Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that allows states to ban affirmative action with a vote. That means if Texas wanted to ban Affirmative Action all they’d have to do was rally enough votes to write it into law. This case specifically focused on college admissions so now any state can ban admissions decisions that consider race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin as a factor in accepting students.
Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, who was the commencement speaker during my graduation at NYU, who spoke about her humble beginnings in the same South Bronx ghetto I grew up in, dissented from the rest and expressed her support of Affirmative Action.
She said, “This case involves this last chapter of discrimination: A majority of the Michigan electorate changed the basic rules of the political process in that State in a manner that uniquely disadvantaged racial minorities.[…]While our Constitution does not guarantee minority groups victory in the political process, it does guarantee them meaningful and equal access to that process. It guarantees that the majority may not win by stacking the political process against minority groups permanently, forcing the minority alone to surmount unique obstacles in pursuit of its goals—here, educational diversity that cannot reasonably be accomplished through race-neutral measures.”
It’s troubling when the only people in positions of power who care about poor people of color are the ones who used to be poor people of color themselves, especially when we live in a country where there are so many barriers in place that prevent poor PoC from getting any power at all.
I know some of you are thinking, why do we need Affirmative Action, shouldn’t we all be accepted based on our merits? Yes, we should! Wouldn’t that be nice? However merits are relative to your environment.
As Jezebel points out, “When we are looking at admission we have to consider that a student with a 3.5 GPA and a 1950 SAT score who has grown up in urban cities in the U.S does not have the same academic experience as a 4.0 2200 student from the affluent suburbs a few miles away. The lives of these two students are vastly different, and while both have their challenges, the resources that the more affluent student has to deal with these challenges are accessible to them and not the student who is unable to afford help.”
Where I went to high school we only had two AP classes because those were the resources my school had. We had two extracurricular options: debate team or piano. That’s it. I excelled at the things I tried but I didn’t have very many options either, there wasn’t much to showcase because there wasn’t much available. How could I compete with students who had applications padded with extracurricular activities, AP courses and accolades achieved in competitions I wasn’t even allowed to compete in? I was nevertheless accepted into great universities because it was taken into consideration who I was, where I came from and how I performed under those circumstances.
Jezebel notes that before banning affirmative action in 1995, the incoming freshman class at University of California Berkeley was 6.7% Black, in 2013 it was 3.4% Black. In a world where things have presumably become more equal how could this be?
The reality is that poverty and race places limitations on the resources available. There just isn’t the same opportunity to excel but that doesn’t mean that people who happen to be poor are any less intelligent or less deserving of a competitive education. Poor people can compete even if it takes them a couple of semesters to catch up.
Justice Sotomayor continued,”Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process. Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society—inequality that cannot be ignored and that has produced stark socioeconomic disparities. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’… The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”
History, our ancestors, created a society where it just so happens that white males got hundreds of years of a head start. The rest of us are still catching up. So let us.