Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why We Can't Wait: affirmitive action

From Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 book. This is something I can opine on:
Whenever this issue of compensatory or preferential treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree: but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic. For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.

Several years ago, Prime Minster Nehru was telling me how his nation is handling the difficult problem of the untouchables, a problem not unrelated to the American Negro dilemma. The Prime Minister admitted that many Indians still harbor a prejudice against these long oppressed people, but that it has become unpopular to exhibit this prejudice in any form. In part, this change in climate was created through the moral leadership of the late Mahatma Gandhi, who set an example for the nation by adopting an untouchable as hit daughter. In part, it is the result of the Indian Constitution, which specifies that discrimination against the untouchables is a crime, punishable by imprisonment.

The Indian government spends millions of rupees annually developing housing and job opportunities in villages heavily inhabited by untouchables. Moreover, the Prime Minister said, if two applicatns compete for entrance into a college or university, one of the applications being an untouchable and the other of high caste, the school is required to accept the untouchable.
FTR, I am not against Affirmative Action. I might still run into the whole unfairness argument if I say reasonable standards. I don't think it's unreasonable for a university to accept between a black or a white say the white doesn't get accepted but the black does because let's just say both men have the same minimum standards. These standards could be same high school GPA, same SAT score, and some other things admissions officials might look at. I would say it's a no-brainer if one proved to be more exceptional than the other.

At the same time though if you just admitted someone just because they're an untouchable or said individual is a "minority" I think it's pretty loopy. Affirmative action will get you in, but it won't keep you in. Certainly you've just failed to admit someone who is as qualified and where ever they are they're doing much better than the person you've admitted.

Now to put this in a much more "classical liberal" concept. If there is certainly a need for "minorities" to get a higher education beyond high school then the only solution can not be that they must go to the schools that are already established, but to build one. That's why there are HBCU's. Many were started to train blacks to be either ministers or teachers (such as Morehouse College for instance) so they needed an education beyond high school. Some HBCUs such as Tuskegee or Hampton were designed to train blacks in a trade (or occupation I suppose) also very important.

Still, I really do agree with the idea that a qualified minority applicant to a university and a top one at that should be accepted with the race thing considered "the icing on the cake". There were successes in the 1960s to allow blacks to attend Ole Miss, University of Alabama, and a few other southern universities. I would say it's not unreasonable to expect that American universities should accept a qualified student regardless of race even if race in some instances was a consideration. They should develop laws to assure that, but keep it reasonable and certainly realistic. There is more than one way to solve the problem of inequality.

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