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Affirmative action: Dissecting rhetoric from reality

MARC H. MORIAL | 8/21/2017, 11:23 a.m.
“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, ...

National Urban League

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.” – President Lyndon B. Johnson, Commencement Address at Howard University, To Fulfill These Rights, June 4, 1965

In a perfect America founded and operating on colorblind meritocracy, admission to selective institutions of higher learning, boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies and access to federal contracts would be determined solely by ability, skill and talent, never having to take into consideration race or gender – and certainly never having to take into consideration a moral, national imperative to redress wrongs rooted in a long history of slavery, sexism, structural racism and prejudice. But as we all know, that is not the America we call home.

We live in an America that has (at some points more fervently than others), perpetually strived for the elusive ideals of freedom, liberty and justice – for all. But as we collectively labor through the mud of inequality and the residue of injustice that disproportionately effects communities of color and women, it is at best cynical and at worst callous that the very federal agency charged with addressing the impact of discrimination on historically disadvantaged groups is now, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, preparing to attack those laws, policies and guidelines set in place to end and correct the effects of a discrimination and “improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women.”

According to a leaked memo, the Department of Justice is planning to redirect resources from its civil rights division to investigate and sue universities that use “intentional race-based discrimination” in their admissions process because of its purported negative effects on Asian American applicants. But let’s be clear, this is an attack on equality and education for marginalized groups.

This brazen, transparent, counterproductive assault on affirmative action, coupled with other proposed initiatives, would seal the door of opportunity shut for millions of Americans. The Trump administration has proposed slashing the Department of Education’s funding by over $9 billion; withholding much needed federal money from high-poverty public schools; and reducing funding for federal work-study and Pell Grants, making it harder for lower income, Black and Hispanic students to afford higher education.

In a nation where education is the most effective tool most of us have to climb the American ladder of success, and is practically synonymous with opportunity and achievement, the executive branch of our government appears driven to keep those who can least afford it away from a quality education at all phases of schooling.