Making up for our government’s shameful past actions

To the Editor:

Alexander Goot’s guest column “Affirmative action: dangerously wrong” (2/4) was one of the most thorough arguments against affirmative action that I have read since this debate was stirred up by the Michigan lawsuit. His assertion that affirmative action does little to balance out socioeconomic inequities among college applicants is true; the fact is, affirmative action benefits underrepresented minority students from the middle and upper classes much more than those from the lower class.

Yet I stand firm in my support for the practice.

The national discussion on affirmative action has focused attention on its function as a guarantee for fairness (or unfairness, depending on which side of the debate one falls). But I have long thought affirmative action to be restitution to those populations whom the U.S. government has systematically denied basic rights, precluding any reasonable chance for higher education, economic advancement and political power.

The U.S. government created affirmative action in an attempt to balance out its past transgressions against racial minorities. At no point was affirmative action ever supposed to make the college admissions process “fair” for every individual applicant based on socioeconomic background. If that had been the goal of the U.S. government, they would have nationalized college education and made it free, as was done in Britain.

As a black student who comes from a truly humble socioeconomic background (by which I do not mean the classical Yalie sense of background, but rather an honest struggle with poverty that persists to this day), I fully recognize the need in this country to “level out the playing field” according to both race and socioeconomic background. But the grim reality in the world’s richest nation is that students still have to cough up considerable, and sometimes prohibitive, amounts of money and go into severe debt in order to attend a university. Young people from the lower classes are in desperate need of an action by the U.S. government attending to their educational needs, which would probably be best achieved by moving the nation toward a more socialist-democratic domestic policy on higher education.

However, the government’s responsibility to live up to the legacy of its not-so-distant-past actions is not to be overlooked, nor to be confused with the struggles of poor people around the nation. Affirmative action is a fair way for the government to make amends to its citizens for whom it, for generations, made life virtually unbearable. Moreover, underrepresented minorities are in honest need of affirmative action. Despite the gains acquired by the richest underrepresented minorities, we are nowhere near being statistically on par with whites.

Until the government can demonstrate that the scars of racial minorities (whose educational and economic stability it cruelly, purposely and systematically destroyed for centuries on no other basis than race) are sufficiently healed, I must respectfully dissent from Mr. Goot’s opinion. Affirmative action must remain active and unhindered.

Christopher Jordan ’04

February 4, 2003

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