Candace Coleman

Diversity Still Matters

diversityThe Supreme Court has just unofficially dipped out of their quagmire over diversity. The Court was in a position to decide the future of affirmative action policies affecting millions of Americans who are either applying to college or looking for jobs. Thankfully, the high court justices, one of whom is very conservative, reaffirmed "race-conscious" admissions policies.

Most importantly, the 5-4 majority supporting the University of Michigan Law School's affirmative action policies will be just enough to keep affirmative action alive. The court agreed that "narrowly tailored" racial preferences were constitutional for the purposes of increasing the diversity of a college or university campus.

However, in a 6-3 vote, the court struck down the undergraduate school's point system which gave underrepresented minorities "bonus points" solely because of their race or ethnicity. The court said that the point system was unfair, and discriminated against Asians, Arabs, and Whites.

I honestly couldn't be any happier with the outcome. While the "indirect quota system" or point system was abolished, the Supreme Court determined that race can still be a factor in college admissions. This means nothing more than allowing race to remain as one of the many factors that colleges can consider in admissions. For many affirmative action supporters, this victory means that over the next twenty-five years, colleges and universities may well become more integrated places of learning.

The two cases that were heard in front of the Supreme Court included Grutter v. Bollinger et al. and Gratz et al. v. Bollinger et al. In both cases, the main plaintiffs -- the people who brought the lawsuit to court -- were white women who sued the president of the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Michigan undergraduate college, respectfully. Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter believed that they were rejected from the Michigan college and Law School because underrepresented minorities were given "bonus points" or preferential treatment in admissions. They argued that the U.S. Constitution requires that all citizens be given equal protection under the law.

Diversity Exonerated

Finally, the courts have come to understand the grave importance of diversity. I once was one of those anti-affirmative action black people who saw preferences as an insult to my intellect or abilities, but I have come to understand the realities of racial inequality in America. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg declared that affirmative action is still important in our country because, "Unemployment, poverty and access to health care vary disproportionately by race. African-American and Hispanic children are all too often educated in poverty-stricken and under-performing institutions."

I have changed my mind not because the policy may help me get into college or get a job, but because I have asked myself Machiavellian questions like: Does the end justify the means? Is it justice if the outcomes of this decision hurt a few now, but benefit all in the end? In the case of affirmative action, the answer is yes. Affirmative action aims to level an unfair playing field and opens doors that secondary schools didn't open for disadvantaged students. Diversity is so important and vital to education and to the mission of schools that it is worth giving limited preferences to certain minority groups who enrich the learning environment -- especially in history, politics, law and ethnic studies classes.

Justice Sandra Day O' Conner, writing for the court's majority, concluded that diversity was a "compelling state interest" and perhaps vital to the "heart of the Law school's proper institutional mission." It has already been proven by scholars, intellectuals, and professionals that racially and ethnically diverse student bodies yield significant benefits for all students regardless of racial or ethnic background. Racial and ethnic diversity force students and professionals to learn and understand the experiences and perspectives of the many different people who make up our nation's population.

In such a progressive society, it is important to encourage interracial interactions and acceptance amidst cultural differences. I also believe that public schools have a responsibility to educate everyone and to have people of all backgrounds represented on campuses across the country. In such a diverse and multiracial society, it is only fair that every racial and ethnic group be given the same educational opportunities that are available to the American public.

Racial Preferences and You

You may be asking, "So, how does this policy directly affect me?" For people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, not much will change. Most universities and colleges already give some sort of consideration to applicants' racial or ethnic background in the selection process. However, some changes may be made to control the degree of preference given to underrepresented minorities.

At the University of Michigan undergraduate college, there was a point system in which each applicant had to earn over 100 points out of a possible 150 to be admitted. For example, an applicant belonging to an underrepresented racial or ethnic group or a lower socioeconomic class was automatically given 20 points out of a possible 150 points. The point system has been eradicated. But for the sake of diveristy, underrepresented minorities (Black Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans) will still get somewhat of an "edge" in admissions.

A huge misconception about racial preferences is the concept that a lot of Asians, whites, and Arabs with superior grades will be rejected at the cost of diversity. Understand that in college admissions, grades are only one of the many variables that are factored into the selection process. No one is guaranteed a seat based solely on their GPA, and no one is admitted with total disregard to their academic record. Even at the University of Michigan there were several non-minority students with lower grades accepted over other non-minority students with great scores and GPAs.

