so the window where affirmative action will be at its most effective will slowly close over time. I assume that a careful study of family wealth and educational opportunities will reveal how and when this racial gap gradually closes, and we can adjust our policies to reflect that.

      • Carla,
        For the most part I agree with what you are saying. If affirmative action were only “need based” and afforded to everyone that is poor, then I think that would be just and righteous and society should support that. I honestly think this is the route that society should take. If our affirmative action is solely based on need and not on race, then indirectly we are helping all the colored people who are disproportionately poor. At the same time we are helping all groups in poverty. Sure, in some way being a poor black person in the US is harder than being a poor white person in the US, but either way everyone that is poor suffers. This type of affirmative action is good for everyone; the same cannot be said for race-based affirmative action.
        You mentioned that we can “kickstart” and get people out of poverty faster by using affirmative action techniques. I’m not sure I believe that. I can’t say that I honestly believe that “placing” a person in an elevated economical or educational position that they did not fully deserve or achieve on their own merits is going to solve the problem of poverty for that group. I think there are inherent problems in doing so. For one, that that individual, who was “fastracked” to a better standing, is going to feel woefully unqualified. Additionally, I think that our merit based system, which is the foundation of the “American dream”, is going to be compromised. I also think that there are a host of other problems that we just can’t anticipate. A promotion that is not based on merit seems to defy the founding principles of our meritocracy (not to sound like a crazy libertarian which I am not). I just can’t seem to reconcile the idea that affirmative action is merely a short term solution that has no long-lasting effects.
        Coincidentally, I write this reply on the same day that we celebrate the 50 anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech. Famously he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
        I’ve got to say, based on this, I’m not sure MLK would be a proponent of affirmative action. He worked really hard to not have us be judged by the color of our skin, and I think we should discard this notion of race-based decisions (whether it be used for good or for bad) for once and for all. At that point, and at that point only, I think the healing can begin.

  14. […] on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of Color. Lets […]

  15. Reblogged this on mvlindsey and commented:
    heeheehee.

  16. […] on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of […]

  17. I’d be more inclined to take your article seriously if it weren’t rife with spelling errors. “Degree-inferring”? “Your parents education” (where I assume “parents” is meant to be possessive)? Someone “of Asian decent”? [I think you meant “degree-conferring,” “parents’ education,” and “Asian descent.”]

    That said, you make some dangerous generalizations. The fact that most wealth is held by White families doesn’t mean that most White families are rich. In your article, as in many other pro-affirmative-action arguments, you’ve over-generalized to the point of profiling the majority of White students as wealthy and privileged and all Black students as being poor and underprivileged. The college admissions process is an evaluation specific to individual people, and individual students shouldn’t have to suffer because of over-broad generalizations.

    I’m White and don’t come from a privileged background. My high school, at the time I graduated, spent the second-least amount of money per student in the entire state of Virginia. There was a steep learning curve for me to overcome in my intro chemistry lab – I didn’t even know how to clean or condition glassware, as my high school didn’t have funding for lab facilities. Some Black students at the next bench over were talking about how they “remembered” the particular experiment we were doing. I asked them how, and they explained that there was a summer program through the Office of African-American Affairs that allowed Black students to practice the experiments prior to the start of the school year. I wasn’t offered that – not because of my income or socioeconomic status, but because I’m not Black.

    You’re absolutely right that disadvantaged students should have access to programs like that summer program, but instead of lumping together “Black” with “disadvantaged” and “White” with “privileged,” it makes more sense to focus instead on disadvantaged students of all races.

    • First and foremost, thank you for pointing out the typos in the piece. I’ve fixed the ones you noted. That said, it is actually impossible for me to take anyone seriously who attempts to position themselves above another (which this mention was clearly meant to do) by grammar policing. The only thing that does is indicate that your argument cannot stand on its own and indicate that I need to spend more time proof reading the blog posts that I write in my free time. In no way does it advance the dialogue.

      As for the “substance” of your comment, your concern is actually addressed in the piece in a few ways. First, in no way does the piece conflate “Black” with “disadvantaged” or “White” with “wealthy” (though White is definitely associated with Privilege because White Privilege is real and powerful). It notes a few times that people of each race can be wealthy or poor (or any race for that matter). What it does do, though, is look at who is disproportionately poor in the United States and who is disproportionately wealthy, which is how college admissions are run. I wish that each applicant were treated as a precious jewel of an individual as you imply they are, but that is not how institutions address admissions, which is why White Supremacy is still very much a part of the application process.

      The other thing that you misunderstand about affirmative action is that you seem to imply that it is simply a race-based process. As noted in the piece, most institutions use race, class, gender, ability, and other aspects of identity in how they administer their affirmative action policies. Thus, White people (specifically middle-to-low income White women) are statistically the most likely to benefit from affirmative action (http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/17/affirmative-action-has-helped-white-women-more-than-anyone/).

      While you may have come from a poor, White district, you also ignore all of the other ways that the color of your skin offers you advantages in your application to jobs and schools. For instance, if your parents used traditional White vernacular around you (such as the “subdivision” example I used above), you were given a leg up on your ACT or SAT, which may have weighed more in your own college admissions to the University of Virginia (noting your email address – nothing is anonymous on the internet).

      Additionally, your class status was very likely taken into account in any affirmative action admissions policies in your application process, and thus, even as you argue against Affirmative Action, you were likely the beneficiary in overt and covert ways.

      • I agree with you that white women have been helped by affirmative action in the workplace, but this article doesn’t address undergraduate admissions at all. This one, on the other hand, does: http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/are-admissions-preferences-for-men-okay/28909

        As women begin to eclipse men in terms of college attendance, it gets harder for white women to gain admission/financial aid in many colleges, especially at state universities (like U.Va.) where diversity initiatives are big. I didn’t receive any aid from U.Va. (they weren’t going to try hard to bait one more in-state white girl to come to their school), but I accrued significant merit-based aid from outside scholarships.

        Will affirmative action help me land a job? Maybe. Did it help me get into/afford college? No.

        Also, you say that individual race, class, gender, ability, etc., are taken into account during admissions, but you then say that college admissions are based on who is disproportionately wealthy. It’s not quite that simple. The wealthy can afford to pay for college themselves. The poor receive financial aid through divers accessibility initiatives, as they should. It’s the middle class students and their families who end up saddled with loan debt.

        Also, the language on the SAT isn’t necessarily “White vernacular,” It’s common, proper English used by the educated. The correlation has more to do with socioeconomic status than race. Many of my Black fellow students and coworkers speak in what I think you’re referring to as “White vernacular.”

        And side note: I wasn’t trying to position myself above you. I don’t think I’m alone in questioning the validity of an article (different from questioning the merit or worth of a person) with repeated egregious spelling errors.

      • To say that because White women are now dominating institutions of higher education in terms of admissions and graduation, they are now being disadvantaged in admissions is like saying that in the 1960s, White men were at a disadvantage in job applications for advanced positions because they represented 95% of the workforce in that area. The logic is a bit absurd, no? While colleges may NOW be considering alternatives that would admit more men than women to balance their gender ratios, that is because White women have been benefitting from affirmative action for close to 30 years. It’s evidence that the concept works, not that it doesn’t.

        The problem in college admissions, though, is in part the lack of need-blind admissions, as far more important in the admissions process than race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor is whether you can pay for school in full. There are only 7 institutions that are need-blind, and they are pretty much all elite institutions with huge endowments that also, notably, have HUGE legacy-admissions boots on their application process.

        My point here is that you are right that there is a problem of socio-economic discrimination in college admissions, a problem that is exacerbated for students of Color in the United States because of disproportionality of poverty, which only speaks to the need for affirmative action in race AND class.

