Is Affirmative Action “Microaggressive”?

For those searching frantically for discrimination on campus, the newest culprits are “microaggressions,” described by Heather Mac Donald in “The Microaggression Farce” as affronts or insults minorities find racist but are so small they are “invisible to the naked eye.” Now, according to a May 5 article at Inside Higher Ed, “more than half of students of color who responded to a survey at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign said they have experienced stereotyping, according to a new report from the university’s Racial Microaggressions Project.”

That study, the Chronicle of Higher Educationreports, found that 51% of the survey respondents claim “they had been victims of racial stereotypes in the classroom” and 39% “reported feeling uncomfortable on campus because of their race.”

It will surprise defenders but not critics of affirmative action to find extensive evidence in the University of Illinois’s report, Racial Microaggressions, that one of the worst microaggressors is … affirmative action.

A few examples:

  • “Assuming that an African American student was admitted to a predominantly or traditionally white institution simply because of Affirmative Action rather than merit is another example of a racial microinsult.”
  • Quote from “a multiracial female”: I was sitting in the library and I overheard other white students discussing admissions and laughing about how the only reason stupid Mexicans could get into this school was due to Affirmative Action. As a student of color, I found it extremely offensive to invalidate the hard work and intelligence of students because of their race. It also made me sad that this view seemed to have been readily accepted by all of the other people in the group, implying that racism is entrenched in many of the students that attend this school.
  • “… students of color reported experiencing racial microaggressions in discussion topics about Affirmative Action” Example given: “One white female student in the discussion inferred that certain stereotypes are true.”

The problem, of course, is that the belief that many minority students would not have been admitted but for their race or ethnicity is, in fact, true at selective universities. Thus one of the reports recommendations — “To have a more informed student body, disseminate accurate information about how, or if, Affirmative Action plays a role in admitting students of color” — is quite ironic. Transparency about the role of race in admissions is one of the leading demands of the critics of affirmative action. If the authors of this report mean what they say here, they should demand that the University of Illinois release data revealing the test scores of applicants and admits by race.

The University of Illinois is not the only institution to jump on the “microaggression” bandwagon. A recent long article summarizing the findings of a similar study by the Voices of Diversity Project at Harvard also found that affirmative action is one of the worst “microaggression” offenders:

  • minority students are blamed for taking longer to graduate “on the grounds that this must be due to their intellectual inferiority and/or their having been admitted under affirmative action programs with allegedly lower standards”;
  • “There is a widespread belief that members of some racial/ethnic minority groups were admitted through affirmative action and thus (through a misunderstanding of affirmative action) are less intelligent than white students…. Students of color’s awareness of the belief, in combination with the effects of stereotype threat, internalized racism, or both, can seriously impede their education.”
  • “the participants who said that someone had suggested outright that they had been admitted only because of affirmative action also constitute a sizeable minority of our interviewees.”
  • La Toya, a black woman, is quoted: “The ways that people look at me, things that teachers say, you know, make me feel like I don’t… people would just kind of flat-out say…that black people got here ‘cause of affirmative action…[and] don’t deserve to be here. …the general campus is mostly white, and…I don’t fit in there.”
  • “Douglas, who is African-American, worries that, because there are so few students of color in his area of study, ‘there may be affirmative action notions applied to us.’”

The “affirmative action notions,” of course, are that many black students would not have been admitted but for their race. Since that is true at virtually all selective universities (though possibly less true at the very most selective such as Harvard), does the belief that it is true qualify as a microaggression

Whether or not the belief that blacks receive preferential treatment via affirmative action constitutes microagression, it is certainly not limited to university campuses, or to white/conservative/racist critics. Yesterday talking head Michelle Bernard observed on MSNBC that neurosurgeon and new Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson “probably went to Yale and University of Michigan for medical school because of affirmative action.” Someone should report her and host Chris Matthews to the microaggression police.


2 thoughts on “Is Affirmative Action “Microaggressive”?

  1. Micro-Aggressions ? . . . . . Micro-Aggressions ?

    Is that a synonym for
    . . . Snarky
    . . . Rude
    . . . Has a Different Point of View
    . . . Doesn’t buy my Krap
    . . . Must acknowledge that ** I ** have the Moral High Ground

  2. People say “you people” only got here via affirmative action quotas”,
    o r do people say YOU only got (and remain, despite status on “the curve”) here via Affirmative Action quotas?
    Of course, when alleged “micro-aggressive” assaults on reinterpreted Affirmative Action have been redefined as
    “unrealized”, “unsaid”, and “subject to an individuals whim of offense” to their ENTIRE chosen “oppressed class identity(s)”, I guess we’ll never know.
    This is the nice thing about “Dear Colleague…”, there’s no silly confusing “micro”, unrealized, or unsaid, concerning the hostility toward a “safe, diverse, learning environment”.

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