RACIAL PREFERENCES IN UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS: AN EVIL OR A BLESSING?
One of the factors that sparked off violent opposition to Sinhala rule was
the policy of "Racial Preference" . Sinhalese students grades were upgraded
to allow them preferred prospects of getting into the University. Thus they
gained more University entrants than they would have, if admissions had been
on merit. The unquestioned victims of that policy were the Tamils, with the
Muslims a very close second.
The same problem has resurfaced in the United States in the two cases
involving admission to the University of Michigan's Law and undergraduate
schools. The University's policy of admissions to law school was found to be
constitutional; the policy of admissions to the undergraduate school was
not. What does all this mean to us and what position should we as Tamils
take in this sea of whirling controversy?
What the decisions boiled down to was this: racial preferences on quotas
was not constitutional [60% for whites, 10 for blacks%, the balance for
It has been found that most Americans, from both the majority and the
minorities were opposed to 'racial preferences' In 1996, the State of
California, by a two thirds majority abolished racial preferences in their
state. Two years later, voters in Washington followed suit. So instead of
going the direct route and saying that there was a national 'compelling
interest' in favor of upholding racial preferences, they justified it under
an 'ineffective disguise' [to quote Justice Ruth Ginsburg]
The majority of the court, based their decision on the assumption that
'racial diversity' improves the quality of higher education in universities.
To achieve that goal, the law school's admission policy passed muster
because it engaged in a "highly individualized, holistic review of all
applicants," a function the undergraduate school could not and did not do,
because of the number of applicants involved. With bigotry an ever
decreasing feature of American life, the old justifications for 'racial
preferences' were losing their punch. Racial preferences which were
justified in 1978 in Bakke, was considerably reduced in the Hopwood
decision involving University of Texas in 1996. While there is this move
away from openly embracing and justifying racial preferences as a basis for
admissions, the bottom line is that these decisions uphold the concept in a
disguised form. As Justice Ruth Ginsburg asked, "why should 'race
preferences' not be openly and candidly supported, rather than be embraced
covertly in the ineffective disguise of 'individualized' assessments?" The
reason is the concept with its drawbacks is not popular.
The irony of the justification given for validating the majority decision
was that a study of the students in the University of Michigan had showed
that 'diversity' had a negative rather than a positive impact on campus.
This by some blatant and inexplicable oversight, was never brought to the
attention of the court. There was no scientific or researched basis for the
courts assumption that 'diversity' enhances education by engendering
understanding and encouraging interaction between racial groups. It, in
fact, fostered an opposite reaction.
How one might ask does any form of racial preference and racial diversity
have a negative impact on students ? As pointed out by John O'Sullivan in
"National Review," there were two grounds to wit.  There was a mismatch
between the top 10% of the designated minority students with the top 1% of
white and Asian students. The Asians--including us, thank God--were not
included among those designated for preferred treatment. We were judged on
our own merits. The result of this mismatch was that a disproportionately
high percentage of the designated favorites dropped out, while the others
sought to explain their failures on grounds of concealed racism.  The
policy resulted in division and resentment, rather than fostering an
energetic exchange of life's experiences
We as Tamils have been proud of our native intelligence and
accomplishments. Under the British, we learned a foreign language, competed
equally not just with the majority Sinhalese, but very successfully with the
British in their own prestigious Universities at Cambridge & Oxford.
The reason for affirmative action in favor of the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka was
the disproportionately high percentage of Tamils who succeeded in what are
regarded as the hard [if not profitable] disciplines. We had a remarkably
high percentage of success with a remarkably high percentage of homes in
Colombo 7, the cradle of Sri Lanka's elite. We are regarded in this country
as belonging to the top 1% , not the favored 10%. We must hold our heads
up high and act as the equals of the best that we are, rather than cowering
our heads and trudging the path of a downgraded and disgruntled minority. We
are not and should never regard ourselves as such. We are the world's top 1
% and let us keep up our pride and our dignity and maintain that position as
belonging to that elite crew. We refused second class citizenship in Sri
Lanka. We should never yield to it anywhere; and have no reason to.
What in fact is the result of creating a new elite through 'racial
preferences'? The dispassionate outsiders rightly view them as none other
than an "engineered elite"? What became of them after they graduated?
