Race As A Factor In Receiving Jobs, Grants, And College Acceptance

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:

artist of color

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.


5 Responses

    1. I think the answer lies in knowledge and tech.

      We learn that racism is harmful and wasteful, and we point it out easier now than before thanks to modern connectivity.

      We can try to use laws, but that’s old school as far as I’m concerned.

  1. Author and D. Maurer are both right. Father-in-law ‘knew’ why Sally Ride got to be an astronaut, and every achieving non-white and woman and other officially disadvantaged person carries an albatross: she got in because she was xxxxx!

    As a 14-yr old, my great blessing was to get into Stuyvesant HS [a NYC science-oriented magnet school] on the basis of JHS grades, a several hour test devised and administered by the SHS, and its being an all-boys school, at the time. [It’s been coed since a girl’s parents sued in the ’60s or ’70s.] The teaching was great, the competition was great [Jewish parents make their kids study], and there were no thugs.

    Nobody knew I was a white member of a particular faith. [Still white, but switched in ’59, voluntarily, to my late wife’s church.] Four years later, a SHS classmate joined a Pentecostal church on his block because Columbia U. then had a maximum admissions quota for Catholics. Cornell didn’t ask my religion.

  2. Demetria Williams

    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. – See more at: http://theperiphery.areavoices.com/2015/04/17/race-as-a-factor-in-receiving-jobs-grants-and-college-acceptance/#sthash.hhBZ3m1B.dpuf

    Understanding that the mystical “leg up” is there due to a significant imbalance of stolen resources. Generations of work force stolen and depleted. There are many that are qualified but it is also a way of continuing to allow for small margins to be accepted if you can see the flip side. How many young men can dunk a ball? How many make it to the NBA? My daughter is 2nd in her class but on the waiting list for her college because there are only a few slots qualified or not. This is an important show of how ridiculous the system is but they (European/Arab Business who stole the laborers) DO NOT WANT the flood gates open because there are plenty waiting…… qualified…..

  3. c.wall

    Just think, if all the time, money and effort to define this or that form or racism-subconscious, subliminal, overt, etc. etc., had been spent analyzing how people succeed or prosper we’d all be happier. On a national level our culture’s doing the opposite of what any good counselor would tell a dysfunctional family: Don’t obsess about the failures, don’t hold grudges, don’t always bring up what went wrong. Encourage one another. It’s like the old song, “Ya gotta accentuate the positive, decentuate the negative, latch onto to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between.” Wise words.

    Obsessing over racism seems to disregard human and animal nature. Small children LOVE to be around other small children. I have a whippet (a slim racing dog) and have been to many dog shows. Over time, I realized whippets can distinguish and prefer being around other whippets. They tolerate greyhounds. They can’t abide those goofy slobbery dog-dogs, like boxers or goldens, haha. Much of what we lament is the crux of Cassius’ counsel to Brutus, In Shakespeare’s play,

    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

    Historian/social commentator Charles Murray writes in “Coming Apart,” about how American society has dramatically changed since WWII. He compares his childhood growing up near Des Moines, Iowa, I think. The editor of the newspaper, the CEO of the biggest business in town, the fireman and a teacher all lived on the same street. That’s not the case today. The CEO now lives in a gated community. The teacher might live in a condo and the fireman lives on the wrong, poorer side of the tracks. Murray attributes this to societal changes, brought about by the spawning of a new educated elite, and the blue collar disconnect from its rich, intricate social network of the past, the Lions Club, VFW’s, and churches.

    The truly onerous aspect of obsessing with racism and discrimination, is it constipates real conversation, which makes it the most destructive and invidious form of censorship.

    Brandon, kudos for your curiosity and concern in writing this post. Thank you.

What say you?