Race

Affirmative action: the real racism on campus

A lawsuit filed against Harvard and UNC reveals affirmative action’s racist heart.

The term ‘affirmative action’ first emerged during desegregation in the US in the mid-1960s. An executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 stated that people applying for jobs with government contractors should be selected ‘without regard to their race, colour, religion, sex or national origin’. Over time, however, ‘affirmative action’ has come to mean something different. It now refers to the policy of actively favouring members of a particular social group, usually by ensuring that a sufficient quota of said social group is employed in a workplace or represented at an educational institution.

Of course, the idea that racism and other forms of discrimination can be mitigated by institutionalising perceived racial differences might seem counterintuitive, not to mention slightly racist. But, according to affirmative-action advocates, this doesn’t matter; it’s all about lessening the pre-eminence of those groups that have enjoyed more than their fair share of privilege – primarily, those who are white and male.

After all, one can’t be racist and sexist against white men because they’re the ones who do all the nasty racism and sexism. And so affirmative action, also known as ‘positive discrimination’, a process of putting people’s race and sex before their capabilities and achievements, pulled off the amazing trick of making itself look like a progressive force. The illusion of progressiveness could persist for as long as white males continued to be the highest achievers. If this was to cease to be the case, the policy might have to discriminate against another group, and that might end up making such policies look a little racist. Inevitably, that time has come. 

A lawsuit has been filed in the US against the affirmative-action policies of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC). The Project on Fair Representation, a legal defence fund for students who have been discriminated against in university admissions, has called for an end to race-based admissions policies, which it claims unfairly discriminate against Asian students in particular. The lawsuit claims that high-achieving Asian students, who would otherwise easily gain entry to Harvard or UNC, are forced to fight it out for the allotted Asian places, while their non-Asian peers can sometimes easily secure a university place with the same grades.

The move is justified because it is now no longer enough for admissions policies not to be racist. They must also actively promote diversity, and Harvard and UNC just had far too many Asians in their classrooms. The term ‘diversity’ is often used as a synonym for ‘not-racist’, but a ‘diversity’ policy that judges a person’s suitability for something on the basis of race is the very definition of racism. 

Of course, being denied a university place on the basis of one’s race is unjust, but more galling still is the fact that such discrimination takes place in the name of anti-racism. Apart from the inherent unfairness of these policies, such selection processes also undermine the academic integrity of the universities themselves. The fact that prestigious universities like Harvard or UNC are choosing students on any basis other than their academic achievement makes a mockery of the idea of the university. Here’s a quick fix that would restore academic integrity to these educational institutions: prospective students should be judged on their individual merits alone.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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