Affirmative Action


It is not uncommon that “race” immediately comes to mind when thinking of “affirmative action.”  In a nation as diverse as ours, it seems odd that discussions on the topic of “race” are oftentimes avoided like the plague.  Even when its presence is likened to an elephant in the room, often times people simply adjust to talking around it.  Have you ever wondered who truly benefits from this silence?

According to a document obtained by The New York Times, the Trump Administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.  Could this be an attempt to undermine diversity in higher education?  Many think so, but who really cares?

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy introduced affirmative action, which originally required entities that receive federal funding to take tangible steps “to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” It was expanded in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson to include sex.  In 1969, President Richard Nixon issued an Executive Order that required all federal agencies to adopt “affirmative programs for equal employment opportunity”.  Both political parties invested in programs intended to increase access to education and employment for historically underrepresented minorities.

Studies have shown that white women benefit the most from affirmative action.  Interestingly, data from the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study show that 67 percent of young white women are against affirmative action.  Furthermore, 66 percent of young white people between 17 and 34 describe themselves as “somewhat opposed” or “strongly opposed” to affirmative action policies in employment and admissions.  Do you think the opposition to affirmative action would be as strong if a person’s sex was paired with “affirmative action” in the way that one’s race seems?

Maybe white women receiving significant benefits from affirmative action admissions policies seem invisible to the President? After all, he does not seem to have the best track record with viewing women outside of being mere sex objects.  Still, why is there so much opposition to affirmative programs within white communities when those communities reap its benefits as well?

Let’s face it:  As a result of affirmative action, on many college campuses, women outnumber men.  Hence, women are more likely to graduate from college and attend graduate school than men.  This is more likely to be the reality for white women than for women of color.  As follows, significant imbalances are shown in the employment and earnings between white women versus women of color.  Her income and professional opportunities are huge assets to her household and lifestyle.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body can justify using race as one factor among many in a “holistic” evaluation.  One cannot help but wonder if President Trump’s cabinet were more diverse if his vision would be so narrow.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant.

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