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The Racelighting Arguments Against Affirmative Action

Alright, my friends, I've gotten so many requests for my opinion on the Supreme Court's decision to end affirmative action at U.S. Colleges and Universities, especially from my past international students. I've realized that most people don't know what affirmative action is, primarily due to deliberate misinformation. So let's dig into what affirmative action is - and is not - all about.

Affirmative action is a set of policies and practices designed to level the playing field and promote equal opportunities for historically marginalized groups. We're talking about the areas of education, employment, and business. The whole idea is to address the effects of past discrimination and create a more inclusive society.

Now, when it comes to college admissions, affirmative action is all about considering a person's race or ethnicity as one factor among many when deciding who gets in. The goal here is to boost the representation of underrepresented groups that have faced disadvantages in the past.

So, here's the deal: Affirmative action doesn't mean quotas or automatic acceptance based solely on race or ethnicity. It's about taking a holistic view of applicants and considering a range of factors like academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal experiences, and, yes, race or ethnicity as one piece of the puzzle.

Affirmative action has more than its fair share of controversy. It's been debated and scrutinized, especially in the good ol' U.S. of A. But the facts are the facts! Affirmative action does not mean you get into a school just because you're black - at the expense of a 'white, more qualified' person. It means you were more than qualified to get into the school on merit, but would probably have been bypassed due to systemic bias and/or impediments, and one of the factors used to consider your admission was your race. Anyone (including the Supreme Court) who says otherwise is racially gaslighting…or racelighting you!

Racelighting refers to the act of gaslighting based on one's race or ethnicity, where experiences of racism or discrimination are denied, trivialized, distorted, or blamed upon the individual. It’s the process where individuals of color begin to doubt their own thoughts and experiences due to consistent exposure to race-related messages that invalidate their lived realities with racism. Unlike gaslighting, which involves intentionally invalidating someone's experiences, racelighting specifically involves racialized messages that make Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) question themselves.

These messages often reinforce harmful stereotypes that suggest people of color are academically inferior, less capable, morally lacking, or of lesser value. It's important to note that while gaslighting is usually intentional, racelighting can occur both intentionally and unintentionally, depending on the intentions of the individuals involved (Wood & Harris III, 2021).

The impact of racelighting can be profound, causing individuals to question their own worth, abilities, and experiences of racism. It reflects a systemic issue where racialized messages are perpetuated, leading to self-doubt and internalized racism among marginalized communities. Recognizing, and challenging racelighting, is crucial when responding to critics of affirmative action.

So, these are five common racelighting views against affirmative action, and the truth in response to them:

Racelight #1 - Affirmative Action Leads to Reverse Discrimination:

Critics argue that by considering race or ethnicity as a factor in college admissions or employment, it can disadvantage individuals from non-minority groups who may be equally or even more qualified.

The Truth:

  • Fact: Affirmative action policies do not involve the intentional (or unintentional) exclusion or discrimination against individuals from non-minority groups. Instead, they aim to create equal opportunities for historically marginalized groups.

  • Fact: Studies have shown that affirmative action does not lead to significant reverse discrimination. Research conducted by sociologist Frank Dobbin and his colleagues at Harvard University found that workplace affirmative action policies had little to no negative impact on white employees.

  • Fact: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has noted that affirmative action policies should not involve quotas or set-asides, and they should not result in reverse discrimination against individuals from non-minority groups.

  • Fact: According to a study published in the Harvard Law Review, white applicants not admitted to selective colleges are typically rejected based on other factors, such as their academic credentials, extracurricular activities, or personal qualities, rather than solely due to their race.

  • Fact: A U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that schools with higher percentages of Black or Hispanic students generally had fewer resources, such as experienced teachers, advanced courses, and extracurricular activities.

Racelight #2 - Affirmative Action Undermines the Principle of Meritocracy:

Critics contend that college admissions or hiring decisions should be solely based on an individual's qualifications, skills, and achievements rather than considering factors like race or ethnicity. They argue that the best way to achieve diversity is through a color-blind, merit-based approach.

The Truth:

  • Fact: Affirmative action does not eliminate merit-based considerations in college admissions or employment. It simply adds another factor, such as race or ethnicity, to the holistic evaluation process.

  • Fact: Research conducted by Princeton University economists found that affirmative action policies have a minimal impact on the qualifications of admitted students. The study showed that, on average, affirmative action only slightly lowers the average SAT scores of admitted students, indicating that qualifications still play a significant role.

  • Fact: Individuals from underrepresented groups must meet the qualifying standard to be considered, so no unqualified individuals reap the benefits of affirmative action.

  • Fact: Color blindness suggests that race should not be considered a factor in college admissions, disregarding the historical and ongoing inequalities faced by marginalized racial and ethnic groups. It fails to recognize that systemic barriers and discrimination still exist, leading to disparities in educational and employment opportunities.

