I often feel that if we simply ignored the fact that race exists, many of the perceived problems of race would simply go away. Any economic imbalance between these so called ethnic groups would then disappear after a few generations.
While I would hate for us to worry over problems which will tend to fix itself naturally, I have no evidence supporting my above intuition. A recent article, however, discusses various drawbacks in how we currently implement affirmative action. The article points to an older article which I found more informative. What that article boils down to is that various minorities (in this case blacks) underperform not because they are minorities, but more due to socio-economic reasons. The article says,
Taking a B student and forcing them to compete against A students doesn't help the B student at all. The hope was that the B students would be inspired and raise their game, the fact is they were overwhelmed and under performed.
To continue with the analogy, this type of affirmative action will not resolve the fact that a greater fraction of black students are B students when compared to white students. The problem stems from a deeper source.
What's really damning is the loss of productivity due to these demographic demands. The number qualified minorities is typically less than the quota companies must hire. As such, some companies must find sub-standard employees for of this fear of being perceived as discriminating. We have needlessly created an image problem that companies and universities must deal with in addition to the real problems.
I've recently (and much to Steve's approval, I'm sure) arrived at the opinion that approaching such problems from an economics point of view can help resolve many of the difficulties. While financial well-being can only serve as a proxy for true happiness, it seems to work pretty well on average.
If we must have affirmative action, it should be concerned more with those who live in severely underprivileged conditions and lack the means to simply receive a decent education. Beyond proper facilities and staffing, many families cannot afford for their children to dedicate time to learning outside of school. This point was made in The Ron Clark Story, which I recommend to everyone. As a solution, we can for example offer a wider range of financial relief to low-income parents whose students perform well academically.
I'm also of the opinion that a large set of our basic characteristics regarding work ethics and aptitude towards various learning tasks are for the most part stablized relatively early in our childhood and adolescence. I think college is more about figuring out your true passions (if any exist), and how you might fit in as a contributing member to society. As such, spending so much effort to help those in their late teens and early twenties won't have nearly the effect as helping the 3-10 year olds.
All is not bleak. People smarter than I have years ago walked down this line of thinking and have been working to expand such financial relief efforts. I'm more annoyed by the fact that so many others promote the numerous useless and often detrimental aspects of affirmative action. For these and some personal reasons, I think we would all be much better off if we were completely race blind.