Affirmative Action is Still Necessary
By State Rep. Garnet Coleman
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that Michigan universities may no longer take race into account for admission purposes. The decision does not ban affirmative action nationwide; it is a limited holding rooted in a Michigan Proposition banning universities there from considering race for applicants. In other words, while affirmative action is still Constitutional, states may prohibit its use. The Court based its decision on deference to voters, but it is difficult not to compare its reasoning to Shelby County v. Holder, in which the Court was decidedly less deferential to the political process when it gutted the bipartisan Voting Rights Act.
Aside from the legal reasoning, we should remember why affirmative action is even necessary: if you are a person of color in this country, you were born with a disadvantage. While some of the disadvantages faced by people of color are due to economic factors (people with less means are at a disadvantage, regardless of color), these factors do not by themselves account for the total hardship faced by minorities. Even controlling for income, white students are up to five times more likely than black and Hispanic students to attend a selective university. That disparity is only growing even though the education gap in high school is narrowing, making obvious the continued need for affirmative action. Race is still a significant detriment to one's chances of success that exists independently of anything else.
So when opponents argue that universities should instead focus on economic and geographic diversity, that proposal does not address the problem of race, and it shows. Black enrollment in California universities has still not recovered from that state's 1996 ban on affirmative action, and minority enrollment at the University of Michigan plummeted 30% after Michigan's affirmative action ban. Yes, economic diversity should be considered (along with geographic and gender diversity), but racial diversity is important in its own right.
We all know that education is key for helping communities of color, but the Supreme Court's decision makes it easier to take away the very opportunities we know will help.
State Representative Garnet Coleman represents District in Houston in the Legislature.