        The fact that you were able to accrue significant “merit-based” outside scholarship causes me to make a few assumptions. Correct me (honestly) if any of them are wrong: at least one of, if not both of, your parents went to college; you had access to ample out-of-school time programming and opportunities and didn’t work full time throughout your high school experience; you had access (whether through your parents or other mentors) from people who have gone to college to help in the application process and in finding and applying for scholarships.

        If any or all of those assumptions are true, I say all of this to point out how you were not simply standing on an equal playing field with all other applicants. You, in a word, were privileged, something that is not an accident of your circumstance but is directly related, like my own privilege, to the color of your skin. Affirmative action is meant to help level those playing fields where we stand on privileged ground.

        As far as your statement about the SAT goes, look back at the study: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/06/21/sat What’s notable about this study is that on specifically easier questions with “White vernacular,” which is different from “standard English” (“proper” English as you call it with your clear value judgement), White students outperformed students of Color, but on more difficult questions where no “White vernacular” was used, students of Color were actually prone to outperforming their peers. When we’re talking about “White vernacular,” we’re talking about using words like “subdivision.”

        As I said in the comment above: To use White vernacular simply means to use examples that are more accessible to White students than to students of Color. For instance, the word “subdivision” is more likely to be used in a suburban or rural area to describe a neighborhood. However, in cities, houses are never organized into “subdivisions.” They are organized into “blocks,” “neighborhoods,” “wards,” and “parishs.” Considering that people of Color are far, FAR more likely to live in an urban area and far, FAR less likely to live in rural or suburban areas where “subdivision” is used, a word like “subdivision” could be considered White vernacular. Thus, if a math question asks students to calculate the area needed to add four new houses to a subdivision, that might be confusing to students who don’t regularly hear that word to describe their neighborhood.

        Lastly, call it what you like, but to publicly police another person’s grammar is to communicate two things: the merit of my argument is insufficient to challenge the premise, so I must attack grammar, AND I am going to use classist/elitist positioning to establish myself as clearly more learned than the person I am challenging to discredit their work. Again, all it says to me is that your classism and/or elitism are showing and that I need to spend more careful time editing a blog that I write in my spare time.

      • I didn’t say White women dominate, just that, in many institutions, the percentage of female students is slightly higher than that of male students. And maybe women in the past benefited from affirmative action, but that shouldn’t mean that new applicants should suffer because institutions have “too many” White women already enrolled. The problem is that – both with White men in the past and white women now – schools attempt to solve a systemic cultural and economic disparity at the gates of higher education. Leveling of educational disparity belongs where it originates – in elementary, middle, and high school. Denying admission to someone who has worked hard for most of his/her life because of skin color isn’t right. Just as nobody can help what skin color s/he was born with, nobody can control when they were born. Nobody should have to suffer because they were born too late to catch the wave of gender- or color-appropriate affirmative action. The attempt to make a level playing field at such a crucial point in students’ academic careers is inherently flawed.

        I don’t see why the fact that Black students are disproportionately poor means that a race-based affirmative action policy is warranted. It’s likely that, in a class-based affirmative action system, a large portion of benefiting students would be Black. I’m not arguing against admitting Black students. I’m arguing against using race as a factor in admissions. The wealthy – Black, White, or any other race – have access to resources the rest of us don’t. Wealthy Black (or White) students don’t need affirmative action. Poor and disadvantaged students (of all races) do.

        You’re right that both of my parents went to college, but I received no help on my college applications. I didn’t work full-time in high school – not sure what you mean by extra programming (I played sports). I just went to my high school’s guidance office and found scholarships there to apply. My best friend (also white), however, comes from an exceedingly poor family – she had none of this and still, through her own initiative, made it to my alma mater and graduated with a job offer to teach at a private school in Wales.

        I’m not trying to say that I’m destitute – I know I’ve had more opportunities than some people. I didn’t have to raise younger siblings or send money to support my family while in college (like my friend did). But if levels of privilege are represented by a steady upward slope, I’d say I’m between the lower half and the lower third point. It’s a mistake, though, to correlate any privilege I have with the color of my skin. It’s a mistake to think that white people have categorically easier lives than minorities. That’s why I’m arguing that race-based affirmative action needs to be replaced by class-based affirmative action.