In the great affirmative action book, The Shape of the River, ivy-league scholars Bowen and Bok explored the phenomena of admissions rates at elite schools. According to the authors, the average admissions rate for whites is 25 percent at selective schools. According to research, getting rid of affirmative action would only raise the white acceptance rate to about 27 percent overall at elite schools. In the end, affirmative action doesn't make much of an impact on non-minorities in admissions.

These affirmative action cases might have not been the landmark civil rights decisions everybody was hoping for, meaning that in many ways they simply uphold the affirmative action status quo as determined by the University of California regents v. Bakke case (1978), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for affirmative action but against racial or ethnic quotas. At the same time, the latest Supreme Court rulings will have absolutely no effect on the admissions policies for public universities in states that already regard extra consideration for an applicant's racial or ethnic background as "illegal" -- such as Texas, Florida and California.

Affirmative action remains one of the nation's most controversial issues in the last quarter of a century. The debate will continue to divide politicians, intellectuals, students and professors at the nation's highest levels. I hope that in twenty-five years race won't be such a defining factor when it comes to disparities in education, healthcare and socioeconomic class. If we continue to prioritize diversity, cross-cultural communication and interracial relations, perhaps we will someday evolve into a society that truly allows "liberty and justice for all."

Candace Coleman, 17, is a student at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.

The Case for Race

Affirmative ActionAs a Black American, I have disliked affirmative action for years. I mean, how could colleges admit Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans with lower grades and scores, but turn away better qualified Whites and Asians? To me, it seemed like blatant racial discrimination. Why should colleges and universities "lower standards" for minority applicants? It seemed to me that affirmative action allowed exactly the kind of unequal treatment people have been fighting against in the civil rights movement for thirty years.

I thought that affirmative action went against the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution provides in the 14th Amendment that persons shall not be discriminated against based on race, sex, creed, or ethnicity. I used to agree with those who think the Constitution is a "color-blind" document and those who think Americans should consider race as an irrelevant issue to ensure equality for all. But is the Constitution really color-blind? Is race really irrelevant in America? I don't think so.

Most of all, I opposed affirmative action because to a certain extent I believed it diminished my accomplishments as a minority. Being a Black American, I didn't want to face charges of being unqualified, unworthy, and unwelcomed. I'm really conscious of people looking at me and saying behind my back, "She only got into this school because she's Black."

For the past few months, I have been doing a lot of reading on affirmative action, and it has ultimately changed my opinion of the policy. With so much racial inequality still in America, policies like affirmative action level the playing field and actually make our society more just. Remember, it wasn't too long ago when people of color were barred from even applying to colleges, universities and certain jobs because they were minorities.

I read a speech by former President Lyndon Johnson that really influenced my change of opinion. In a speech to Howard University about affirmative action in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson stated, "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 say, 'you are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair." Johnson's assertion had a significant impact on affirmative action policies in the 1970s, and ultimately has changed the minds of many Americans -- including mine -- on the subject. Now I look at affirmative action as a kind of compensation for past discrimination like slavery or legal segregation.

Just how equal are minorities being treated in America today anyway? We live in a world with linguistic profiling -- you know, like when people turn you down for jobs on the phone because they think you're Black or Latino from the way you talk. Things like racial profiling happen daily when the police pull over Black men in nice cars because they look "suspicious." Notice that the mostly White suburban schools have better resources than the mostly Black and Latino inner-city schools that lack teachers and safe facilities.

Racism today is not as obvious as it was in the past -- there aren't people of color drinking from different water fountains. But when I open my eyes and honestly look around at the world around me, I see that racial inequality still exists.

A common misconception that many people have about affirmative action is that it lowers the standards for Black, Latino, and Native American students in the college application process. The petitioners/plaintiffs in the case against the University of Michigan claim that affirmative action lowers admissions standards for minority applicants, which creates hostilities between White and minority students. However, the data sheet on the University of Michigan's undergraduate program website cites that White students who were admitted to the University of Michigan had an average GPA lower than that of Black students. Also, over the past ten years, the acceptance rate for Caucasian/White students -- meaning the percentage of applicants from a particular ethnic group that are accepted -- at the UM Law School was still higher than the acceptance rate for Black or Latino students, and was second only to the rate of acceptance for Native American students (who still only make up 2 percent of the student population). It's important to step back from the argument to recognize that even with affirmative action policies in place, the University of Michigan is still more than 70 percent White.

