Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Affirmative Detractions

I've long been mildly disapproving of affirmative action. I'm sure we are all saddened by our history of discrimination. Nonetheless, I believe that we, if not as individuals, then at least as a society have fixed that particular problem.

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.


jessica stein said...

Although race is a social construct, simply ignoring it will not make the detrimental realities of racism disappear. Overt, Jim Crow racism no longer exists, but rest assured that racial discrimination continues to rear its ugly head. Take France, for instance: Their government has chosen to completely ignore the concept of race, in hopes that equal treatment of all will follow. Sounds fabulous on paper, but just look at how well that worked for them.

Yisong said...

I see your point, but I was refering to a more enlightened state by us as a people. The point I was trying to make was that if we should simply just stop considering whether someone was hispanic or black or white or whatever in these types of decisions. Laws won't necessarily change how people think, only what they can do legally.

But I think the France example you used also misses my point in another way. Consider this, if you were a manager at a company, would you rather hire a minority because you had to, or because he/she was actually the best person for the job?

I wasn't really trying to make a point so grand that it encompasses all aspects of racism or affirmative action. That's something that would take weeks or months of research before I'd dare hazard a blog post about it =P

Ben Darfler said...

You might be interested in

regarding the importance of socioeconomic status on your outcome in life.

I agree 100% with what you said, its patently obvious that the defining factor between those who make it and those who don't is their socioeconomic stats and not their race. I'm sure if Oprah had kids they would do just fine.

On a different note. That commissioned piece is still weird but on the more melodic pieces that I personally enjoy, the club sounds amazing. Its quite possible that I will never find a better group to sing in.

Steve said...

"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."

I'm a big ar-publican right now, but that's only because I'm in Texas. As soon as I move to California, I'll be a big hippie.

Yisong said...

The Cornell Glee Club is something else. I doubt I'll ever find a group like it again either. It's definitely been the icing on the cake during my time here.

Steve, were you a big windbag while you were in Chicago then?