Americans are suckers for labeling. When it comes to the label of “discrimination,” we’ve gone a bit crazy. We instantly oppose any practice identified as discriminatory, even though not all forms of discrimination are bad. (We appropriately choose the pleasant job applicant over the grumpy one, and grant licenses to the doctors who passed their exams but not to the ones who failed them.)
The kind of discrimination that is morally repugnant is the kind that excludes individuals from some benefit or privilege based upon criteria that are unrelated to the exercise or enjoyment of it.
Astoundingly, social engineers have managed to perpetuate this most pernicious form of discrimination by inventing a different label for it. Pursuant to the system euphemistically referred to as “affirmative action,” students are regularly denied the opportunity to study at the universities of their choice solely because of their race.
However nice “affirmative action” may sound, it is an undeniably unjust form of discrimination. It discriminates against individuals based upon a characteristic that it is not only immutable, but has no rational relationship to the position being sought. For, of course, a student’s race has zero bearing on his or her aptitude, merits or likelihood of academic success at a given institution.
For this reason, we should applaud Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Justice Department will seek to curb the nefarious practice in university admissions.
While readers of newspapers may fall prey to partisan arguments about how these policies advance widely embraced values like “diversity,” those readers would do well to think through the situation in more personal, individual terms.
Imagine the high-school valedictorian who sacrificed countless opportunities for fun with her peers so that she could study, perform community service and practice for standardized tests. She did all this in an effort to achieve her goal of being admitted to Prestigious University. Let’s call her “Merit.”
Imagine that long-awaited day when Merit finds that long-awaited envelope in her family’s mailbox. She hastily rips it open, only to be informed that her application has been rejected – not because of anything Merit has done or failed to do, not because of her grades or standardized test scores, but solely because she is of Asian descent. Therefore, the letter from Prestigious U informs her, Merit’s application has been rejected, and her place in the freshman class has been given to another student named “Diversity,” who has lower test scores, lower grades and few extracurricular achievements, but who happens to be a member of an “underrepresented” race.
This is what “affirmative action” looks like when it is converted from noble-sounding theory into actual operation. It is an injustice with discrete victims who have actual names, hopes and dreams. And, as evidenced by the complaint that apparently motivated Sessions’ recent announcement (filed by rejected students of Asian descent), sometimes the victims are, themselves, members of racial minority groups.
While the Supreme Court has struck down the most egregious forms of affirmative action in college admissions policies, such as those that award “points” to “underrepresented minority” applicants, just last year the Court affirmed that colleges may continue to use race as a factor in admissions decisions. This is not to say that any institution must consider race, of course. Thankfully, some states have recognized the injustice of counting a student’s race for or against her, and have outlawed policies that do so. Citizens in every state should encourage their state legislators to pursue this path of racial equality.
Some, like commentator Charles Lane, may scoff at the Justice Department’s revisiting of this whole issue, pointing to polls indicating that voters are ambivalent about it. But analyses like these miss the point. We don’t need to end “affirmative action” because of voter sentiment; we need to end it because it is wrong.
No one has said it better than the late Justice Scalia:
“To pursue the concept of racial entitlement – even for the most admirable and benign of purposes – is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege, and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”
Diversity is a fine thing – a beautiful thing, even. But we make it an ugly thing when we do injustice to individuals to achieve it. That is what Americans need to recognize. When we look under the superficial label of “affirmative action,” we find the precise brand of discrimination that defies fundamental American values.
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