Identity politics is propelling the latest fight against affirmative action at Harvard. But it’s important to remember why that action was needed in the first place.
Affirmative action is back on the table for further examination. The Trump administration is making some noise about investigating bias in admissions at high-ranked universities.
There is a constant tug of war in this country over who gets access to a good education, to jobs, to all kinds of resources, and the arguments are about merit, fairness, history and the present. It’s a mess created by not treating everyone fairly in the first place.
It’s easy enough to tie a knot in a length of thread, but just try untying it.
Monday, I wrote that untangling some of today’s problems would be easier if we had a better understanding of our history. I want to share a note from a reader whose response to that column included a mention of affirmative action.
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Jerry Bunce identified himself as a white man who is aware of the privilege that goes with being part of that demographic. He retired from a long career at Boeing, then taught leadership classes at Bellevue College before retiring from that job. Here’s what he wrote:
“I was having lunch at Costco in Issaquah one nice day a few years ago.
“An older white male (around my age) was looking for a seat and I motioned that he could sit at my table. We started to chat.
“He owned a small business in the area. After a while he made a comment that his sons would have a hard time finding a good job because Affirmative Action meant that all the jobs were going to African Americans. I was shocked knowing that was not true.
“I thought for a minute and said to him that the wealth of this nation was built on the backs of slaves.
“He was so shocked and offended. He reacted as if I had just sucker punched him in the gut. He got up and left after sharing what he thought of me.”
All the jobs are going to African Americans. And, yet, the unemployment rate for black Americans is routinely twice the rate for white people.
There is a similar disconnect between some people’s perception of college admissions and the reality.
Originally, fighting bias in admissions meant allowing previously excluded groups a place on campus, but for some Americans the fight has been, and continues to be about, preserving advantages for some that were acquired…