First, they are naturally looked upon with suspicion, which even spreads to
their counterparts who actually graduated on merit. What then does the
government do but create a department of human resources to ensure that
they are not discriminated against by the highly competitive corporate
world. This results in the corporate world creating a Human Resources
Department to ensure that they are not sued for indulging in racial
discrimination. Soon, Human Resources at both levels grow in size and
importance creating new and huge expenditures to protect the newly 'protected
classes.' This spreads from recruitment; to how to run their businesses,
how to advertise; and which sections of the population they must cater to.
The minorities now assume that they have accomplished an entitlement to make
these demands. Corporations cave in to these newly engineered demands for
fear of government interference--rather than to the demands of the market
place. The news coverage gets colored as pointed put by William Mc Govern in
his book "Coloring the News."
It has to be 'politically correct,' a hideous misnomer for being 'fraudulently dishonest.' One
cannot say anything touchy for fear that it will spark off howls of racial discrimination from
protected politicians. Justice Sandra Day O Connor's prediction that in 25 years the need
for racial preferences will disappear is nascent liberal hogwash. It will create instead, a
people with an 'entitlement mentality'; a growing class with an inferiority complex with a
need to demand more with less. The strength of 'self reliance' which has been America's
strength will give way to its becoming a haven for entitlements. This nation could go the
way of the third world, which could be the cause of its ultimate decline. Entitlements cripple
nations by granting benefits they can ill afford. One must make money to give money.
Charity begins with the acquisition of wealth. It does not thrive on poverty. Those with a
background of slavery, sympathized and compensated for it, by those with heartstrings of
gold, may lead to this downfall. Let not desirable social goals override the primary need for
economic development. Socialism is full of human concern without producing the means to
effectuate those concerns. It talks of distribution of existing wealth without offering any
suggestions for enhancing that wealth. It is a heart warming social philosophy with no hard-core
economic insights. Take from the rich and give to the poor, and everybody winds up in the
We as Tamils are aware of the harsh realities of the capitalist system
and realize its grim disadvantages and advantages. A people with an
entitlement mentality, as the Sinhalese have gradually descended to, will
destroy, not upgrade themselves. Let us avoid that pitfall and fight for
equality of opportunity, rather that equality through entitlements. That is
what we fought against and resented in Sri Lanka. Let us continue to do so
Whether we live here or return to 'EELAM' let us partake in uplifting our
nation, not downgrading it. Let us, in the memorable words of President
Kennedy, "Ask not what this country can do for you [entitlements]. Ask what
you can do for this country [self-reliance]."
I remember how when I was a teenager in the forties it was considered
intelligent to be socialist, because that was deemed to be the inevitable
trend of the future. Those of us who did not share this view of the
inevitability of historical trends, would not have been regarded as part of
the 'golden brains' of that era, had our exam and other accomplishments not
proved otherwise. We were reared in the grist of "Tamil self-reliance."
Regardless of family wealth or station, we had to make our own success of
life. We could not, like many of our Sinhalese counterparts, live on our
father's or grandfather's acquisitions and accomplishments.
How the world has turned away from the love affair with the left to the
virtues of the tougher, hard-core right is a reflection of our recognizing
old realities with fresh visions. Life is not a picnic with others throwing
goodies into your picnic basket. It is a tough uphill battle which brings
with it pride of accomplishment and other just rewards.
We should, also, in the words of Sir Robert Boyle, avoid the tendency of
America's left to say "it would surely be better to give up not only a
part, but, if necessary, the whole of our constitution, to preserve the
rest." This is the kind of odd logic that leads to a surrender of
fundamental principles, to do as one wishes. The Supreme Court in violating
the "Equal Protection" clause of the Constitution by interpreting it to
encompass "Racial Preferences", did just that. They distorted and destroyed
the meaning, significance and importance of "Equal Protection" for all.
Those fundamentals enshrined in the U. S. Constitution and other moral codes
of justice are meant to be followed, not played with and twisted to satisfy
one's chosen goals, however moral they may seem. Yielding to morality and
right thinking are not synonymous concepts. They can be at variance with
each other, as they were here.
As Tamils we should scoff at racial preferences, period. It is an evil
never to be extolled. We should know, for we have been its victims. It is
like giving into the "Socialist" inanity of take from the rich and give to
the poor. The result is an avalanche of the rich into the pockets of
poverty; not a tough climb by the poor to the snowcapped mountain peaks of
wealth above. Our policy should be "to each his own," and the nation will
prosper from our efforts. First ask what you can do for yourself. Do not
rely on the nation to do it for you.