Many students at my school abhor affirmative action in one hand, but when it comes to asking one of daddy's friends on Columbia's Board of Trustees for a favor -- you can bet they start believing in preferences.

Unfortunately, in 1996, California voters approved Proposition 209, a ballot initiative which said that race could not be considered as a factor for hiring or admissions in any state institution. After the University of California system enacted the ban against affirmative action, schools like UC Berkeley found that the admittance rates of underrepresented minority students dropped by a staggering 14 percent in 1997. The freshman class at UCLA this year has only 281 Blacks out of 10,507 incoming students. The decreasing number of minority students detracts from the learning process for all students because it limits the range of perspectives present in class discussions.

When White, Black, Asian, Latino, Arab, and other students are brought together in a classroom, they can better understand their differences and destroy racist stereotypes that have been so ingrained in our nation's mentality. I met a professor at UCLA who told me affirmative action programs have actually decreased racial hostilities between different groups because of this classroom learning process. When students learn in a more tolerant and diverse environment, everyone benefits from the experience.

I can't imagine being in a class where the discussion is on a particular ethnic group or culture, and there is no one with in-depth knowledge on the subject present. How can a group of all-White students have a serious discussion about slavery, bilingual education, immigration, racism, or even affirmative action without recognizing that they are missing some key perspectives in the argument?

Without diversified student bodies, many minority students (including those at the University of Michigan) are forced to be the "official speakers" for their race. As a Black student at a mostly White high school, I've helped my classmates understand more about the Black experience, but I do get tired of being the "official representative" of my race. My classmates always ask me those "race" questions, like: "Candace, what do you think about the comments in the movie Barbershop?" or "Were you offended by Trent Lott's racist comments?" I don't care if you like Malcolm X, and I'm not interested in hearing your reactions after watching Alex Haley's Roots. Diversity is not only important to the learning process of each student, it also alleviates the pressure on students like me who often have to speak as representatives for our entire race just because we are the only Black, Asian or Latino people in the room.

Minority students might receive a slight preference when they are admitted into a particular institution, but they have to continue to work hard to earn their school grades just like every other student. Furthermore, race is just one of the many preferences that people can have when applying to college.

I couldn't even count the number of students at my school that abhor affirmative action in one hand, but when it comes to asking one of daddy's friends on Columbia's Board of Trustees for a favor -- you can bet they start believing in preferences. I know several students at my high school who know someone admitted to a top university because they had "connections." Schools may give affirmative action to minority students, but regardless of test scores, rich people have always gotten seats in the nation's most selective colleges and universities by relying on insider preferences.

The Wall Street Journal took a look at the practice of "legacy preferences," (a.k.a. White people's affirmative action) in which the children of alumni are admitted to colleges over better-qualified applicants. Some schools like to admit applicants with alumni ties because they get money for doing so. For example, Al Gore and President George W. Bush have fathers who attended Harvard and Yale, respectively. When applying for college, both Al and George had SAT scores lower than 1300 and bad grades from the prep schools they attended. But the fact that their fathers, who were U.S. Senators, generously gave Harvard and Yale buckets of cash for alumni funds was given a higher priority during the selection process than their academic qualifications as students.

It's clear to me that everyone gets a share of preferences. So if wealthy people, athletes, legacy applicants, and poor people are all given preferences, why can't underrepresented minorities also get a little consideration? Getting into college is never solely based on one's academic merit. Grades and test scores are important, but what a student can bring to a university community can sometimes be even more significant.

Candace Coleman, 17, is a student at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.

Our Mis-edumacation About the N-Word

n-wordAbout a year ago, one of my friends asked me if it was cool if she called me her "nigga." "No," I replied with disgust, hoping that the conversation wouldn't come up.

My friend, who says she is Armenian, Lebanese, and white, justified her question because she has a black relative. My friend characterizes herself as "semi-black" (whatever that means), especially when it is in her best interest (i.e. if she can benefit from affirmative action). She also told me that she asked my friend Maranda (the other black girl in our grade) if this common derogatory term could be used as a term of endearment. Maranda said she thought the word couldn't mean any harm coming from a friend.

I knew my friend wouldn't say the word as an insult or in disdain, but I still didn't approve of her referring to me as her "nigga." I understood that her interpretation of the word was intended as a term of endearment; comrade, homie, my sister -- those were her true intentions. So why did her question bother me? Did I take her comments too literally?

