Those of us who favor some form of affirmative action must remember that many countries have tried to use the law proactively to equalize the standard of living between unequal groups. Nowhere have these policies succeeded in lifting the targeted minority groups totally out of poverty. Unfortunately, far more often they have bred both corruption and resentment. In India, where proactive laws were designed to address the centuries of discrimination and stigmatization of the lower castes, violent riots escalated between castes.
Furthermore, some higher caste individuals are often “adopted” into lower castes in order to take advantage of the laws. Sri Lanka once enjoyed relatively harmonious relations between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Yet it devolved into a twenty-six year civil war in 1983 in the wake of arguments over university admission standards and other policies.
My parents saw education as the great equalizer in American culture for these reasons: 1.) Scholarships are low cost, 2.) Education can transform lives, 3.) Exposure given by education can help raise qualified and principled minority leaders for the next generation. Given my parents’ enthusiasm for education as a catalyst for social change, their attitude begs the question: “How has educational relief or special admissions into superior universities worked for minorities in the US?”
While I think educational upgrading can break the cycle of generational poverty, it must be proved. UCLA Law Professor Richard Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor, Jr. disagree with me. They have written a book, Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won't Admit It.
They write that black students admitted to prestigious universities under differing standards “will usually get much lower grades, rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out. Because of mismatch, racial preference policies often stigmatize minorities, reinforce pernicious stereotypes, and undermine the self-confidence of beneficiaries, rather than creating the diverse racial utopias so often advertised in college campus brochures.”
New York Times best selling author Malcolm Gladwell also disagrees with me. In his book Outliers he agrees with authors, Sander and Taylor, about the academic performance of most students who attend professional schools on a quota or EEO basis: they start off behind the eight ball. Gladwell, however, traces the actual career progress of the individuals who attended the University of Michigan’s Law School. Ten or so years later, these graduates accomplished comparable career goals as their peers. They also earned similar salaries and the like. The major difference was their capacity to give back to their minority community and their sensitivity to the needs of that community. This impact is very difficult to quantify.
In disadvantaged communities, families must bind together and put their own children through school. Clearly, families should train kids in personal disciplines, social skills, and business skills. In addition, we have to create an internal culture of excellence with all of our minority homes. Armed with a clear vision of America and the faith of their ancestors, King’s dream may very well thrive with limited assistance from EEO laws.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.