Affirmative Action: The American Dream — or an American nightmare?
Will a verdict passed down upon the Fisher vs. University of Texas case, now being debated fiercely in the United States Supreme Court, be the death of affirmative action? The plaintiff in the case is challenging the legitimacy of the largest reparation within American society. The future of minority and women’s groups’ integration into the progressive mainstream — seen through the advancement of underrepresented populations through universities, the workplace and the private sector — hangs in the balance of the high court’s final decision, which will determine the fate of those who seek parity in society. Initially used to dismantle past discrimination, the antinomy of what to do about affirmative action seems to have no end.
The particular case now being argued by the United States Supreme Court involves a young Caucasian woman, Abigail Fisher, who challenged the rejection of her application to her preferred institution of higher learning by arguing that she was excluded from entering the University of Texas because she is white. The tidal wave of a decision in favor of the plaintiff has the potential to dismantle many civil rights landmarks, such as the Voting Rights Act, in a way that would inhibit underrepresented populations to participate fully in determining their own destinies.
Those who challenge Ms. Fisher’s lawsuit are relying on their most historically loyal supporter: the Supreme Court, which civil rights advocates have always trusted to expand access to education. However, despite the high court’s history of supporting civil rights initiatives designed to “equalize” American society, a ruling in favor of Ms. Fisher could be the beginning of the end of the court’s progressive agenda.
Those who are against continuing affirmative action believe that less qualified people receive preferential treatment at the expense of those who are considered to be more able. Opponents of affirmative action believe such policies are undermining society’s moral integrity. Proponents of affirmative action believe that the practice serves an “unmet need” for people of color, gender and disabilities to integrate into society — even if “mainstream” populations must step aside until society is integrated.
In Yonkers, between 1990 to 2000, after much warring between the Northeast side and the Southwest side of Yonkers, through the federal courts, the housing and school desegregation plans became actualized. By changing the city in a way that minority families could have better opportunities for themselves and their children, this “affirmative action” plan positively affected the recipients’ quality of life. Now, after 22 years past the inception of the lawsuit, the seemingly destructive mandate (fought by nonminority citizens), has been actualized; the fears that homeowners and educators had about the decline of their way of living and standard of education was dismissed. Although it took many court proceedings to settle on a plan that would be accepted by both parties, the so-called “disaster” that nonminorities feared regarding their way of life being destroyed did not come to pass. In this case, this “affirmative action” plan was embraced by minorities and non-minorities alike.
Let’s begin with the case that Ms. Fisher, the plaintiff in the case, set to explore her desire for admission. According to the Oct. 25 installment of Diverse Issues in Higher Education, (an online educational website), Ms. Fisher’s lack of academic ability eliminated her from being chosen in the top 10 percentile of high school students in Texas who were qualified to matriculate into the university. She was later screened within a pool of applicants for other application criteria which included race and was rejected. Ms. Fisher then sued on the grounds that the University violated the Equal Rights Protection Act under the 14th amendment. “Right wing” activists are using tools of the “left”.
Who, then, is right: the grassroots advocates that support affirmative action or the top tiers of society that declaim it? There are many initiatives that are in place for those marginalized by society, to help them launch their “manifest destinies.” However, until such opportunities are put in place everywhere, and until young strivers can integrate into the mainstream, affirmative action, coupled with academic and vocational remedies for everyone, is necessary, at least for now, to secure the upward mobility of disenfranchised people. Everyone in our country should have an opportunity to become real achievers who can actualize their dreams and reach their highest potential.
Jennifer Green is a Yonkers resident who has written articles for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Journal News and The Charlotte Observer. The Points of View column is open to all readers.