Prompt: Should the UC be allowed to consider race in the admissions process? Why or why not?
Mary Clark, in her Daily Bruin article in support of race-based admission decisions, argues that affirmative action is critical in a society that has yet to “[transcend] racism and undone all of its effects.” However, what she ignores is the way in which affirmative action reinscribes racial divisions and further institutionally encoding constructions of a ‘racial experience.
Here, it’s useful to visit Foucault, a discourse theorist whose ideas have been incredibly influential to the fields encompassed within minority studies. For him, power is not “a general system of domination exercised by one element or one group over another,” but needs to be “understood [as] the multiplicity of relations of force that are immanent to the domain wherein they are exercised, and [which] are constitutive of its organization.” Power is not exercised by a dominant power (e.g. white society) over a minority group — that is, power does not act restrictively, as a form of oppression. Rather, is exists as an “omnipresence,” as a force that disguises itself as acting simply within the binary of oppressed/oppressor. In such a binary, to become empowered is simply becoming un-oppressed, of acquiring education/money/governmental position. However, Foucault argues, we must understand the larger discourse surrounding our perceptions of what is oppressed.
Proponents of race-based admissions seem to ignore the discursive implications of affirmative action, the way in which it might actually reinforce the current power relations that produce certain minorities as powerless. That is, it reinscribes the minority as occupying an inherently disenfranchised position. It homogenizes and essentializes the racial minority’s experience as being one way, while simultaneously essentializing the experience of ‘whiteness’ as being inherently different from that of the racial minority. The end problem of this is that this leaves no room for a white person to ever have a similar experience as someone from a racial minority — it affixes traits as inherent and exclusive to race. And isn’t this precisely oppositional to the aims of the progressive, anti-racist individual, the very same person who “should” be supporting affirmative action? It takes the incredibly racist social Darwinist arguments of the 19th century (certain races are biologically one way) and resituates them into the realm of social construction.
This is certainly not to say I don’t believe that racism exists and that there are many factors being of a racial minority can carry with it certain impediments. However, I can’t abide by the way that race-based admissions foreclose on the great diversity of experience while perpetuating a discourse in which the racial minority must occupy the oppressed position, forever “otherized” and homogenized.
This rubs up against my own concern for individual narrative, the desire to view individuals as individuals rather than needing to situate somebody within an institution — a belief that any body is capable of any diverse array of experience.
But yes, racism does exist, people of color are more likely to experience impediments based off of institutional biases than are white people. What is to be done other than affirmative action to curb this?
I support the current system, in which issues of race, class, sexuality, gender, disability, and other personal, specific factors are taken into account within the essay and context portions of the UC admissions process. This allows the reviewer to understand holistically and in a non-rigid, non-homogenizing way the relationship of a specific applicant to structural bigotry. In this way, a wealthy African-American applicant who wears Prada daily, is well connected, has been privy to the best educational support, has travelled the world, is not immediately given an edge over someone with equivalent aptitude, but from an urban, poor, single-parent — white — background.
Posted by Lee.