To the Editor:

I would like to express my appreciation for the News’ view opinion piece on affirmative action in Monday’s paper (“Supporting affirmative action at Michigan,” 1/27). I felt the article expressed a balanced and well-thought-out argument for the retention of affirmative action policies in university admissions. However, the article, as well as most well meaning defenses of affirmative action neglect to take one factor into consideration, racism. Last Monday, students and citizens across the campus and country celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights leader martyred in his fight for racial and economic justice and equality. The flaw, however, in most of these celebrations and remembrances as well as in the current debate over affirmative action is the belief that racism is a thing of the past — something we remember a few times a year as we light candles for a fallen hero.

Affirmative action is a policy put in place in an attempt to level the playing field in giving racial minorities and women the opportunity to “get their foot in the door” in occupations and schools whose doors are otherwise closed to them. Racism and sexism are still very potent and pervasive forces in American society that will not be erased by simply substituting considerations of socioeconomic status over race. Affirmative action has upon its shoulders the formidable task of atoning for over 200 years of discrimination and oppression. As a black student at Yale, I have experienced several instances of overt and covert racism from professors, fellow students and employers. The stain of racism embedded in the hearts and minds of a people is not easily erased by 30 years of temporal distance or one policy.

Perhaps we are expecting too much of this one system. Instead of working to end affirmative action as President Bush is doing, we should be working to expose the covert forms of racism hidden in our policies, institutions and hearts. This is the great, perhaps impossible task of Martin Luther King’s challenge to our nation.

Candace McKinley ’03

January 28, 2003