Affirmative Action: ‘Pretend equality’ breeds disrespect
by Melvyn L Fein
May 12, 2014 12:00 AM | 2014 views | 3 3 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Melvyn Fein
Melvyn Fein
Affirmative Action is still with us despite the recent Supreme Court ruling the Michigan constitutional amendment banning preferential college admissions on the basis of race or gender is constitutional. This is because many academics agree with Justice Sonia Sotomayor that race-based remedies remain imperative.

Those who favor granting minorities college admission despite their inadequate preparation argue racism persists and therefore must be counteracted. They also insist “diversity” is valuable to all students, irrespective of their backgrounds.

Let us start with the racism claim. It is undoubtedly true. Racism has not been eliminated, although it has been greatly reduced. It is then asserted this racism undermines minority self-confidence, which must be compensated for by granting special relief.

One of the key contentions of affirmative action advocates is African-Americans suffer from “stereotype vulnerability.” According to the psychologist Claude Steele, because blacks have been regarded as intellectually inferior, they have come to believe this canard.

In a series of experiments, he demonstrated that if blacks are reminded of their alleged inferiority, they do less well on tests than when not so reminded. In other words, when their self-esteem is shaken, their ability to perform is weakened.

The answer, we are told, is to allow college admissions to those with poor academic records. Since their underlying abilities have been underestimated, they will no doubt benefit from exposure to a first-rate education.

But is this so? The book “Mismatch” suggests it is not. It maintains that when underprepared students are put in the same classrooms as better-prepared ones, the comparison in performances convinces the former that they do not possess the same abilities. As a result, they become demoralized.

I suspect this is the case — yet the problem goes deeper. The fact is being given preferences in admission sends a familiar message. It tells African-Americans they do not have the same capacities as others and hence must be treated as if they were handicapped.

Yet isn’t telling students they are handicapped pushing the stereotype button? Doesn’t it reinforce the widespread belief blacks do not have the same intellectual capacities as others? If so, won’t it do the opposite of what is intended?

Let me make it plain: I do not believe blacks are biologically less intelligent than others. Their potential is every bit as good as whites or Asians. If they don’t think so — for whatever reason — and this belief is reconfirmed by admission practices, might not this bolster the handicap it is intended to counteract?

If people are to win in our society, they must win. If they are to move up the social scale, they must beat the competition on an even playing field. Artificially smoothing out the contest cannot work because those involved know it is phony. As a consequence, stereotype vulnerability once again rears its ugly head.

The only way to counter this problem is to change perceptions by changing reality. Once blacks successfully compete without help, the notion they need extraordinary assistance will fade away. Winners are respected for winning; also-rans, who are deceitfully pushed to the front, are disrespected as losers.

I say African-Americans can win on their own. They can keep up with anyone. A misguided paternalism treating them as crippled children succeeds only in preventing them from getting ahead.

Nor is the diversity nonsense of any use. Yes, students benefit from interacting with people different from themselves. But if these others are there because of their alleged inferiorities, the lesson learned is their peers must pretend they are equal.

Pretend equality, however, is not the real thing. It does not bring respect; it does not undo stereotypes. The only way to change people’s minds about the abilities of a previously pariah group is for them to compete on the same terms and come out on top. Blacks deserve this opportunity! They can handle it.

Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 12, 2014
Affirmative Action only benefits WHITE WOMEN because these white women are mostly not disadvantaged in that they come from well-funded (rich) K-12 public school districts with good educational resources and better teachers.

The author missed the point. In order to be 150% ready, highly educated and competitive in university admissions, the disadvantaged students (mostly Blacks) need to learn and be educated from excellent K-12 public schools that have the same or more educational resources than in the rich districts. It all starts with the best K-12 public education for the disadvantaged students that make them excel and 150% ready for college admissions. All these disadvantaged students are receiving are some type of BANTU K-12 public education that is enough to make them qualify for unskilled labor.

If the US government wants the Blacks to die out, then don't give them good education and have them kill each other. If the US government is serious about these disadvantaged Black students, then provide them with the best education like how it used to be with the Dunbar. Also, integration in K-12 public schools help so the Blacks are not stuck together and can learn that there is better life other than poverty and the hood.

May 12, 2014
I put this on another post a few days back. While affirmative action - which was needed decades ago to combat diehard segregationist attitudes but has now outlived its usefulness to the point where it is difficult to continue to countenance the negative affects that it has on Asians and whites - should be ended, the tendency of conservatives to claim that every person who succeeds in fields other than sports and entertainment did so because of affirmative action is just as wrong. Because of this, which is done for no other reason than to breed racial resentment, few people know that most colleges do not have affirmative action programs, and most workplaces do not consider race in their hiring and promotions policies. As a matter of fact, the universities and workplaces that have affirmative action policies are the ones that tend to have the fewest blacks. Meanwhile, the universities and workplaces that do not have such policies are the ones that have the most blacks. Three of the most diverse universities in Georgia - Georgia State, Georgia Southern and SPSU - do not factor race in admissions, and the largest single employer of blacks in this state (and in the country) is Wal-Mart. Yet conservatives claim that every black person who succeeds without sports or Hollywood is an affirmative action beneficiary whose achievements come at the expense of more deserving whites. This nonsense also causes people to grotesquely exaggerate the white victims of affirmative action discrimination. As wrong and unjustifiable as affirmative action discrimination is in this day and age, the fact is that so few blacks benefit from affirmative action that it is very difficult to find whites that are harmed by it. How can all these whites lose spots at UGA to affirmative action, for instance, when blacks make up less than 8% of the student body (in a state that is 30% black)? That is why when attempting to find a plaintiff to challenge the affirmative action programs at the University of Texas, the plaintiffs were only able to find a young woman whose credentials would not have gotten into Texas anyway even if no blacks attended that institution at all!

My guess is that even after affirmative action ends, many people will still pretend that it is not, and still claim that all black success is due to blacks using it to displace more qualified whites. The reason is that it is not truly affirmative action that these people are opposed to, but rather the end of de facto Jim Crow.
G Scott
May 12, 2014
Diversity and discrimination are two different things....

It would be interesting to review the racial statistics of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as compared to the 1996 California voter passed Proposition 209, which prohibited discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity or sex in admissions to public college and universities. Just a "what if" scenario!

Great article exposing "exception" law decided by Judges, not the people!

*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides