Editorial: Don’t see past race

Monday, December 3, 2012


One day, affirmative action will cease to be necessary. For now, it remains a tool that gives preference to certain groups in order to foster diversity in competitive environments. In this way, it serves as an attempt to reconcile our nation’s history of racism and bigotry with the inequities of the present. We cannot deny that racism, structural and otherwise, is still prevalent in contemporary society, even in deliberately diverse institutions such as Brown. However, we question whether affirmative action helps or hurts the quest for egalitarianism.  

Though affirmative action policies still exist at Brown and our peer institutions, there is growing discontent with policies that grant people of color admission to competitive schools notwithstanding possibly lower quantitative qualifications. In the context of college admissions, affirmative action, like athletic recruiting, inherently gives preference to students not based on their academic merit. Affirmative action addresses the fact that minority students are more often marginalized and face severe structural inequalities. An unintended consequence of affirmative action, however, is that it fosters unwarranted guilt. Students who are beneficiaries of race preferential treatment may feel that achieved success by means other than solely their own merits. The institution of affirmative action, while noble in intent, is precarious and ultimately unsustainable.

However, while we believe that affirmative action should eventually be phased out, it is still absolutely necessary in the present. Why? Let’s face it – discrimination and racism are alive and well in the American system. We are still a long way from a society with equal opportunity for all.

At Brown, we pride ourselves on the ideal of “seeing past color.” As well as being a problematic assertion in and of itself – in that it supports the false notion that we now live in a post-racial society – is it really the best choice never to account for race? Take, for instance, the student groups on campus whose foundation lies in the solidarity of identity, often through race. The continued existence of groups such as the Black Student Union or the Latin American Students Association reflects the correlation between racial solidarity and racial injustice. These groups, which are integral to fostering racial awareness at Brown, are also support systems. They help their members navigate racial identity in the face of historical and existing discrimination. 

In a recent Herald poll, over 58 percent of students who were polled opposed using race in Brown student admissions, though more than half of those who opposed consideration of race supported consideration of socioeconomic status. In a perfectly progressive world where race is no longer a factor, we would agree with these students. However, we are not yet at the point where we can disregard racial factors as relics of the past. Structural inequities are still clearly in place for people of color. Unchecked ignorance does not serve as an excuse for the existence of racism, nor is it an excuse for conveniently ignoring inequality. 

Until we are all at peace with our heterogeneous society, affirmative action is a necessary institution. It serves as a reminder that racism has not been left behind in the 20th century – in fact, it has evolved into an even more complex beast. We are all complicit in a system that disadvantages minorities at a structural level. It’s time to reconsider if the idea of “seeing past race” actually does anyone any good at all.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Daniel Jeon and Annika Lichtenbaum, and its members, Georgia Angell, Sam Choi and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

  • Anonymous

    The justification given in this editorial for racial preferences — “discrimination and racism are alive and well in the American system” — has been rejected by the Supreme Court, and rightly so, since there are better ways to address politically incorrect discrimination than through politically correct discrimination. What’s more, this dubious rationale cannot outweigh the many costs of using racial preferences, which the editorial ignores: It is personally unfair, passes over better qualified students, and sets a disturbing legal, political, and moral precedent in allowing racial discrimination; it creates resentment; it stigmatizes the so-called beneficiaries in the eyes of their classmates, teachers, and themselves, as well as future employers, clients, and patients; it mismatches African Americans and Latinos with institutions, setting them up for failure; it fosters a victim mindset, removes the incentive for academic excellence, and encourages separatism; it compromises the academic mission of the university and lowers the overall academic quality of the student body; it creates pressure to discriminate in grading and graduation; it breeds hypocrisy within the school and encourages a scofflaw attitude among college officials; it papers over the real social problem of why so many African Americans and Latinos are academically uncompetitive; and it gets states and schools involved in unsavory activities like deciding which racial and ethnic minorities will be favored and which ones not, and how much blood is needed to establish group membership – an untenable legal regime as America becomes an increasingly multiracial, multiethnic society and as individual Americans are themselves more and more likely to be multiracial and multiethnic (starting with our president). Racial prefererences should be ended.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, racial preferences should be ended. And since being white is still the sweetest deal there is in this country, ending racial preferences means ending white privilege, not dismantling the meager institutions that attempt (still unsuccessfully) to level the playing field.

  • Anonymous

    Care to clarify what these “structural inequities” are exactly and hw affirative action recifies them?

  • Anonymous

    08:18 This is the best and most concise takedown of AA I have ever read! Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    This was a very good article. However, you forgot to mention the preferential treatment that legacies and applicants from wealthy families receive with an eye on their families becoming big donors by admitting their kids. Brown and all other Colleges have a keen eye on growing their endowment and if a student from a wealthy Hollywood family, or the daughter of a CEO of a major firm applies that have “lower quantitative qualifications”, they too are also given “preferential” treatment in “many” cases. So let’s have an honest discussion about College admissions at selective Universities and stop pretending as if somehow minorities are the only ones receiving a break in admissions. By the way, many minorities have stellar SAT scores, impressive EC’s, and high grade point averages. So when you see that Black or Hispanic student walking on Brown’s campus, don’t be surprised if their stats and accomplishments were revealed, it equals or surpasses that of many whites walking the Campus. Also, if we were to simply go by “quantitative qualifications”, all of the Ivy League would be overwhelmingly Asian students who outscore whites and every other ethnic group on Campus. So lets be honest and stop perpetuating a dishonest dialogue targeting Blacks as some kind of unqualified affirmative action babies that are incapable of achieving the same academic qualifications that whites have achieved. This is what critical thinking skills that everyone seeks in the Ivies is all about.

  • Anonymous

    I wholeheartedly agree with comment 8:18. Thank you for that cogent argument against this unethical and morally unsustainable practice.

    As a high school student in an socioeconomically diverse public school outside Washington, DC, I see a disturbing trend every year–“underrepresented minority” students who come from affluent backgrounds are often able to attend any elite school they so choose. Meanwhile, their Caucasian and Asian counterparts from comparably disadvantaged backgrounds are discriminated against on the basis of their race at these institutions, and often take out loans to pay the hefty price of college wherever they matriculate.

    In my experience, being an “underrepresented minority” is not equivalent with having limited opportunities, coming from a low-income family is. I look forward to the day when colleges take socioeconomic status under consideration and disregard race in the application process; the day when they care about leveling the playing field for students of any color, and not just leveling their statistics on the racial makeup of their student body.