Natasha Scott, a Maryland high school senior filling out university applications, is facing a pretty interesting dilemma, and one less common than would might assume. Scott is one of many multiracial high school seniors currently wondering how to most accurately, or most beneficially, classify themselves ethnically.
Scott has one Asian-American parent and one African-American parent, placing her in a relatively unique position. Scott laments on the potential consequences of committing to one race classification or another:
“I just realized that my race is something I have to think about,” she wrote, describing herself as having an Asian mother and a black father. “It pains me to say this, but putting down black might help my admissions chances and putting down Asian might hurt it.”
This New York Times article and Natasha Scott’s situation effectively sheds light on the shortcomings of affirmative action policies. Affirmative action, a political mindset that comes from a legitimate and helpful desire for fairness and racial/ethnic equality, appears to have come full-circle. The policies designed to allow those racial and ethnic minorities that were unfairly discriminated against are now working to discriminate against other minorities. What makes one minority more in need of legitimate preferential treatment than another?
Times columnists Susan Saulny and Jacques Steinberg, who put together this article highlighting Scott’s dilemma, rightly point out the problem these multiracial students might pose to admissions officials seeking to fill ethnic quotas while keeping cost in mind.
Some scholars worry that the growth in multiracial applicants could further erode the original intent of affirmative action, which is to help disadvantaged minorities. For example, families with one black parent and one white parent are on average more affluent than families with two black parents. When choosing between two such applicants, some universities might lean toward the multiracial student because he will need less financial aid while still counting toward affirmative-action goals.
In the era of vicious budget slashing, admissions departments will understandably be forced to keep costs to a minimum while affirmative action proponents won’t grow any quieter. The ultimate consequence of this combination could what Saulny and Steinberg warn of.
The goal of affirmative action should be to, as effectively as possible, equalize college admissions systems without disadvantaging any social or ethnic group.
“How do we include multiracials in our view of an egalitarian society and not do it in a way that disadvantages other groups?” said Ulli K. Ryder, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University.