There’s a better way to cultivate minority excellence than affirmative action

This article originally appeared in Washington Examiner, dated June 07th, 2019.

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Affirmative action has always been controversial, because working people are generally reluctant to lower their standards to facilitate a social goal, even if they believe that goal is a good one.

According to Gallup, 61% of Americans favor the concept of affirmative action. But only 33%actually believe that minorities should receive “preferential treatment” to facilitate the goal of increased minority achievement. Obviously, the vast majority of Americans want to see poorer minority communities uplifted — but they’re also unwilling to compromise equal standards to get there.

Luckily, we don’t have to. 

The African American businessman Robert Smith has a plan to help minority students compete on the merits of their own skill and ability. His program is called InternX, and its mission is to funnel African American and Hispanic students into internships and apprenticeships that will inspire them, teach key skills, and build greater confidence before they enter the job market. 

InternX will partner with companies to help underrepresented minority students receive guidance and interviews for STEM internships. Partnering companies will receive access to vast databases of minority students deemed qualified in their fields. 

Smith envisioned this idea after hearing the complaints of major companies who “want more black and Hispanic interns but … can’t find top-notch candidates.” In many instances, the problem isn’t that companies aren’t seeking diverse talent, but that there’s a dearth of qualified minority candidates. 

After all, underrepresented minorities make up only 9% of top computer science graduates. So it’s no surprise that even when tech companies set goals to hire a certain number of minorities, they frequently miss their targets. 

That’s why affirmative action alone is no solution, and why Smith is laying out an alternative way to cultivate minority excellence through InternX. This service is sorely needed: A survey of working college students found that 43% of them found their internship opportunity through family connections. Connections matter, and many minority students don’t have them.

Meanwhile, Smith’s initiative gets at the source of the problem: the failure of our public schools to teach underprivileged students professional skills.

In the state of Georgia, for example, 85% of employers are very concerned with workers’ “employability skills”: soft skills, work ethic, and business initiative. Many of them feel that schools are not adequately preparing workers to find and compete for jobs. 

Race-based affirmative action is not the solution to this problem. It will only mask the issue at hand and drive discussion away from the real causes of underrepresented minority achievement in the workforce. And people simply don’t support preferential treatment. 

Yet, while Smith’s philanthropic initiative is admirable, applying it on a large scale through the federal government would raise a whole host of other issues. Namely, how involved do you really want the federal government with private enterprise and labor? It may be that this type of solution must come from the private sector and be driven by civil society, not bureaucrats in Washington. 

But the larger point is that affirmative action is not the only way to achieve minority excellence. Rather, many promising minority students can succeed on their own — if they’re just given the right opportunity.

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