Affirmative action: A band-aid on bullet wound

Discrimination cannot be solved by giving edge in admissions.

Proposition 16 which would have written affirmative action into California law was defeated last November, not necessarily a negative move toward its intended goal. Prop. 16 was supposed to nullify Proposition 209, which made it illegal for state governmental institutions to discriminate based on race, sex or ethnicity. 

Prop. 16 wanted to permit  “government decision-making policies to consider race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin to address diversity” in government hiring and public college admissions. It appeared on the Nov. 3, 2020 California general election ballot and lost 42.8 percent to 57.2 percent. That was a larger margin than the success of Prop. 209, which outlawed affirmative action in the state.  Prop. 209 won 54.6 percent to 45.5 percent in 1996.

Even though supporters of affirmative action have long argued it would provide greater opportunities for marginalized communities, it hasn’t been effective in doing so because it avoids addressing the true problem of minorities’ conditions. The discrimination that minorities face cannot be solved simply by giving them an edge in admissions. 

“You can’t legislate compassion,” said a Monte Vista High School senior who asked not to be identified. “You also can’t legislate inclusion.”

The passage of a law regarding racial inclusion would not affect the culture around it. Historically, efforts to move toward a more progressive culture through legislation, while moving in the right direction, did not change the popular perception of minorities for the better. For example, after the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education established the unconstitutionality of segregated schools, black students attending primarily white schools were still heckled and made to feel unwelcome by fellow students. 

Educational diversity is beneficial because of a greater array of ideas and perspectives, which leads to a more productive and well-rounded environment. These benefits should be organically produced with effective and qualified people from different backgrounds, not through racial discrimination or preferential treatment. 

“If you rid yourself of biases and you truly believe that diversity of thought matters, the end result, regardless, would just be a racially diverse team,” the Monte Vista senior said. “If you have to go out of your way just to hire people of color, it says something about you that I don’t think you want it to say about you.”

Affirmative action potentially discredits the efforts and potential of people who are products of the institution by making race, which is an uncontrollable characteristic, a relevant factor in a person’s admission.

“Imagine living your life knowing that everyone else thinks that your hard work is nothing compared to how much the system just helped you out,” the student said.

The entire basis of affirmative action is condescending and patronizing. It does not reward hard work, and not only does it not prevent racial discrimination, it in fact writes it into law.

There is also an unfortunate viewpoint that banning affirmative action is racist. Defeating Prop 16. was not done with the intention of ignoring underprivileged communities or historical hardships of minorities. While the premise of affirmative action bears the right idea, it is not the right solution to the problem.

Historically, minority groups in America were oppressed and the remnants of this discriminatory mindset still persist today, socially and economically. Because of this disadvantage, it is more difficult for these marginalized communities to reach the same level of education and financial stability as other citizens. This makes it necessary for steps to be taken to offset the effects of historical prejudice.

A more important step to take would be giving marginalized communities the resources to improve their primary education and living conditions so that new generations could beat out competition without needing to take background into consideration. 

“We should have funding from the state and government to help all [of the] communities [so] that we can have equal opportunities,” said the student. “When you have a strong foundation that’s built on the same education, you’re setting people up for success. You’re giving them a strong foundation on which to build upon.” 

This article first appeared in The Stampede, the student newspaper of Monte Vista High School in Danville.