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Acting out against affirmative action

Greg Parnell | Monday, January 26, 2004

Affirmative action has been a touchy subject for many Americans for a long time. Last year, Notre Dame was affected directly when our University officially sided with the University of Michigan’s admissions policy, which awards “bonus” points to applicants from minority groups. I am from a public school in the Washington, D.C. area, which has a much higher minority population than this University. Therefore, I know how important diversity is to a holistic education and believe our school must always take all possible strides to recruit students from varied backgrounds. However, I have also witnessed less-qualified minority students get into prestigious colleges, while more qualified white students were refused admission. Seeing both sides first-hand, I have long struggled to find my own position.My views became solidified when I read “What’s So Great About America?” by Dinesh D’Souza. An Indian immigrant who has served as a White House policy analyst, D’Souza argues vehemently against affirmative action. I found his arguments quite compelling and think that many other students with reservations similar to my own may find D’Souza’s perspective helpful.The main thrust of D’Souza’s anti-affirmative action argument is a contrast between the prevailing sentiments of two groups: the African-American population and the non-white immigrant population. According to D’Souza, immigrants often compare America to conditions in their home countries, amazed that what would be considered “luxuries” in their homes are oftentimes seen as basic necessities here. In fact, the minimum wage rate in America is higher than the average income in many countries. Conversely, many African-Americans compare their troubles to the lives of the American elite. For example, “If rich white kids can go to college, then my children should have the same opportunity.” Using this standard for comparison is completely irrational, as it assumes that every citizen has the right to whatever anyone else has, regardless of other differences, usually based on merit.African-Americans sometimes counter that they would be much more successful were it not that they are automatically at an insurmountable disadvantage because of their skin color. They believe they are treated differently because they look different. This may be true, D’Souza argues, but new immigrants coming to America usually face even harsher disadvantages. In addition to not fitting the “American” standard physically, immigrants must overcome a lack of credit, a lack of familial relations in the country and most importantly, an immense language barrier. However, one rarely hears of immigrants clambering for “bonus points” because of their obstacles. Immigrants do not demand that the United States somehow change to eliminate their disadvantages – they simply work even harder to overcome them.Another defense for affirmative action is that many minorities, especially inner-city blacks, simply are not exposed to the same opportunities as whites. This suggestion is false as well. Evidence from a 1999 study by the College Entrance Examination Board entitled “Group Differences in Standardized Testing and Social Satisfaction,” shows that whites from families making less than $20,000 annually actually score higher than blacks from families earning over $60,000 a year. Such disparity proves that “opportunity” alone cannot be responsible for differences in test scores. The most famous civil rights leader of all time, Martin Luther King Jr., pleaded that all men be judged by merit, not by the color of their skin. Unfortunately, our current affirmative action policies do exactly what King argued against – they are in place to award positions in jobs and universities to those of a different race, in such cases that those individuals would not be accepted on merit alone. Blacks compose only 12 percent of the population, but 75 percent of NBA players are black. Is it sensible then to place a quota on the number of blacks who can play in the NBA, so that the races are more evenly distributed? Surely not; those players earned their places on merit.D’Souza concludes with the idea that the root of the problem for African-Americans (and other minorities) is that they are so focused on the crimes of the past that they are unable to see that there is in fact a clear path to a more successful future, if they would simply choose it. Instead of demanding that society lower the merit-bar so that they can compete, these groups should raise themselves and meet the current criteria. Instead of agitating the system, demanding reparations and relying on pity in order to achieve, they should work within a system that is in fact unbiased to find the success that other minority groups have found. Racial minorities are not less qualified, talented or capable than the majority. Therefore, it is time to stop treating them so by giving them special privileges, which effectively destroys the merit-based system Dr. King valiantly sought. Affirmative action does not solve the problems of the races, but sweeps an embarrassing reality under the rug and allows minorities to retain the tragic notion that they are still victims of oppression. Minority groups can only advance after accepting that the means to progress is by increasing their own merit, not robbing it from others.

Greg Parnell is a sophomore political science and economics major. Contact him at gparnell@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.