An all-too common complaint about assertive anti-racism; that is, taking steps to correct for injustices borne of systemic racism – like affirmative action programs or race-based scholarships – is that it ends up putting white people at a disadvantage. After all, if there are two people going for the same spot, whether it be a job or a university admission slot, and one of them is a visible minority, affirmative action policies discriminate against someone whose only crime was being born white.
Everyone and her brother has a story of a cousin’s friend or aunt’s next-door neighbour who lost out on a job ze was qualified before because it instead went to a less-qualified person of colour (PoC). If we are trying to do away with racism, why is it that it’s okay for the system to be racist against whites? Aren’t we sacrificing the future of white people on the altar of correcting historical injustice? When do we stop over-correcting?
I’ve actually heard some say that the scales are tipped against white people, since there aren’t any scholarships given out for being white, and with the huge raft of race-based scholarships, qualified white students just can’t seem to compete. It certainly seems as though a large swath of white people in the United States feel as though it’s now tougher to be white than black. How can whites hope to compete when bleeding heart liberals have put all the opportunities in the hands of minorities?
While I can appreciate the appeal of these arguments, the facts tell quite another story:
Kantrowitz crunched data (PDF) from both the 2003-04 and 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which showed that white students are 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships than non-white students.
White students, even those who “have no demonstrated financial need,” are also at an advantage when it comes to receiving funding directly from universities. Kantrowitz found that they get more than 76 percent “of all institutional merit-based scholarship and grant funding, even though they represent” less than 62 percent of the student population.
Mark Kantrowitz actually bothered to test these claims, and as it turns out white students actually still receive more than their fair share (by number) of scholarships. He also found numerous examples of ‘whites only’ scholarships (and a number of nationality-based scholarships for people of European descent), but we’ll leave that one alone for now. What’s worth noting is that the claim that the majority of scholarships go to dark-skinned students is not even close to true – to the contrary in fact.
The data analyzed came from national survey of more than 114,000 undergraduate and 14,000 graduate students across the United States, based on how they paid for school:
As you can see from the table above, while 5.5% of students received any scholarships at all, a disproportionate amount (6.1%) were white. Put another way, while white students represent 62%of the student population surveyed, they received 65% of the total funding. If liberals had truly done away with all sense of fairness, the chart would look quite different – with white students getting a slice of the pie much smaller than their numbers would suggest.
The relationship between race and scholarship gets much more polarized when you break it down further, which the study does:
This table shows that even for needs-based federal Pell grants, white students are favoured over PoC students (with the exception of Asian and Native American students – perhaps two discussions for another time). Theoretically, even if the scholarships were skewed against PoC students because of things like ability to participate in extracurricular activities, the needs-based grants would even things out. That appears not to be the explanation either.
Even when only considering students with exceptional grades – those students who arguably are the most ‘qualified’ for post-secondary positions, we see the same effect. White students, representing 70% of the high-achieving population, receive 72% of total scholarship funding, meaning that even merit-based scholarships are given disproportionately to white students. This fact, when considered in terms of dollars per grade, means that PoC students have to achieve a 0.25 higher GPA to be on equal footing with a white student. If that student is black, incidentally, that achievement gap widens to 0.40 GPA (which is scored on a scale of 4.0 – basically you’ve got to be 10% better to qualify if you’re black).
“But Crommunist,” I can hear you saying “surely the individual schools give entrance scholarships that balance this out. After all, my mailman’s wife’s best friend has a son that didn’t get an entrance scholarship because it went to all the Latinos!” Well, let’s take a look, shall we?
Scholarships given out by individual universities, at least those based on merit (I assume this means grades, primarily) are even more skewed towards white students, with the 62% of white students receiving nearly 76% of the funding.
The study goes into much greater detail – too much to really put in the space of one blog post, but the TL/DR version is as follows:
Overall, merit-based grants tend to disproportionately select for Caucasian students. This is compensated somewhat by the distribution of need-based grants according to race, since minority students tend to be less affluent than Caucasian students. Shifting funding from merit-based grants to need-based grants will yield more balance in the distribution of grants according to race, but it will not entirely compensate for private scholarships that collectively demonstrate implicit preferences for Caucasian students.
Many of these differences did not seem monumentally skewed against PoC students. While white students receive a disproportionately large slice of the pie, it is not exactly twisted beyond all semblance of fairness. I’m sure that with a few tweaks and an increase in the number of need-based scholarships we can see a more balanced picture. That’s not the point, though. There are a lot of people who believe, in their heart of hearts, that white people are now receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to things like college placement. The truth is precisely the opposite.
It is for this reason that I advocate folding racism into the list of skeptical topics. Claims about racism, particularly claims about “reverse racism”, are testable and subject to evaluation using evidence-based techniques. There is nothing magical about race that means that it should be free of scrutiny, and it
arguably demonstrably causes more harm than belief in UFOs or reiki. Skeptics are the perfect people to be examining these topics, and the sooner we do, the easier the transition to a fairer society becomes.
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