Affirmative action is challenged regularly, from people on both ends of the political spectrum. As we near college application season, when people are wondering if they’ll get into college or not, there are a variety of misconceptions that arise about affirmative action, including statements that show a complete lack of understanding of how it works. Here are just a few common misconceptions about affirmative action, and why there’s little (if any) merit to each of them.
1. Affirmative action isn’t needed anymore because we live in a post-racial society.
If you truly believe this, you not only come from a place of unspeakable privilege, but you also interact solely with other people from places of unspeakable privilege. Despite affirmative action and other policies designed to level the playing field, people of color and women continue to lag behind in income and college attendance: white women make 82 cents for every dollar that white men make, while black women make only 65 cents for every white man’s dollar and Latina women make only 58 cents. The wage gap between white and black employees is also growing: it’s up from 18.1% in 1979 to 26.7% in 2015. We are not living in a post-racial society: affirmative action is still needed to make college more accessible for minorities.
2. Affirmative action gives positions to unqualified people.
It is illegal to hire someone based on race or gender, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Affirmative action doesn’t result in under-qualified students of color being admitted to colleges over qualified white students: it results in equally qualified students of color and other students who come from marginalized groups being considered for positions that they otherwise may not have been in.
3. Affirmative action is a form of “reverse discrimination.”
Affirmative action seeks to reverse centuries of discrimination against women and racial minorities, and also acknowledges that discrimination is not a thing of the past. As women and people of color continue to suffer from discrimination, they do not hold the systematic, political power required to “discriminate” against white men.
4. Affirmative action doesn’t work.
While many like to claim that affirmative action doesn’t actually do anything, studies have shown that companies which employ affirmative action practices see rates of hiring for people of color and women rise. Affirmative action does, indeed, work — and it works very well.
5. Affirmative action lowers the self-confidence of women and minorities.
Actually, affirmative action is a way of finally letting women and minorities into spaces that they deserve to be in but historically haven’t had access to. What lowers the self-confidence of women and minorities is when white people tell them that they received their spot in school or work because of their race or gender identity — they haven’t.
6. Affirmative action is only about race.
What a lot of people don’t know is that affirmative action doesn’t just make spaces more accessible for people of color: they make them more accessible for women, including white women, too. In fact, white women have benefited the most from affirmative action over the years (many industries are becoming more diverse in that they have larger amounts of white women than they once did, not in that they have larger amounts of people of color), despite the fact that white women are also some of the most vocal opponents of affirmative action.
7. Asian-Americans are hurt by affirmative action.
This myth also perpetuates the “model minority myth,” a harmful myth which states that Asian-American students are always academically superior to their peers (which has the dual effect of raising impossibly high standards for Asian-Americans that aren’t in place for other races, and enabling white Americans to compare other races to Asian-Americans and ask how they aren’t able to succeed). The reason why the number of Asian-Americans in elite colleges has increased has been because of affirmative action measures, and in reality, many Asian-Americans do support affirmative action. In addition, there are many groups of Asian students, predominantly southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students, who have not seen the benefits that other students have and need affirmative action even more than their eastern and southern Asian peers.
As college application season approaches, take the time to read more about affirmative action and how it works so that you better understand what happens in the admissions process. You may learn a little, and in learning, you might debunk some harmful misconceptions you may have about affirmative action.
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