The pitfalls of Affirmative Action: Hindering merit with blatant racism

UC Berkeley
UC Berkeley Pre-Covid (Image: Christian Haugen)

On January 8, 2019, Proposition 16 proposed to negate Proposition 209, which bans affirmative action and other types of institutional discrimination. This measure did not pass, with 42.77% voting yes and 57.23% voting no. A more detailed description of the proposition has been covered in a previous article; thus, I will only be expressing my opinion on the matter.

By repealing Proposition 209, state discrimination would have become perfectly legal. This is a blatant violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, six, or national origin. Although Proposition 16 was rejected, affirmative action still exists as a concept in higher education and the workforce. Thus, opinions on affirmative action are still very relevant.

Affirmative action was intended to facilitate the process of employment or applying to higher education for groups that are considered to be disadvantaged. Despite this seemingly positive intention, it does not work in practice. Ms. Loera, an English teacher, is Hispanic and was accepted to UC Berkeley because of her achievements. She spoke from personal experience: “I was accepted to UC Berkeley… I said, ‘I’m so excited that I got accepted!’ One of the students there, who was probably in his early twenties, said to me, ‘Wow, must be thanks to affirmative action.’” Ms. Loera stated that she was offended by this as it should be noted that this occurred at a time when affirmative action was not in effect. This demonstrates that the very idea of affirmative action not only marginalizes merit, but also causes preconceptions about race, gender, and other non-merit-based aspects of an individual’s identity. In other words, it worsens the very problem it audaciously claims to fix. 

Some may argue that equality still favors the wealthy because many educational opportunities cost money, in many cases more than what the average minority member can afford. However, by “levelling the playing field” and favoring those who are less qualified over those who are more qualified, an institution would be compromising its full potential. 

Although affirmative action is currently banned, its ideas of favoring individuals based on race or gender still manifest in the intentional diversification of schools and workplaces. In other words, individuals are being selected for the sake of diversifying an environment rather than because of their ability. Multiple college students whom I have interviewed believe that their ethnicity was a factor in their college admissions, whether it hindered or helped. They invariably believed that non-merit-based attributes should not outweigh merit in college admissions. Colleges and other institutions attempt to artificially diversify their demographics by factoring ethnicity into their admissions and ignoring the counter-productive side effects. Not only is there increased hostility towards the groups affirmative action is meant to help, but also certain ethnic groups with more qualified members are put at a disadvantage.

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