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Race-based affirmative action: Is the concept outdated today?

By Lee Cleveland - July 25, 2023

The Supreme Court has just made a significant ruling, stating that colleges and universities cannot use race as a specific factor when considering admissions. This decision overturns a long-standing precedent that has historically helped Black and Latino students in higher education.

Most agree affirmative action by race was necessary and crucial years ago, thanks to America’s long history of legalized, blatant discrimination by race and gender. But what about today? Things have changed quite a bit since the 1960s.

Medium.com’s Steve QJ, a Black man, believes race-based affirmative action is passe, advocating for poverty-based quotas instead.

In his article Affirmative Action’s “Race” Problem, he writes, “Race-based affirmative action makes the same mistake that all race-based thinking makes; it presumes that people whose skin is the same color are all the same. Or that they all face the same socioeconomic hurdles. That their presence in a group automatically equals ‘diversity.’”

“This was a reasonable assumption in 1964. But not in 2022.”

Referencing Harvard, he points out that 71% of its minority students are socio-economically advantaged and insists the aforementioned stat is comparable for most other elite colleges.

“In other words, while these campuses might look superficially “diverse,” hardly any of their minority students come from underprivileged backgrounds. They’re just privileged kids with darker skin.”

Essentially, should a Black kid who attends a private high school and is being raised in a middle-class household by parents who are white-collar professionals benefit from race-based affirmative action in 2023?

Steve QJ believes that kid already has advantages and opportunities by virtue of their upbringing and should not be placed in the same category as a teenage version of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. A Latina, and proponent of race-based affirmative action, she clearly benefitted from the practice.

“I had no need to apologize that the look-wider, search-more affirmative action that Princeton and Yale practiced had opened doors for me. […], she wrote.

“The question is not, how did I get in? It’s, what did I do when I got there? And with pride, I can say I graduated at the top of my class.

While it’s true that Sotomayor would never have been able to attend Yale if not for affirmative action, Steve QJ insists Sotomayor’s circumstances, not her race/ethnicity, should have made her deserving of the extra help she received. Hence, she was raised in a housing project in the Bronx and had limited opportunities due to her family’s poverty, and faced added obstacles as a result.

“The goal is to help people, all people, who need help,” Steve QJ added.

“To foster environments where individuals from genuinely diverse backgrounds interact with each other. To support people who, due to poverty or a lack of access to quality education, find themselves with more talent than opportunity.”

“Solutions aimed at helping these [economically disadvantaged] people will disproportionately benefit people of color, which is as it should be. Because people of color have spent hundreds of years being deliberately disadvantaged in these areas.”

Should minorities like television’s fictional Cosby kids be entitled to affirmative action today?

“But these solutions will also benefit poor and underprivileged white people. And this is also as it should be. Because a world that discriminates by need is superior in every way to a world that continues to discriminate by skin color.”

Should we tweak how we view affirmative action?

The answer solely depends on how much racial progress we’ve made and how far we still have to go.

Please share your thoughts below.