Senator Obama and affirmative action
Apparently, there has been a lot of controversy over Senator Barack Obama’s statements regarding affirmative action. The statements were part of a larger interview Senator Obama had with George Stephanopoulos on his show, This Week. I have an opinion on what he said but I will let you read the transcript of the interview first.
STEPHANOPOULOS: … of the national conversation. You’ve been a
strong supporter of affirmative action…
STEPHANOPOULOS: … and you’re a constitutional law professor,
so let’s go back in the classroom. I’m your student, I say,
“Professor, you and your wife went to Harvard Law School. You’ve got
plenty of money. You’re running for president. Why should your
daughters, when they go to college, get affirmative action?”
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think that my daughters should
probably be treated by any admissions officer as folks who are pretty
advantaged, and I think that there’s nothing wrong with us taking that
into account as we consider admissions policies at universities.
I think that we should take into account white kids who have been
disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to
have what it takes to succeed.
So I don’t think those concepts are mutually exclusive. I think
what we can say is that in our society, race and class still
intersect, that there are a lot of African-American kids who are still
struggling, that even those who are in the middle class may be first
generation as opposed to fifth or sixth generation college attendees,
and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people together
to help build this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that in 25 years,
affirmative action may no longer be necessary. Is she right?
OBAMA: I would like to think that if we make good decisions and
we invest in early childhood education, improve K-12, if we have done
what needs to be done to ensure that kids who are qualified to go to
college can afford it, that affirmative action becomes a diminishing
tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society.
At Blackprof.com, there was an article by Paul Butler that started out, “Barack Obama seems to have come out against affirmative action for rich African-Americans.” In conversations I have had with other people I have heard that Senator Obama is somehow against affirmative action. When I read the transcript, I didn’t see anything to suggest that. As for his comment regarding how his kids should be considered “pretty advantaged” by admissions officers does not in anyway suggest that he thinks his kids don’t deserve the benefits of affirmative action.
Advantage, in terms of college admissions is more expansive than the marginal advantage granted by race-conscious affirmative action. I am so tired of people acting like all you need to say is you’re Black and then the affirmative action wizard whisks you into the college of your choice. I digress though. I think by advantage, Barack was referring to his family’s financial status, the fact he is in the Senate and running for President, and by the way, he AND his wife are graduates of Harvard Law School. Having said that, I am sure his children being Black won’t be the extra bump they need when they apply for colleges.
I also feel that his mentioning the need to help disadvantaged white kids was dismissed as political posturing. I accept that affirmative action was intended as a race-based remedy, not a class-based remedy. However, I don’t think it wise nor it prudent to deny financially disadvantaged white kids that want a better life for themselves via college. I don’t know how to address this but saying some white kids need help is real. It seems like any Black person that is open to helping poor white kids is somehow sacrificing the interest of Black children. It is not an either or proposition because everybody needs education! Period.
Lastly, there was consternation when Obama said is response to Sandra Day O’Connor’s 25 year sunset on affirmative action,
“I would like to think that if we make good decisions and we invest in early childhood education, improve K-12, if we have done what needs to be done to ensure that kids who are qualified to go to college can afford it, that affirmative action becomes a diminishing tool for us to achieve racial equality in this society.”
I think too many people focused on the phrase, “diminishing tool” and that is sad. It’s sad because it shows me that when there is not a real commitment to revolutionizing K-12 for the better. And seriously if we are not moving towards a society where we seek to decrease the use of race based affirmative action (in college admissions) in proportion to the improvements in K-12, what are we working towards?
This post is getting long but please let me know what you think.
Stay up fam,