Affirmative action in employment and college admissions decisions has been a hot-button topic for the past decade. Many strongly oppose affirmative action and believe we should take a colorblind approach when accepting people for college enrollment and job positions. However, it’s pretty common that those who oppose affirmative action do not actually know what it does, how it works and what it has done for our country thus far. So let’s clear the air and break down these common misconceptions.

1. “Affirmative Action uses quotas that keep qualified people out.” 

Despite what you might think, affirmative action policies do not promote mandatory quotas in which a certain amount of minorities must get in. Instead, universities and employers set goals for themselves that they hope to accomplish. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

2. “Affirmative action favors unqualified candidates over qualified candidates.”

Affirmative action does not favor candidates who seem unqualified. In fact, federal regulations explicitly prohibit affirmative action programs in which unqualified or unneeded employees are hired.

3. “It only helps blacks and latinos.”

Since its introduction in the 1960s, Affirmative Action has actually benefitted white women the most. “According to one study, in 1995, 6 million women, the majority of whom were white, had jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise held but for affirmative action.”

4. “We need to adopt colorblind approaches. Diversity can still happen if we just switch race out with socioeconomic status.”

If we ignore factors such as race and gender, diversity will not come about. Take France, for example. They took the colorblind approach to employment and ended up making their workplaces less diverse. And for American college admissions, look at the University of California at Berkeley Law School. When they adopted a colorblind process emphasizing socioeconomic diversity, African American enrollment in the entering class fell by approximately 60 percent. Why is that? Because even though blacks have higher proportional rates of low socioeconomic status, there are more poor white people numerically. Therefore, the colorblind policy approach is bad because, in America, those who are the “most qualified” are frequently those who were privileged enough to have resources that got them there.

5. “Affirmative action does not promote equal opportunity, but reverse racism.”

Many fear that a large percentage of white students and job-seekers are displaced by Affirmative Action policies. Therefore, they argue that colleges and employers are discriminating against whites. However, this is not the case. Let’s focus on college admissions for a moment. For one, the rate of racial minorities who apply and get into selective colleges is not as high as people would expect. Blacks and Latinos only account for 15 percent at the nation’s selective four-year colleges. But overall, blacks and Hispanics make up one-third of the nation’s college-age population. “Whites represent 75 percent of the students at the nation’s top 468 colleges overall, even though they account for only 62 percent of the nation’s college-age population”. That doesn’t match up, does it? And get this. “30 percent of African American and Hispanic students who had an “A” average while in high school wind up at community colleges, compared with 22 percent of whites.”

6. “If Asians and Jews can make it, why can’t other racial minorities pick themselves up by their bootstraps?”

“Over the past four centuries, Black history has included nearly 250 years of slavery, 100 years of legalized discrimination, and only 50 years of anything else. Jews and Asians, on the other hand, are populations that immigrated to North America and included doctors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs among their ranks. Moreover, European Jews are able to function as part of the White majority.” – Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination. 

We can’t compare the institutionalized racism against blacks to the upward mobility of Asians and Jews. They began with so much more in this country compared to groups such as blacks, latinos, and native Americans, which started off with much less.

Even to this day, our country has a huge racial and socioeconomic divide. Racial minorities frequently do not have the resources to get ahead like their white peers. Since these marginalized groups did not start off on the right foot and are still systematically oppressed by racism and implicit biases, they need help getting to where everyone else is.

7. “College admissions use race as the only factor for making schools more diverse.”

According to Columbia University, most public and private colleges consider a wide range of factors when selecting candidates. Here are just a few:

  • High school grade point average
  • The rigor of the high school courses taken
  • Alumni relationships (parent, sibling, or grandparent)
  • Quality of the essay
  • Personal achievement
  • Leadership and service
  • Socio-economically disadvantaged student or education
  • Athletic ability
  • Underrepresented racial or ethnic minority identity or education
  • Residency in an under-represented region

Universities not only want a racially-diverse student body but one that displays a diverse array of talents, interests, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. Therefore, when looking at affirmative action cases for college admissions, we can’t allow people to think that they “didn’t get in because they’re white.” They could have been lacking something that colleges were looking for.

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