: the practice of improving the educational and job opportunities of members of
groups that have not been treated fairly in the past because of their race, sex, etc.
We look forward to the day when affirmative action is no longer necessary. Unfortunately, we are not quite there.
The New York Times reports that “the share of Black freshmen at elite colleges is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans. Black students make up 9 percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans, roughly the same gap as in 1980.”
Although New York City’s school system is around 70 percent Black and Latino, these two groups make-up only 9 percent of the offers made by the city’s eight highly selective, specialized public high schools.
In 2019, only seven slots (out of 895) in the freshman class of Stuyvesant High School were offered to Black students. Not much changed the following year, when only ten Black students were offered a slot out of a freshman class of around 760. In 2021, that number was back down to eight. Only one Black student got into Staten Island Technical High School in 2021.
That said, it is time for affirmative action (speaking here primarily of educational opportunities) to begin evolving. As we move toward Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that people “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” we must take extreme care not to underplay or overplay our hand.
Affirmative action was introduced in the United States at a time when racial justice was, quite literally, a Black and White issue. Affirmative action was 1000% appropriate, and I enthusiastically applaud every effort to right past wrongs.
As we make clear throughout this website, in no way do we believe that every past wrong has come even close to being rectified. Persistent educational achievement gaps show us they most certainly have not. But it is critical that our policies appropriately evolve as we continue our arc toward justice. If they don’t, we run the risk of them becoming counter-productive for the very communities they were designed to help in the first place.
...and as we all know by now, good intentions can have unintended consequences that can quickly become destructive — like, say, if righting past wrongs morphs into racial balancing (i.e., trying to completely balance the racial composition of something like a school, for example).
None of this is easy. It would be much more straightforward if there were a “one-size-fits-all” magic bullet, but there is not. Although affirmative action alone cannot solve every inequity, it can absolutely be a viable part of the solution.