1/16. A number. A legal number. I am Native American.
De jure: slash a pumpkin pie into sixteen pieces and shove down a cold, cloying slice. Schrodinger’s cat purrs: I am one of them, yet not. Check the box: I’m in. Leave it blank: I’m out. My hand quivers over the keyboard. De facto: white, def. “The absence of color.” My hand grasps the mouse and scrolls, leaving the box absent of an incorrect smudge. I am not Native American.
At times, affirmative action, or utilizing it to circumvent unjustifiable scrutiny, appears systematic. Some students assume that if they report that they are a member of a minority group to prestigious institutions their qualifications will skyrocket over the balding heads of admissions counselors. Affirmative action is used by many colleges and workplaces to ensure equal access to resources, and potentially eradicate interracial and inter-gender discrimination. Since the desegregation of public schools, social justice in education has been at the forefront of our minds and policies. What’s wrong with that?
In many cases, people may self-identify as a minority in hopes of having a statistically better chance of receiving admission or a job offer. It is unethical, but not uncommon. So we attack the system because it has a crack that greed and immorality has so abruptly wrenched open, one that is seductive in its promise of prestige, yet disturbing in its existence. Must we deem affirmative action to be too easily manipulated, when its benefits are tangibly beautiful, like wildflowers blossoming under our heavy heels?
We all benefit from affirmative action; for example, I attend an extremely diverse school in Orlando, in which I am a minority, and I have learned through both personal experience and observation that having preconceived notions about people is a waste of time. Our races do not dictate our thought patterns, however, we oftentimes we do all share common speech patterns, languages, privileges, and disadvantages based on our genders and ethnicity. Yet it is these subtle variations, the plights we may have faced, that enhance our conversations among people who do not share our backgrounds. I have friends of many different faiths, from different countries, and who possess Spanish, French, and other accented tongues, and in many ways I am happy that my interpersonal educational experience is shaped by what they say. School becomes a microcosm of the world, and ethnocentrism is abolished in favor of friendly cultural relativism and global perspectives.
A fine example of affirmative action at its most effective is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The gender breakdown is roughly 50/50, which is unheard of for an American tech school, and the racial pie chart is relatively well split among ethnic groups. Some claim that it is “easier to get into” the school with an already abysmal acceptance rate because of this difference distribution. Instead, most should view the school as the “perfect society,” a Utopian concept where the tech world is equally shared among groups, who all share the common spirit of innovation, yet the differing mindsets of people across the globe.
Diversity in educational settings is critical to establishing a culturally-sensitive mind, however, this still is not enough to defend affirmative action for the more disgruntled members of the conversation. One must look at the benefits beyond the conceivable: America was built by people with one common goal: dreams. We believe in the pursuit of happiness, yet, not everyone is able to get past the social and socioeconomic barriers to obtain the one thing that holds the nation together. Once we are here, we deserve freedom. I am a firm believer in the concept of hard work, and that no matter one’s background, one can aspire and gain anything. Yet, this is idealistic. Judgment and setbacks still exist through policy and groupthink, and one cannot underestimate the power of social sanctions in our society. It is harder if you are a minority, a woman, or of a not “privileged” group. But, affirmative action is not meant to “cut a break” for racial minority groups, international students, or even women and men. It is designed to propel people to government positions, CEO statuses, and financial power, so that more people of historically underrepresented groups may have voices to look up to and incentives to shoot for the stars.
I see it every day: my face lit up when I heard about women in the business and technology spheres. I get goosebumps when I imagine a female president. And whether or not I agree with President Obama’s stances, I still watched his inauguration with awe at history unfolding right before America’s eyes, for better or for worse.
Affirmative action could be renamed to aspiration action. We want everyone in the country to simply aspire. With an aspiration, one will work. With work, one will shake the world and bring up those who do not feel strong enough to give it a shot.
Policies are rarely black and white, or Hispanic or Asian. They are one thing alone: American.
1/16. A number. A legal number. I don’t check the box – I only check the truth: white. If my seat disappears to someone equally qualified, who is a more meaningful 1/16 or higher, I will smile. I am not a victim of affirmative action. They are a winner of aspiration action. And I am ready for them to inspire globalism and a special kind of education: people education, where we learn that there is not a majority or minority. Not in this country, one that was designed to be a melting pot. This is America. This is our chance to create a nearly unbiased society, where free access means recognizing privilege, and actively contributing toward its equalization for all members.
What is your opinion of affirmative action? Leave a comment below.