Affirmative Action: Necessary Evil or True Oppression?

Affirmative action has become the new political football, punted back and forth whenever it’s convenient to rouse voters. The latest bout comes from Edward Blum, a conservative legal activist who’s made torpedoing affirmative action his life’s mission.

Gotta hand it to ol’ Eddie—he’s a radical crusader in the tradition of French revolutionaries, tirelessly guillotining any policy he deems oppressive to the majority. His organization with the head-scratcher name “Students for Fair Admissions” (because college isn’t already a panicked rat race?) has dutifully launched lawsuits asserting affirmative action is modern day discrimination.

Their argument goes something like this: colleges judging applicants based on race is categorically unfair, no matter the broader context of entrenched inequality. We live in a post-racial utopia, so any policy distributing opportunity along racial lines – even as a corrective – is reverse racism!

It’s an appealing simplicity, for sure. Race-based policies make many uncomfortable, conjuring up visions of quota systems and undeserving candidates. And yes, in an ideal world, race wouldn’t factor into who gets coveted seats at elite universities. But we do not live in that fantasy land.

The Reality: An Uneven Playing Field

In the real and radically unequal America, the deck is still stacked against historically marginalized groups. Eliminating affirmative action would stack it higher by locking out black, brown, and Indigenous students almost entirely from top tier colleges.

Defenders cling to affirmative action as an imperfect but necessary corrective to counteract systemic disadvantages. At least it cracks open the ivory tower doors a few inches wider to disadvantaged students.

Students studying on campus

Without affirmative action, diversity levels plummet. One simulation found black and Latinx students could decline by 45% at elite schools if race is ignored. This would fortify racial siloes and widen achievement gaps.

The Ideal: A Post-Racial World

So who’s right? As with most thorny societal issues, there are persuasive points on both sides.

Where we can agree: no one wants race or ethnicity determining destinies. But those factors already do by creating wildly unlevel playing fields.

Ideally, affirmative action shouldn’t be needed at all. Its existence highlights deeper systemic failures to equitably nurture and prepare youth.

In a genuinely just post-racial world, diversity would organically flourish without these ethically murky correctives. But the avenues connecting ambition to opportunity remain alarmingly narrow for non-white and low-income students.

The Paradox: Fighting Racism With Racism?

Affirmative action is a paradoxical policy. It seeks to right historic wrongs through the same race-consciousness that caused such injustices. This moral ambiguity makes many recoil from affirmative action.

Labeling it reverse racism overshoots the mark. But there is understandable discomfort with utilizing the same racial categories and logic that birthed oppression.

Perhaps this unease partly explains the appeal of colorblindness. Ignoring race superficially seems the surest path to transcending it as a barrier.

But colorblindness also conveniently perpetuates existing privilege by pretending it doesn’t exist. It allows power to evade responsibility for righting wrongs or asking difficult questions about why racial disparities persist.

Moving Forward: New Solutions to Entrenched Problems?

Eddie Blum’s convictions are admirable, even if misguided. He forces scrutiny of complex policies. His passion also uncovers complacency with ongoing injustice. Where is our collective force toward enduring equity?

Rather than engaging in endless defense, historically marginalized communities need to go on the offensive. What bold solutions can we generate to fix the roots rather than just the symptoms of inequality? How do we imagine a future that makes affirmative action obsolete?

There are no easy answers. But progress requires dedicating ourselves to asking hard questions – and responding with action.

What do you think of affirmative action policies? Necessary evil or true oppression?

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