The Problems of Affirmative Action

After much “shutting up and listening” and “educating themselves”, most conservatives should now be able to accept the fact that institutionalized racism does indeed exist—in the form of the practice called “affirmative action.” With the luxury of hindsight, we can reflect on affirmative action’s toll on society, and see the transformation of a practice which started as an admissions policy into an attack on the American way of equal opportunity.

Does Affirmative Action work? (Photograph courtesy of The Higher Learning)

Does Affirmative Action work? (Photograph courtesy of The Higher Learning)

The first distinction to make is separating two confounding goals of affirmative action. The policy was initially presented to the Supreme Court as a means of exposing students to diversity of thought. Somewhere along the way, affirmative action became a means of leveling the playing field and promoting equal opportunity. It is important to take note of this perversion of the original intention, as it is no less than a bait-and-switch technique. Nevertheless, affirmative action has failed to achieve either its original intent to diversify student bodies, or its new intent to create a form of racial Marxism for college admissions.

As a means of promoting diversity of thought, affirmative action has not only been unsuccessful, but has actually pushed college campuses further from that goal. The chaos on campuses in recent years stands as proof that a multicultural student body has not only failed to expand free thought, but has actually radically curtailed it. Dartmouth, for example, has been so overtaken by the mantra of multiculturalism that all that remains is groupthink. The Black Lives Matter protests remains the most visible instance of the with-us-or-against-us mentality that “pluralism” deploys to silence opposition and coerce conformity of thought. Even students with moderate, nuanced views on black disenfranchisement found themselves accosted during finals week by BLM protesters. Students were forced to either join the “movement”, or leave the library; there was no middle ground. Along similar lines, UC Berkeley, the original practicer of affirmative action, has become hostile territory for any dissenting speech. If you think Dartmouth has become more tolerant of ethnic cuisines in recent years, you’re probably right, but diversity of people has not facilitated diversity of thought.  Dartmouth sounds one chord, and one chord only: regressive leftism.

As a means of promoting equality, affirmative action continues to compromise the American value of equal opportunity. Interestingly, the Supreme Court does not accept the notion that individuals are entitled to benefits based on their race. Nevertheless, the notion of white privilege, a fixation of the left’s imagination, stipulates that minorities deserve privileges in excess of unencumbered access to all opportunities they might wish to pursue. The reality cannot be stressed enough: all other things being equal, an impoverished white child faces no easier road to college than his black counterpart. Regrettably, leftist rhetoric ignores that fact of life, and in doing so postulates that racism against white people cannot exist because racism requires both prejudice and power. However, one must look no further than Dartmouth for a compelling counter-example. Is power not when you can disrupt the business of the College and stage a protest that violates all time, place, and manner ordinances without consequence? Is power not when you can deface a College Republicans display honoring law enforcement without consequence? Is power not when you can defame classmates, posting pictures of them captioned “racist,” without fear of consequence? Is power not when you can occupy the College President’s office, and spend the night there throwing a temper tantrum until day breaks, and yet again there are no consequences? By all of these metrics, Black Lives Matter is a privileged organization on campus, not a marginalized one. Time after time they have gotten a free pass. Yet, their privileges do not end there.

Some of the most substantial affirmative action takes place on an employer level, during and after college. Do not be fooled, there is nothing equal about an equal opportunity employer. Investment banks, for example, offer sophomore internships only to minority studens. In doing so, they are implying either that a black Dartmouth graduate has inherently less opportunity than a white Dartmouth student or that a minority student is inherently more qualified than a white student, neither of which is true. To say a white Dartmouth graduate can achieve more than a minority graduate is to insult to the integrity and magnanimity of a Dartmouth degree. To say that choosing from a group of minority students will yield equally qualified applicants to that same group plus other white students is logically false. Adding more applicants into a pool can only make the pool better off. What’s worse is that while banks are happy to offer menial development programs and entry-level jobs to minorities for purposes of public relations, when promotion time comes, many minorities, hired only because of their race, find themselves passed over for promotions, and unable to advance themselves.

Meanwhile, the government has found a mindboggling means of minority advancement: Disadvantaged Business Enterprise designations. Infrastructure projects now come with attached requirements that a certain portion of the project be preformed by minority owned businesses. One would expect that limiting contracts to minorities would decrease competition for those contracts; he or she would be right. Again, just as adding competitors decreases pricing for public works projects, decreasing competition increases prices on these projects that already tend to be significantly over budget. If the American way of capitalism is maximum competition, where the best competitor wins the contract, the DBE program is incompatible with the American way, and the taxpayers are paying for it. Last year the Department of Transportation released a report on “The Real Cost of DBE Fraud.” The report details that despite accounting for 10% of infrastructure costs, DBEs represent over 35% of active fraud investigations. The most common means of DBE fraud is where the DBE “performs no commercially useful function,” the work is done by a non-DBE subcontractor, and the DBE claims credit along with a fee, exploiting its designation. For example, a DBE might buy pipes from a non-DBE, stamp their logo on them, and resell them at a markup, paid for by the American taxpayer. Notwithstanding fraud, if a business could supply pipes at the lowest possible price, it would not need to a minority designation to do so, and a business that gets business only with DBE certification, will never be pressured to become competitive with the rest of the market. The DBE program is centered on fostering vicious dependence, not equality.

This extreme, real-world iteration of affirmative action assists only unqualified businesspeople at the expense of American capitalism and taxpayers.

Affirmative action might have made sense to leftists as an idyllic means of promoting diverse thought on campus, but its place in the real world is objectionable. Not only has affirmative action impeded diverse thought, but its bastardized reincarnation of ensuring equality has undermined the American meritocracy. As its leftist creators envisioned it, affirmative action was to be temporary, until inequalities were resolved. What has become clear is whatever inequalities might still remain today will not be fixed with affirmative action programs. The DBE program will never promote a more equal society, just a more unqualified one. Race-based recruiting will never produce a more equal workforce, just a more unqualified one. Race-based admission will never yield a more equal class, just an unqualified one. The reality remains, that a B student will not produce A-worthy analysis of Kant’s categorical imperative just because he or she comes from a unique perspective. This is the myth of diversity. Affirmative action was a mistake to begin with, but as it were, it is undeniably temporary. Upon contemporary re-inspection, affirmative action’s death knell has come.          

  • Mark Russo

    Probably the best op piece written on affirmative action I’ve ever read.