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Missing the Point

By Louis R. Evans

To the editor:

Sarah Siskind’s November 2nd column on affirmative action was, by turns, well-argued and pointlessly dismissive. However, in general, her piece was a painfully repetitive and unoriginal exercise in missing the point.

Siskind writes that affirmative action is “fundamentally flawed because it uses race instead of targeting these groups [the discriminated against, the poor, and those with unique experiences and intellectual merits] themselves.” But this is patently false. Colleges can and do target these groups independently, by asking applicants to provide information about their income, their particular challenging circumstances, and their unique virtues. Colleges can and should do more to reach out to the poor, the oppressed, and the unique; The Crimson has sometimes carried thoughtful pieces on the importance of doing so.

However, Siskind fails to recognize that race-based affirmative action has little to do with any of this. Race based affirmative action does not simply use race as a handy but clumsy indicator. Instead, it recognizes race as an actual category. Our society has a history of racial oppression—one that continues, unfortunately, to this day. This oppression does not merely manifest itself as individually experienced discrimination; instead, it also (and perhaps primarily) operates as an aggregate influence on the opportunities available to young adults. In particular, these systems of racial oppression dampen the college prospects of young people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos.

Siskind seems altogether unaware of the existence of these systems. She uses glib correlations to demonstrate that race is not unique in its status as a generalizing indicator, but ignores the fact that, though socially constructed and not biological, race is a real and significant category.

It is a moral obligation of college admissions to recognize that these systems of oppression exist, that they are immoral, that they operate subtly and on a broad scale, and to work to counteract them. It is for this reason, above and beyond any other, that race-based affirmative action exists, and should continue to do so—at least until, in some happy and far-distant future, these systems have conclusively broken down. Its aim is not diversity, nor restitution. It is integration, the breakdown of our current oppressive racial system in order to produce one of true equality.

Race-based affirmative action can’t accomplish this lofty goal alone. But it is a valuable tool in that overall project, and it should be sustained, by the Supreme Court, by the states and their universities, and by Harvard as well.

Louis R. Evans ’13

Cambridge, Mass.

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