COLUMN: New solutions to ensure equal opportunity

As the Supreme Court hears another affirmative action case, Americans are again scrutinizing government-sponsored efforts at eliminating inequality.

Affirmative action seeks to encourage diversity by tipping certain scales in favor of historically marginalized groups.

In the world of higher education, this means racial minorities may have their status as such considered during the admissions process and their applications possibly granted a predetermined measure of preference.

The Court last ruled on affirmative action in 2003, upholding a university’s right to foster diversity through the use of race-conscious admissions policies. In the years since that case, attitudes toward race have evolved.

We live in times in which a black man can sit in the Oval Office, but not without the legitimacy of his presidency and every action constantly being called into question.

These are times of both dizzying progress and disquieting relapse.

Many young adults enjoy a culture more accepting of diversity than ever before, but the majority of this age group doesn’t support the policies that cultivated this environment in the first place.

In a report out of Georgetown University, researchers found 47 percent of Americans aged 18 to 25 oppose programs that specifically assist minority students, while 38 percent favor such programs.

The poll’s findings are even more telling when the race of respondents is taken into account.

Sixty-six percent of white subjects opposed affirmative action measures, while 75 percent of blacks and 63 percent of Hispanics favored them. Conversely, polling done by Gallup in 2011 showed that 85 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 say they’re fine with interracial marriage, indicating young adults are more accepting of diversity than generations past.

This odd juxtaposition of opinions represents an America seemingly eager for diversity, but uncertain of how best to go about encouraging it in the future; an America ready for progress, but unsure of which path leads toward it.

And that uncertainty is warranted.

The specter of inequality still haunts every corner of this nation, but it’s learned there’s often value in operating in silence.

Affirmative action is a solution devised for a time when discrimination wasn’t so often inclined to hide behind the subtleties of political correctness.

No one wants to feel they’ve been denied an opportunity because of something they have no control over, such as their skin color. This worry is shared by affirmative action supporters and detractors alike.

In recognizing certain groups as broadly deserving of preference, affirmative action policies rely on a sort of blind favoritism that feels uncomfortably similar to that which guides discrimination.

In the black and white world of previous generations, this legal mechanism was clearly necessary to ensure racial minorities were not slighted because of their skin color.

But today’s world is not black and white, and such blunt measures do not address the subtle complexities of modern discrimination.

Instead of continuing to rely on the solutions of the past, America should focus on finding new solutions that ensure equal opportunities for all.


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