Affirmative action: Race is a deciding factor

In Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan and the United States as a whole are confronted with the validity and desirability of affirmative action. Eschewing a quota system which was ruled unconstitutional 25 years ago, the Michigan admissions committee grants extra consideration points to applicants for considerations of diversity. This can be received for being of a racial minority, being a scholarship athlete, being economically disadvantaged or hailing from an underrepresented geographic area. Although diversity as justification is necessary to fulfill Supreme Court requirements, it glosses over the broader issue: In the United States today, considerations of race do not usurp merit-based measures but rather are necessary to make them meaningful.

Detractors of affirmative action appeal to objective, colorblind standards. Let those who deserve the achievement the most take the prize, the argument goes. Allowing other considerations water these measures down. This argument, although quaint, is fatally flawed.

Race continues to be a factor in U.S. society. It is not always a factor in certain geographic areas or in some subcultures, but it is present. To believe otherwise is either to be naive or disingenuous. And where race does play a role, it is relevant in judging an individual’s accomplishment.

U.S. citizens relish the hard-luck story gone good. The tale of the individuals who pull themselves up by their bootstraps engenders more respect than the individual born with the proverbial silver spoon in his or her mouth. The former is more deserving, the argument goes. The former overcame more obstacles. However, our society is paranoid of attributing more value, more merit if the obstacles are racial versus economic. But just as it is necessary to contextualize someone’s success from his or her socioeconomic obstacles, it is also necessary to put into perspective any resistance he or she might have encountered due to race.

Ultimately, affirmative action is a program which hopes to obsolete itself. Ideally, the United States would reach a point where race is not a consideration because race is simply not an issue. However, as long as race is a factor in our broader society and goes to the relative ease or difficulty of an individual’s success, it would be hypocritical to ignore. It is not replacing merit, it is explaining it.