Then the question of the "Protean N-word" arose. The Protean N-word describes the word nigger as it is used with different purposes when inserted into different contexts. These contexts determine whether the word nigger is being used as a racist and derogatory term, as a historical word, or as a term of endearment.

I can say that I learned from that particular experience, and today I would probably handle it differently. My answer would remain the same, but I would want to explain why nigga or nigger is not a term of endearment.

The word nigger is actually derived from the Latin word for the color black: niger. It wasn't until 1837 when Hosea Easton, a famous author, established that the term was "employed to impose contempt upon [Blacks] as an inferior race … "

The N-word has its roots as a derogatory term and has always been used throughout history as a hurtful epithet. Nigger is a term that is rooted in hatred and has been used to belittle blacks or degrade African American culture. Nigger still inflicts pain and is still an insult when implied to people of all kinds of oppressed heritages. People sometimes forget the labels "Niggers of Europe" and "Niggers of the Middle East" were used in reference to people of Irish and Middle Eastern descent by Anglo-American supremacists. Those labels also have been used to demean people from those cultures, invoking nothing but hatred and ignorance.

Unfortunately, in modern society, young people have abused and exploited the word. The reality is that blacks shouldn't use it when addressing their black friends with ease in the presence of people from other backgrounds because it transforms the word into a friendly name, and others can then rationalize using the term nigger casually.

A few months ago, I read a story about poor whites who are increasingly referring to one another as "niggers" or "white nigga trash" to inflict the lowest of insults on each other. There is also controversy surrounding Hispanic and Latino students who call their black friends "niggaz" because they are minorities and feel that it's alright. After Jennifer Lopez recorded her hit, "I'm Real," the African American community was outraged about Lopez's use of the term nigger in her song. In the midst of the quarrel with Ms. Lopez, it seems the black community suddenly forgot about all the black artists who use nigger like it's the time of day. If the public is going to criticize Ms. Lopez for her use of the term nigger then they should also lament the many black entertainers -- particularly rappers -- that insert nigger into their music.

Back in the 70s, Saturday Night Live comedian Richard Pryor was featured in a skit called "That Nigger's Crazy." Today, the popular comedian Chris Rock opens one of his best-known skits with, "I love Black people, but I hate Niggers." Both of these black comedians have been subject to criticism for playing on the N-word in their skits, yet they receive only a fraction of the criticism that Whites receive when using the term nigger in public. Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia (a former Ku Klux Klan member) made a remark in March 2001 and got into trouble for saying that "he had seen a lot of white niggers in [his] time." His comment raised eyebrows, and nearly destroyed his public reputation. Why did the public react differently?

Too many young people believe that derogatory terms have different meanings depending on who's saying them. But regardless of who's calling who a derogatory term, even if someone is degrading their own ethnic group, the use of any derogatory term outside of the classroom is hurtful. When someone who has been called a nigger in the past uses the word in reference to themselves and others, they seem to think it is empowering. Teens feel that giving the term a new meaning will enable them to use it without invoking its old derogatory meaning, but it doesn't. In a similar way, gays and lesbians have reclaimed terms like "queer" and "fag," and women have referred to their female counterparts as "bitches" and "hos." How can degrading oneself really be empowering? How can it be a display of one's solidarity with others of the same gender, racial or sexual status?

Related Articles About the N-Word

The N-word is Nasty! --
Considering the N-Word --
Teacher's Lesson on 'N' word Angers Parents --
The N-word: Black Britons Speak -- The Guardian Unlimited (UK)
The N-Word -- Independent Weekly
Can We De-fang the N-word? -- USA Today
In my opinion, the word nigger and other derogatory terms have no place as an epithet in American society or in the entertainment business. All people, regardless of their race, should avoid using nigger especially when it is unnecessary. It is hateful, shameful and a disgrace to all when it is used unintelligently.

But is there an intelligent way to use the word nigger? Randall Kennedy, a Professor at Harvard University Law School, has a lot to say about that. His book, entitled Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, documents many court cases involving the term nigger, including the controversies surrounding the use of the word in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a required book in many high school English classes.

While ignorant use of the word nigger is hurtful, destructive and racist, it is a word that has a place in our history and culture should not be censored when used for academic purposes.

Candace Coleman, 16, is a student at Marymount High School in Los Angeles.

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