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TV embodies affirmative action

David Schultz
By David Schultz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
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I'm not exaggerating when I say that I learned everything I know from watching television.

I learned to accept my inner nerd ("Family Matters"), I learned not to cross a temperamental soup chef ("Seinfeld"), and I learned that I shouldn't try to block out the sun with a giant mechanical shade in order to increase the profits of my nuclear power plant ("The Simpsons­").

Most importantly though, I've learned from watching "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne" that the policy of affirmative action based on race is wrong.

"The Cosby Show" is about the ups and downs in the daily lives of the Huxtables, an affluent black family. "Roseanne" is about the ups and downs in the daily lives of the Connors, a working-class white family.

If Theo Huxtable and Darlene Connor, the two main teenagers in "Cosby" and "Roseanne," respectively, actually existed in the world outside of our television sets, which one would you guess would be more likely to go to college, knowing only that Theo is wealthy and black and that Darlene is working class and white?

If you guessed Darlene, you need to stop watching Nick at Nite and start reading the newspaper.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's annual Population Survey on School Enrollment from 2004, only 7 percent of all college students are white and come from households that earn less than $40,000 per year.

In contrast, 13 percent of all college students are nonwhite and come from households that earn more than $40,000 per year.

This means that it's more likely that a wealthy nonwhite teenager will enroll in college than a nonwealthy white teenager.

So then why is the American higher educational system still operating under a policy - affirmative action - that assumes it's harder for someone like Theo Huxtable to get into college than it is for someone like Darlene Connor?

This might have been the case 40 years ago; today, it couldn't be further from the truth.

There's no doubt that, before the policy of affirmative action was introduced, the process of college admissions was implicitly and sometimes even explicitly racist.

But now, thanks to the introduction of anti-discrimination laws in the 1960s as well as America's attitudes toward race changing for the better, discrimination based solely on race in the college admissions process is extinct.

An example of this is the aforementioned U.S. Census Bureau report, which states that in 1967 only 8 percent of all students enrolled in college were nonwhite. In 2002, that number was 21 percent.

All things being equal, nonwhite students have exactly the same opportunities to enroll in higher education as their white counterparts.

Of course, all things are not equal. One factor in college enrollment that, unfortunately, still remains important is economic status. The U.S. Census Bureau report from 2004 stated that only 18 percent of all students enrolled in college came from households that earned less than $40,000 per year.

What this means is that affirmative action based on race is wrong because it assumes that all minorities, both rich and poor, need assistance in getting into college.

The truth is that all people in the lower economic classes, of every race, gender and creed, need assistance in accessing higher education. The policy of affirmative action misses the mark because it does not acknowledge this vital fact.

Instead of trying to racially diversify their student bodies, university enrollment administrators should be trying to economically diversify their student bodies by targeting lower class students for recruitment and by exponentially increasing their need-based scholarships.

As it stands now, financially disadvantaged students can't afford to get the education they need in order to rise above their class caste, and this creates a de facto American aristocracy by giving poor people no other option but to stay poor.

Only when universities change their admissions priorities to target not race but wealth (or rather, the lack thereof) will the U.S. finally live up to the democratic principle upon which it was founded, that anyone can succeed regardless of the class into which one is born into, but which it has never fully realized.

Until then, the Theo Huxtables of this country will continue receiving the unnecessary aid in the form of affirmative action that the Darlene Connors of the country so desperately need.

David Schultz is a senior majoring in political science and philosophy. He can be reached at

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