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Sam Koppelman

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Affirmed

Posted: 04/13/2012 9:17 am

If I began to add up the hours of homework I've done since entering high school, I think I'd cry before I got to the total. But regardless of the exact number, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I have worked HARD these past two years. And next year, I will study hours upon hours for the SAT's and SAT II's. I will spend many additional hours writing my college essays, attending interviews, and taking all of the other necessary steps to attend a top college in America. And regardless of how well I do on those tests, or how hard I work on my essays, under the current laws regarding affirmative action, many of the top colleges in the country will admit minority students over me. So, right now, I am at the point in my life where I should be the most angry about affirmative action. But last month, when I heard that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about admissions to colleges and universities that take into account the race of applicants (thereby questioning the very existence of affirmative action), my stomach churned and my face turned pale. I want the Supreme Court to keep affirmative action in place, regardless of whether or not, on the surface, my position seems to be against my own self-interest.

Why? Because, first, the original goal of affirmative action, as laid out by President John F. Kennedy, was to "ensure that applicants [and employees] are treated... without regard to their race," and, even though we've come a long way, in America, equal opportunities for members of different races still don't exist. African-American unemployment in America is around 14 percent (compared to 8.3 percent for Americans as a whole), and, on average, African American households make around $20,000 less annually than white households. Because economic prosperity in America is largely tied to education (college graduates earn approximately $21,000 more a year than people who have only received high school degrees) and, according to a report done by the American Council on Education, in 2009, only 17.7 percent of African-American adults had graduated college with a bachelor's degree (as opposed to 31.1 percent of whites), many African Americans are stuck in a perpetual cycle of not being able to afford college. However, affirmative action has been more effective than it may appear at increasing the college graduation rate for African Americans. Just 23 years ago (in 1989), only 11.8 percent of African Americans graduated college, which is 33 percent less than today. And so, affirmative action has clearly had a positive impact on the college graduation rates of African Americans. But until college graduation rates are equal between members of different races, it is absolutely essential that we keep affirmative action in effect in colleges and allow it to continue to create the positive change it has created for African Americans since it was passed.

There's an analogy I first heard from my history teacher, Ms. Paterson, that demonstrates the importance of affirmative action without getting into all of the facts and figures. If you saw someone on the street, took them to an ally, beat them up (breaking both of their legs, punching them in the eye, and concussing them), and then challenged them to a running race without paying any of their medical bills or waiting for their wounds to heal, no matter how many times you apologize, that race will be unfair. And whites in America have done much worse. Affirmative action is just society paying the medical bills. And now, just because a girl from Texas named Abigail Fisher, who is leading this particular case against affirmative action in colleges -- a policy that tries to pay back African Americans whose grandparents and great-grandparents were enslaved by people like Ms. Fisher's grandparents and great-grandparents, by the way -- didn't get into the college she wanted to get into, blacks should be able to run the race on their own without any compensation for being persecuted in America for 300 years? I certainly don't think so.

If that analogy, as well as the unemployment numbers and college graduation rates, don't prove the need for affirmative action in America, then maybe this will: Affirmative action actually benefits me. For white, affluent students like me who are shielded from almost all of the horrors in this country and this world our entire lives, being able to encounter people who have different cultural references, backgrounds and experiences enriches our understanding of the human condition and is instrumental to being able to succeed in the world. I can say with certainty that -- especially because I've gone to a mostly white, private school -- I have reaped the rewards of hearing the experiences of many of my classmates who may not have been able to attend my school without affirmative action. And by learning from African-American teachers who may have only been able to receive the education necessary to become a teacher because of affirmative action. Diversity, and learning to live in a diverse world, are incredibly valuable parts of our education, and, as proven by the tragic murder of Trayvon Martin, America is still not a place that accepts students and citizens without regard to their race. Martin's murder demonstrates that, as Charles Blow calls it, the "burden of black boys" (roughly: knowing they will be racially profiled and thought of as "suspicious" by white strangers) persists. Affirmative action in colleges, which helps acquaint individuals of different races with one another at an age where their views on race can still be changed, could help to foster a greater understanding of members of different races throughout America that could help prevent murders like Trayvon's in the future.

Sure, when I apply to college, if I don't get into the college I want to get into, I'll be angry. I'll wonder what I did wrong that colleges saw as a reason not to accept me, and I'll find excuses for why they were wrong in doing so. But no matter how tempting it may be, I won't blame affirmative action for not getting into college. I just hope that the Supreme Court keeps it in effect long enough that I can hear my friends claim that their "whiteness" prevented them from getting into college.

 

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