  • Stats Alert: A color-blind approach has led to the following: Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that in 2019, the median income for white households was approximately 70% higher than that of Black households and 40% higher than that of Hispanic households.

Racelight #3 - Affirmative Action Can Lead to Stigmatization and Tokenism:

Critics claim that individuals who benefit from affirmative action may face doubts about their qualifications, as their success could be attributed solely to their race or ethnicity rather than their abilities. This can create an environment where individuals are viewed as tokens or diversity checkboxes, rather than being recognized for their true talents and achievements.

The Truth:

  • This may be true in isolated cases, but the vast majority of affirmative action students are proud of their status because they are fully aware that the law requires them to have exceeded the academic qualification standard of admission at a minimum.

  • Fact: Students admitted through affirmative action policies often go on to achieve great success in their careers and become influential alumni. These alumni networks contribute to the university's reputation, resources, and support systems, benefiting current and future generations of students. These students are celebrated, and tokens they are not!

  • Fact: Affirmative action aims to combat stereotypes and promote diversity. It recognizes the talents and qualifications of individuals from underrepresented groups, rather than reducing them to tokens.

  • Fact: A report by the American Council on Education found that students from underrepresented minority groups who were admitted through affirmative action programs had similar graduation rates as their peers, indicating that they were able to thrive academically.

  • Stats Alert: Research published in The Journal Psychological Science showed that exposure to diverse perspectives and interactions with individuals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds foster critical thinking skills and promote cognitive development.

  • Fact: A study published in the journal Research in Higher Education found that students who engage with peers from diverse backgrounds report higher levels of satisfaction, greater personal growth, and improved communication and interpersonal skills.

Racelight #4 - Affirmative Action was Initially Intended as a Temporary Remedy to Historical Discrimination but Has Become a Permanent Policy:

Some critics believe that the policy has outlived its purpose and that society has made significant progress in reducing discrimination, making affirmative action unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The Truth:

  • Fact: In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 applied to federal contractors. This order required them to take affirmative action to ensure equal employment opportunities for everyone, regardless of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

  • Fact: In 1978, the Supreme Court took on the case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. This case was a game-changer! The Court ruled that universities could consider race as one of many factors in their admissions process.

  • Fact: Fast forward to more recent times. In 2003, another landmark case, Grutter v. Bollinger, further affirmed the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education. And then, in 2016, we had Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, where the Court once again upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions, with certain conditions, of course.

  • None of these cases suggested that affirmative action was meant as a ‘temporary solution.’

  • Fact: Discrimination and inequality still persist in virtually all aspects of society. Affirmative action continues to be relevant as a tool for promoting diversity and equal opportunity.

  • Fact: Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that racial and ethnic disparities in educational attainment and enrollment rates still exist, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to address these inequities.

  • Stats Alert: We can't ignore the gaps in college enrollment and representation. In 2019, even though Black students comprised around 14% of high school graduates, their undergraduate enrollment at four-year institutions was only about 9%. Similarly, Hispanic students represented about 25% of high school graduates but accounted for only around 19% of undergraduate enrollment.

  • Stats Alert: According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2019, the high school graduation rate for white students was 88%, compared to 79% for Black students and 81% for Hispanic students.

Racelight #5 - Affirmative Action Perpetuates Inequality and Unintended Consequences:

Critics argue that affirmative action can perpetuate inequality by focusing on race or ethnicity rather than addressing underlying socio-economic factors that contribute to disparities in educational opportunities. They contend that resources should be directed towards improving access to quality education and addressing socio-economic disadvantages, rather than using race-conscious policies.

The Truth:

  • Fact: Affirmative action addresses both race and socio-economic factors. It acknowledges that individuals from underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds often face additional challenges due to historical and systemic discrimination.

  • Fact: A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that affirmative action policies have a positive impact on college enrollment rates for underrepresented groups, especially in institutions with selective admissions processes.

  • Stats Alert: According to data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, minority enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased between 1976 and 2019. Specifically, the percentage of Black students enrolled in colleges and universities increased from 8% in 1976 to 15% in 2019.

  • Stats Alert: A study published in the Journal of Labor Economics reinforced this fact with similar results.

  • Fact: A study published in the journal Sociology of Education found that racial and ethnic minority students are more likely to attend schools with fewer resources, lower-quality teaching, and higher student-to-teacher ratios.


The truth of the matter is that most "experts" who present these arguments against the validity and effectiveness of affirmative action are fully aware of the truth, the reality, the facts, and the statistics that clearly show the opposite. But they present the arguments anyway, and present their skewed perspectives as facts. It is even more cynical when the person presenting the argument is their own empirical evidence, meaning they are the embodiment of a successful recipient of affirmative action. This is the definition of gaslighting…in this case, racial gaslighting, or racelighting.

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1 Comment

Douglas Brunton
Douglas Brunton
Jul 08, 2023

I enjoyed reading this. Concise and direct.

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