        The study supports my point, too: “And while many educators question that fairness of using a test on which wealthier students do consistently better than less wealthy students, research findings that directly isolate race as a factor in the fairness of individual SAT questions have, of late, been few.” Essentially, the largest disparities here correlate with class. It’s flawed logic to say this: SATs favor the wealthy, and many Black people are not wealthy, so therefore SATs discriminate racially.

        I was correcting spelling, actually. And spelling errors diminish credibility in the eyes of more people than just me: http://readwrite.com/2008/10/30/errors_by_bloggers_kill_credib#awesm=~ogCQ4OHqxzhA3c
        BBC News reported in 2011 that spelling mistakes cost companies millions because their credibility was diminished. Repeated misspellings of words (not just the occasional typo) closely related to your topic say that either (a) this might be something hastily dashed off, or (b) that you lack a working familiarity with the vocabulary of your argument. (I’m not saying these are necessarily true, just that that’s the impression it makes on me and on other people.) It’s not classism or elitism. It’s logic.

  18. […] Change from Within makes the astute argument that if you adjust the demographics for age, the breakdown gets skewed a bit. Leading to the conclusion that […]

  19. […] 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 […]

  20. […] This article originally appeared on Change From Within. […]

  21. […] published on Change from Within and cross-posted here with their […]

  22. Do you have any sources that conduct the same studies, but rather than focusing on race as the variable look at class? Honestly, you have a point, I think it’s just gotten a little buried in all of cultural hype surrounding race. Yes, race is still a big issue that plagues this country (and many others), but it’s not the only issue that affects the statistics you’ve used. Affirmative Action may be A solution, but it is not the best one. The simplest maybe, but if people really wanted to Solve this problem, and not just put a band aid on it, it’s going to take a lot of work and cooperation. Unfortunately, despite what we all learned in kindergarten, no one wants to cooperate. And our society is constantly telling us that vacation is the goal, not work, so that isn’t likely to happen either.

    So I’m glad we have a band aid for our race problem. But that wound isn’t going to heal unless we get our hands dirty and do some major surgery.

  23. […] with little or no continued effort from the oppressors – and intentional racism. I think this post does a good job of talking about an example of institutional racism in the US, and the push-back […]

  24. […] folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is ‘unfair,’” writes Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator, “because it […]

  25. […] folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is ‘unfair,’” writes Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator, “because it […]

  26. […] folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is ‘unfair,’” writes Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator, “because it […]

  27. […] folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is ‘unfair,’” writes Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator, “because it […]

  28. […] folks will tell me time and time again that Affirmative Action is ‘unfair,’” writes Jamie Utt, a diversity and inclusion consultant and sexual violence prevention educator, “because it […]

  29. […] rhetoric ignores that the majority of those on public assistance are White and have jobs, that affirmative action is not a quota system, and so […]

  30. […] I once wrote an article on how affirmative action doesn’t actually disadvantage White people – despite how many of us believe the opposite. […]

  31. […] I once wrote an article on how affirmative action doesn’t actually disadvantage White people – despite how many of us believe the opposite. […]

  32. […] believe that, despite progress in diversifying colleges, a long road lies ahead in equalizing privilege. Those who felt alienated and ridiculed all their life, however, finally receive their chance to […]

  33. […] I know you’re thinking that doesn’t make any sense, but here is the thing. Every time someone says something like “we shouldn’t be focused on Caitlyn Jenner… look at all these other issues,” we all lose. It must be really nice to be a middle-aged, heterosexual, cisgender, middle/upper class, Christian, and able bodied White man. (Ie, the founding father’s vision of America…) No one ever looks at you and says “you don’t matter because you’re the wrong demographic. Except you know, affirmative action which takes sooooooo much from, wait. That’s right. it doesn’t. […]

  34. […] rhetoric ignores that the majority of those on public assistance are White and have jobs, that affirmative action is not a quota system, and so […]

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