Why we need affirmative action

America is far from post-racial.

By Jorge Cotte

Welcome to post-racial America. Our president is half-black and our last remaining racists, Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling, have seen their uppance come. Finally, we have outstripped our nation’s dark history. Hiring processes have been automated and are now objective and bias-free. Obamacare and the Internet have eliminated discrepancies in access to health care and education. Any remnants of segregation are due to mere preference, not barriers to entry or historical factors.

Incidentally, schools that serve primarily black, brown, or Native American youth in our post-racial society are more likely to have high concentrations of first-year teachers, and it’s four times more likely for black students and twice as likely for Hispanic students that over 20 percent of their faculty do not meet state certification requirements. These schools often don’t offer the full range of math and science basics; in fact, one in four of these schools does not offer algebra II, and one in three doesn’t offer chemistry…but I’m sure that’s not important.

We continue to use standardized evaluations to assess students, even though there are racial biases in content, implementation, and evaluation. But at least we know that preparation for these tests definitely yields no advantages, and we have other objective measures like GPA and recommendation letters. We use these measures to decide who’s gifted and who’s worthy of investment—good thing they’re fair and standardized.

And if we want to talk about fair practices, the discipline of students is nothing but that—especially at their most impressionable ages. According to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, black students account for only 18 percent of the country’s pre-K enrollment, but 48 percent of preschoolers with multiple out-of-school suspensions. Surely those toddlers deserve it. Black students are expelled three times as often as white students, but school administrators assure us there’s no unequal treatment. At schools with gifted programs, blacks and Latinos make up 40 percent of students, but only 26 percent in the elite programs—if only they tried harder.

Police officers still slow down as they pass black and brown bodies starting as early as middle school, but it’s only to wave hello, of course. Children are growing up without parents—who are being incarcerated for nonviolent crimes and deported for simply existing where they’re not welcome—but those who run private companies that profit from these policies only have the nation’s best interests at heart.

Are we post-racial?

The reality is that often the privileged are content pretending the civil rights movement solved all racial problems. They believe a systemic problem like racism can be solved with good intentions, by simply not discriminating on the basis of race. Attempts at systemic solutions, like affirmative action, are thrown out because they’re supposedly not necessary and harm white or Asian people. Even though diversity has proven beneficial in social and academic settings (not just for minorities, but for everyone), no one cares to challenge the status quo. Granted, affirmative action is imperfect, particularly in its grouping Asian Americans in a way that has adverse effects on many disadvantaged and underrepresented South and Southeast Asian minorities, but right now, it is necessary.

It is necessary because this is the real America. Where black, brown, yellow, and red voices are clamoring to be heard. We are fighting for representation in politics, to see our likenesses in media, in classrooms, in the capitols. People of color are struggling to be more than the butt of a joke, to be more than your token minority, to be more than a stereotype, to be more than a mascot.

Enter our post-racial UChicago. We are the elite and the enlightened. But it has been approximately a year since Politically Incorrect UChicago Confessions showed us what some of our classmates really think of us. Those of us who were here won’t forget the things said under the veil of anonymity.

Diversity is not a priority here. Black students make up less than five percent of the population and Hispanics less than seven percent, numbers that lag behind those of the Ivies. We can’t major in African-American studies­—or Asian-American, or Latino, or Native American. We read DuBois and Fanon, but don’t see how their words are relevant in practice. Our professors of color are rare and declining in number, and the walls of this institution give us little indication that they were ever here in the first place.

Our University has always had a “complex” relationship with race. It refuses to build a trauma center, even though (mostly black) lives hang in the balance. The integrity of our campus police is, at the very least, in question when it comes to profiling. The University is ever expanding, pushing out the families who have lived here for generations.

Affirmative action matters because race matters. Structural inequality exists, and yes, it goes beyond class. It matters because giving voice to difference enriches our culture and our thinking, because lived experiences cannot be erased or invented. It matters because increasing opportunities for the most marginalized leads us closer to a just society. We didn’t work less hard than you to get here, and often we have to work twice as hard to get half the rewards and recognition.

But affirmative action is only the beginning. We need to do more in every way. It’s not just about taking race into account in the admissions office; it’s about pursuing students of color more aggressively, it’s about making us feel welcome and safe when we get here, it’s about providing us with resources and connections that we otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s a limit to how much we can change of what our classmates think, but our University should always have our back. We are more than checked boxes and diversity statistics. We are more than a nuisance. We make this University better.

Jorge Cotte is a fourth-year in the College majoring in economics.