WASHINGTON, April 27 2014 — The Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to allow Michigan to ban the use of Affirmative Action to determine college admissions has created an uproar. Critics argue that this ruling will lead to further discrimination. Supporters call it an example of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that all people be judged by the “contact of their character” and not by the color of their skin.
In 1961, President Kennedy signed an executive order which said that government contractors should “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.” The intent was to affirm the federal government’s commitment to equal opportunity for all qualified persons.
In 1965, President Johnson signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin. These two orders and some later modifications were intended to level the playing field for all Americans regardless of skin color or national origin. The legal doctrine of “separate but equal” had been overturned in 1954, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act essentially outlawed discrimination, but racial prejudice was still prevalent.
Because of America’s long history of racial discrimination and oppression, it was difficult to move to a more racially just society. It was impossible in the 1960s to legislate attitudes, but affirmative action could at least ensure fairness. But in 2014, do we still need it?
A person of any race can reach achieve success in any career, even becoming an astrophysicist, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, president of a Fortune 500 company, Supreme Court justice, and even President of the United States. As a result, many Americans believe that Affirmative Action is no longer needed and may actually be doing more harm than good.
Others think it essential. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a 58 page dissent in Schuette, arguing that race still matters; without affirmative action, many blacks would not be where they are today. Abandoning affirmative action, she wrote, shows a misunderstanding of the nature of injustice and is out of touch with reality.
College applicants are judged on their SAT scores, high school transcripts, writing samples, and intangibles like community service. These allow admissions officers to determine which applicants are likely to succeed at the school. In other words, they make their admission decisions based on their perception of the “content of the character” rather than any physical traits.
If college applicants of color are disproportionately poorer than others, aren’t they at a competitive disadvantage, unable to afford the extra education that wealthy students get? Yes, but the colleges also look for achievement, leadership qualities and the ability to overcome obstacles. This can be displayed by people of all economic classes. While the University of Michigan is prevented from using race as a criterion to choose students, it can — and plans to — use socioeconomic background.
We have elected a black man to hold the highest office in the country. This is a country where a child’s opportunities are not dictated by race. Some start at an economic and educational disadvantage, but that would always be true, even if we were all the same race. We must play the hand we are dealt.
Not everyone can be slender, tall, handsome, beautiful or brilliant. There will always be barriers of religion, appearance, ethnicity, gender and race. Yet those without advantages often achieve success. By ending affirmative action, we are closer to Dr. King’s dream: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
We should abandon affirmative action to remove race from equation entirely, so that we can judge by the content of the character.