If the comments on the Star Tribune are any indicator, there’s something like a 60/40 split of those who congratulate Minnesotan Munira Khalif for her incredible accomplishment of being accepted to all eight Ivy League schools versus those who are claiming her success as a sign of a problem.
Naturally, many don’t want to hear any negativity around such a feat backed by her accomplishments. Others though, have children with resumes just as impressive and so complain because their child didn’t get accepted into one Ivy League school.
Interestingly, both the supporters and naysayers can use Khalif’s acceptance rate as evidence to make their point.
It’s become a back and forth over whether the applicant got into all these schools because of her accomplishments or because of her race. The Star Tribune editorial board responded to those saying the latter by arguing for the former. But we don’t need to debate whether colleges accept based on background and ethnicity–particularly elite private ones. They do.
The conversation should be about the merit of favoring people for such a factor.
The idea of helping a historically-disadvantaged group is noble and inescapably messy. Like trying to set age limits on a privilege, you’ll inevitably miss the mark by allowing some the permission who shouldn’t and restrict others who should be able to.
Another factor–often forgotten–is that in a world of finite resources, giving a leg up to a certain group of people requires cutting the legs out from another.
Two weeks ago I applied for a writer’s grant from an area foundation. Right in the middle of the application was this question:
Seeing this took the wind out of my sails–quite the opposite reaction of what this foundation was likely going for when offering money to writers. I was discouraged, though, because I knew what this question meant: I was being penalized because of the color of my skin. Never mind my background. Never mind that any number of Asian, black, Middle Eastern, or Latino candidates from privileged families will check “yes” and have a better shot–and perhaps less of a need–for the award than I.
I’m white. Strike one.
Some might say, “Now you know how it feels to be black or brown.” I try to ignore such two-wrongs-make-a-right arguments advocating mistreatment to equal things out. I also thought that if I was anything other than white, that it would cheapen the accomplishment of getting this grant or that scholarship or that job knowing that I was awarded something not because I was the best, but because of a scoring handicap I was deemed to need.
But then a question hit me: Have my own accomplishments always been awarded purely because of my ability?
To the degree that systemic racism is a factor in the U.S. is the degree to which I’ve been able to enjoy such an advantage my whole life.
This realization caused me to look up and stare at the wall for a couple of seconds…
I know I walk around in the U.S. with the privilege of being a man rather than a “black man” or an “Asian man.”
I understand and appreciate why scholarships, grants, and government employers show favoritism due to a person’s race.
I guess I just wish we didn’t have to live in a world where such distinctions need to be made. (What exactly is an “artist of color” anyway?) Maybe I want this ideal rather than face the reality of racism. Nor do I understand how anyone who supports the message of MLK can turn around and support such race-favoring initiatives and policy that literally couldn’t be any more contradictory to what he said about judging a man by his character and not his skin color.
But we do live in a world where race is a factor. And by scaling back, I can see that though getting this grant will be tougher, it’s just one opportunity made so. There are countless others I can pursue, including many that will be easier because of my race. Plus, why not choose to be motivated–rather than discouraged–to put together an extra-strong application?
I hope Munira Khalif similarly disregards any naysayers for her accomplishment and is motivated to prove them wrong about her skin color being the predominant factor in her acceptances. I wish her the best. Not that she needs my wishes. From a browse of her bio, she’s done more with her 18 years as I had done with my first 25.