Pius Uzamere and Jacob Faber’s response to my earlier article [“Affirmative Action and Human Psychology”, Oct. 5] opens to further debate many points about affirmative action and other diversity outreach programs. Their article contains several interesting ideas, and they are to be commended for bringing a new and experienced perspective to what is a very polarizing issue in order to stimulate good debate. However, upon reading their thoughts on my article, I notice that several of my arguments were misunderstood or misinterpreted, and it is in the interest of good debate to correct these misconceptions. In addition, I respectfully disagree with many of their conclusions, and I hope to show that there is middle ground to be had on the matter.
It should first be noted that Uzamere and Faber are in complete agreement with my main argument -- to use their words, that “there are poor implementations in existence... [and that] these implementations are the exception, not the norm.” This is precisely the point upon which my original article is based, where I argued that the existence of any exceptions casts a doubt over the whole body of qualified minorities.
Uzamere and Faber voice concern that my ideas support the acceptance of discrimination or imply that affirmative action recipients are intrinsically less skilled. Nothing could more poorly represent my ideas. In my original article, I stated with my tennis metaphor that, “I was as good a player as anyone else,” the implication being that I affirm the talent of minorities to be intrinsically equal to that of non-minorities. I also stated that it was difficult to provide the positive side of affirmative action without, “causing all the harm of which I have spoken,” implying that the shreds of doubt that greet the talents of recipients of affirmative action are harmful and unfortunate. Uzamere’s and Faber’s interpretation were not what I had intended.
Uzamere and Faber rightly point out that everyone at MIT deserves to be here -- our hard work is one of our communal strengths. Uzamere and Faber rightly imply that affirmative action should be designed towards eventual dismantlement -- as they imply when they say it remains necessary in the near term. Their concerns about minorities’ talents being immediately greeted with doubt are legitimate -- we should never make assumptions about people we don’t know, or scrutinize strangers’ talents based on performance and not skin color. But the fact remains that as long as any “exceptions” exist, there will be doubt, and any analysis of affirmative action would be incomplete if one did not consider the inevitable harm caused by these doubts.