The University Record, July 16, 1997
In my graduating year at U-M, a Michigan Ensian staff writer asked me what I felt race relations would be like in 10 years. I was optimistic. I believed that race relations would improve. Well, it's 11 years later and things don't look all that great: Proposition 209 has put affirmation action on shaky legs. Race-based college admissions policies are being scrutinized. And the doors of opportunity, unlocked to people of color and women since the 1960s, are slowly closing before our eyes. What has happened to the pursuit of equality in attaining the American dream?
I am truly incensed by the history-obtuse, pseudo-righteous demeanor of those who would hide behind the guise of politically correct intellectual indignation to further the cause to disassemble affirmative action and its initiatives. Unless we review American history in light of the negative sociological and psychological implications for people of color and women, we will never conclude that the United States needs to deal aggressively with its race- and gender-biased issues.
To suggest that race-based admissions policies are unfair to majority students is to imply: (1) that majority students studied harder and are entitled to a larger portion of the admissions pie; and/or (2) that minority students are less qualified and/or intelligent, and are not entitled to, at least, a demographically proportionate piece of the admissions pie. "Race-based admissions" is not about majority students studying harder or about meeting quotas; it's about access to better education, which leads to better opportunity-students of color, as a whole, have had neither. Many scholastic, business, and situational advantages have had nothing to do with "smarts," "merit," or good studying habits, but are the legacy of institutional racism and sexism. And unless some individual, group or law is in place to hold the doors open, I'm not certain that qualified people of color and women will ever enter certain portals. Pre-affirmative action history is my only reference.
Affirmative action was designed to give the unfairly disadvantaged a better advantage. So now, some 30 years later, certain individuals and groups are asserting that the playing field is now level. Only 30 years to play catch-up and to make up for centuries of discrimination? "Cry, 'Havoc!'" (Shakespeare)
When we speak about affirmative action, we're speaking about righting a wrong. How can one compensate generations for a wrong? Who can explain the deleterious sociological effect upon a people? Who can expound on the psychological implications and long-term damage done through overt racism and sexism, and subtle innuendo and slights of hand?
Let's get off this "they don't deserve to be here" take on history-aware, affirmative action-based university admissions policies. Let us come up with a plan - be it affirmative action-based or not - that is workable and manageable, and that allows everyone an equal chance at catching up to and living the American dream.
Dana O. Fair, B.A .'86