Imagine you’re gearing up for a race: laces tied, eyes ahead, mind blank. Your competitors are lined up next to you, but they are completely anonymous – random – and all that you care about is the strenuous, difficult task that you are about to embark upon. The importance of this race is intangible; it can make or break your future; it can define the rest of your life. All of a sudden, right before the starting gun goes off, half of the participants are asked if they’d like an advantage. Maybe they can begin 100 yards ahead, or be given a thirty second head start. “Raise your hand if you want it.” Whose hand does not go up?
By nature, human beings are selfish. We intrinsically worry about ourselves more than anything else in this world, and rightfully so. Therefore, when given an opportunity to get ahead, we jump on it. Take for example the college application process. Students work for four years to garner good grades, become involved in activities, rise to leadership positions, and ideally make themselves a perfect candidate for the universities of their choice. But, they also take advantage of every opportunity they have to give themselves a leg up – contacting an alumni family friend to secure an interview, checking “legacy” for mother even though its your step mom, talking to coaches to demonstrate interest in joining a team. Is it fair? Of course, that’s the way life is. Is it fair? No, it wrongly gives some people an advantage. Is it fair? It all goes back to the race and whether or not you were asked if you want that head start.
In June of 2003, Jennifer Gratz sued the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor for violating the 14th amendment in its undergraduate admissions process. At the time, U of M employed a unique point system: out of 150 possible points, 100 were needed to gain admission. The controversy? 20 points were automatically given to an underrepresented minority applicant. Meanwhile, a student with a perfect score on the SATs was awarded 12 points. Fair or not fair?
In a race that “can make or break your future, [and] can define the rest of your life,” several thousand applicants were allowed to start 1/5 of the track ahead of the rest. They were given the opportunity to have a head start, and as we would all do, they raised their hands to accept it. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan’s point system was unfair in that it allowed for reverse-discrimination and violated the equal protection clause guaranteed to civilians by the United States constitution. Let’s look at the 2003 Supreme Court justices who voted during the Gratz case: William Rehnquist, white; John P. Stevens, white; Sandra Day O’Connor, white; Antonin Scalia, white; Anthony Kennedy, white; David Souter, white; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, white; Stephen Breyer, white; Clarence Thomas, black. Is it even a question why this affirmative action policy was overturned?
Affirmative action is a tool intended to create a more equal and diverse (Mary Sue Coleman’s favorite word) society. It is designed to eliminate discrimination in the workforce and in higher education by taking factors such as race, color, religion, and gender into consideration. Hmm, creating racial boundaries in order to defeat racial boundaries. Interesting. How can a policy that relies on discrimination actually abolish it? In my opinion, by giving certain people an advantage, society becomes even more unequal. But this sheds light on a more important issue. I’m a white male. So, with respect to the college application process, wouldn’t I naturally lean towards the side that favors me? Under this same notion, a black student would support the side that favors him or her. Even in the Supreme Court, the majority of the justices voted in a direction that favored their own race. Of course, these justices vote for the side that is in accordance with their own beliefs. But, it’s not outrageous to say that our subconscious intrinsic selfishness can influence our views, and therefore alter the way we vote. After all, the 9 court justices may have children, or grandchildren, or nieces or nephews that will be affected by their ruling in Gratz. Wouldn’t we all raise our hand to receive an advantage, or advocate for the side that gives us this leg up?
Of course, we all like to believe that we hold some power in this “representative democracy” of ours. We cast our votes and in return we get representatives to advocate on our behalf. But what happens when our councilmen stop acting for society and start taking their own desires into consideration? It has happened before, and will surely continue to do so as long as this system is in place. All of a sudden, the power of our entire nation – one that is ironically founded on democratic and egalitarian ideals – is concentrated in the hands of the few. It is “Tyranny of the Minority” at its finest, and the ensuing inequality is ravaging our country. Now, lets hypothetically say that this affirmative action policy would have been incredibly beneficial to society (I was wrong, what?). We would have never been able to reap the benefits because a minority group of legislatures decided that we shouldn’t. Fair or not fair?
Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic, or maybe I’m not old enough to understand the complexities of humans and democracy (then again who is old enough?). But, in a competitive and arduous race, who wouldn’t have their own best interests at heart? At some point, don’t legislatures and lawmakers have to look out for themselves? Who WOULDN’T raise their hand? Sound off in the comments.