The Real Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action exists, and it has since the founding of this Republic

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

The past news cycle has been filled with story after story about the “College Admissions Scandal!!!.”  We are fascinated with the various ways that very rich (overwhelmingly) white people paid, bribed, scammed or bargained their children into schools that were apparently above their demonstrated competence.  We are shocked to see two well-known actresses get caught in the web of deceit, and now indictment.

But is anybody really surprised?  I mean the forms of deceit were shockingly obvious, extreme, and outrageous, but if you didn’t know that wealthy people pay for their children to have advantages other people do not have, where have you been?  And if you haven’t realized that it is overwhelmingly white people who are benefitting from these kinds of things, what have you been smoking (and inhaling)? And we are not talking about a few cases. There were 800 clients from this single “broker” alone.

The reality is that we are seeing the way affirmative action really works.  Some people in our society are pushed ahead, regardless of their competence. Their parents can afford to give them benefits that others don’t have way before they apply for college.  They go to the best, private pre-schools, and have the best toys, computer programs, etc. to be exposed to. Then they go to the best primary schools, on trips all over the world, to expensive programs and vacations.  

Their high school experiences are filled with special benefits.  Their affluence means a lack of need for part-time jobs to support themselves or their families, and then leaves times to pad their resumes with extracurricular activities like debate society, sports, and Habitats for Humanity trips (that others could never afford).  If they need a tutor, a tutor is found. When the SATs come around, they take at least one, sometimes more, prep courses, or even have a private SAT coach, and then take the test itself multiple times to get the best score, none of which they have to worry will cost too much or take them away from the part-time jobs that they need to either provide their own spending money or help support their family.  

Part of the “game” is that these affluent students grow up believing that they have earned their accomplishments.  Part of the brainwashing process is that they actually feel entitled to all of the added benefits they get. They are trained to feel like they are better than anybody else.  

Sometimes, as we have recently seen, their wealthy father even starts giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in “allowance” from the time they are three years old, and they actually grow up believing that they are self-made millionaires.

That is what entitlement and supremacy are about.

And they are overwhelmingly white.  

Now I know some may say, “But there are some people of color who do it as well!” And while that is undoubtedly true on certain occasions, it is highly unlikely as a matter of regular practice.  While this process may be, on the surface, largely a function of economic advantage, the reality is that we know race and economics are inexorably intertwined in our society. For example a Forbes report shows that “for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.”  And that is just one of many statistics that show the obvious: that centuries of systemic, structural and social racial discrimination live in the families of today.  In fact, despite the “bootstrap” mythology of the Horatio Alger stories, a 2015 study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute (generally conservative) and the Brookings Institute (generally liberal) found that most Americans do not move more than one-half of one economic class from the class they are born in.

The sins of the past are the foundation of the present, and, unless they are changed, the future.

The recent scandal is a perfect example of how racism and white supremacy works in this country.  These are not, for the most part, bad people. The fact that they do this is not for nefarious purposes.  It is because they want the best for their children. It is not personal, but it personally impacts people.  Like a rainstorm…it is not a personal phenomenon, but when you are out in it you get personally very wet. They…we…are part of a system.

I know.  I have done some of these things for my own children.  Not the illegal stuff, of course, but making sure they got access to whatever they needed to be successful.  Computers, lessons, tutors, good schools, whatever I could afford. And my guess is that most of you have too.  That is not the issue. The issue is that certain people are enormously more likely to be able to do things like this, and their pigmentation impacts whether they can or not.  And that they can creates a future that all too often replicates the past.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  This practice happens in almost every walk of life.  There were 95 white men chosen to be Justices of the Supreme Court before Thurgood Marshall was chosen in 1967.  Do you really think it is even possible that there was not a single qualified judge who was a person of color in all that time?  There were 101 men chosen to be Justices of the Supreme Court before Sandra Day O’Connor was chosen in 1981. Is it reasonable to think that there were no qualified female judges in all of that time?

Of course not.  It is, and was, affirmative action.  

Now, I don’t mean that it was legally mandated in all cases (although it was in many), or that it was even articulated clearly, because that largely was unnecessary.  Nor do we call that kind of affirmative action by its real name. It was just assumed that white people, and especially white men, were and are supposed to have access to certain things that other people don’t.  It is assumed that we should be allowed to circumvent certain rules that other people can’t. And it is assumed that we should be protected from people talking about these advantages for fear that our status will be compromised.  So even in the face of overwhelming quantifiable evidence that African Americans suffer from disparities in almost every aspect of life (e.g. housing, education, money, etc.), as do Latinos and other disenfranchised groups,  a majority of whites believe that it is they who suffer discrimination!  

We live in a collective delusion.

I could go on to list all of the ways that macro and micro examples of this same phenomena occur in jobs, healthcare outcomes, housing, economic performance.  Tomes have been written about these disparities. But this is a blog and not a book, or series of books.

My fundamental question is this:  why is it that we live in a world filled with examples of how white people are structurally advantaged because of their pigmentation and the pigmentation of their parents and yet the only complaints we ever hear about “affirmative action”
are in the limited circumstances that it is applied to people of color?

Legal affirmative action programs are designed to correct the inequities that I’ve been discussing.  As we’ve seen in the news the past few days, it is still happening every day. By fixing the excesses of the historic patterns of affirmative hiring (toward whites) it is possible to break the repetitive generational pattern of disparities in our country.  This is why the conversation about “reparations” is once again becoming prominent, and should be.  

Without intervention, generation after generation will continue to have some benefit from, and others suffer from the de facto discrimination of the past centuries.

But, of course, that is exactly what opponents of change want to happen.  Because they benefit from the system. It is comfortable it is what they know.

Because Affirmative Action exists, and it has since the founding of this Republic.  It is the affirmative movement of white people, especially men, through the system faster than anybody else.

And it needs to stop.

You might also like...

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Lisa Young serves as a volunteer mentor with Take On College, a nonprofit providing free support to first-generation and low-income students who aspire to attend college./Courtesy Lisa Young
Civic Engagement and Purpose//

First Generation, Low-Income Medical Student Paves the Way for Others Through Her Mentorship

by Diane Quest
Thrive on Campus//

The College Admissions Scandal: The Lesson Nobody’s Talking About

by Fern Weis

World Book Day & College Admissions Scandal Had a Love Child, BOOKSMART

by Quendrith Johnson
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.