America and Affirmative ActionAffirmative action has been the subject of increasing debate and tensionin American society.
However, the debate over affirmative action has becomeensnared in rhetoric that pits equality of opportunity against the equality ofresults. The debate has been more emotional than intellectual, and hasgenerated more tension than shed light on the issue. Participants in the debatehave over examined the ethical and moral issues that affirmative action raiseswhile forgetting to scrutinize the system that has created the need for them.Too often, affirmative action is looked upon as the panacea for a nation onceill with, but now cured of, the virulent disease of racial discrimination.Affirmative action is, and should be seen as, a temporary, partial, and perhapseven flawed remedy for past and continuing discrimination against historicallymarginalized and disenfranchised groups in American society.
Working as itshould, it affords groups greater equality of opportunity in a social contextmarked by substantial inequalities and structural forces that impede a fairassessment of their capabilities.Perhaps the biggest complaint that one hears about affirmative actionpolicies aimed at helping Black Americans is that they violate the 14thAmendment of the Constitution and the Civil Rights laws., The claim is thatthese programs distort what is now a level playing field and bestow preferentialtreatment on understanding minorities because of the color of their skin.
Whilethis view seems very logical on the surface, many contend that it lacks anyhistorical support and is aimed more at preserving existing White privilege thanestablishing equality of opportunity for all. Any cursory look at the historyof this country should provide a serious critique to the idea of a level playingfield. Since the birth of this nation, Blacks have been enslaved, oppressed,and exploited people. Until 1954, when the Supreme Court handed down Brown v.Board, Blacks were legally pushed to the margin of society where many were leftto dwell in poverty and powerlessness.
The Brown decision removed the legalimpediments that had so long kept Blacks in the impoverished peripheral.Despite this long awaited victory for Black Americans, the historic decisionfailed to provide adequate means for the deconstruction of White dominance andprivilege, It merely allowed Blacks to enter the arena of competition. Thisrecognized and established the status quo (White wealth and Black indigence,White employment and Black unemployment, White opportunity and Blackdisenfranchisement) as an acceptable and neutral baseline. Without thedeconstruction of White power and privilege, how can we legitimately claim thatthe playing field is level? Does it not seem more logical and indeed fairer andmore just, to actively deconstruct White privilege, rather than let it existthrough hegemony?Another critique of affirmative action policies is that they stigmatizeand call into question the credentials of the qualified minorities.
Andfurthermore, that this doubt undermines their effectiveness. This has alwaysbeen the most puzzling critique of affirmative action in my mind. Thecredentials, qualifications, character, and even the culture of minorities havealways been in question and stigmatized in this country. When racial categorieswere created, simply being in question and stigmatized in this country. Whenracial categories were created, simply being labeled a minority carried with itquite a slanderous stigma. Even to this day Black Americans combat lingeringracism an stereotypes about their intelligence, tendency toward violence, sexualprowess, etc..
.. The idea that affirmative action policies introduce stigmasthat did not already exist into the life of minorities seems nonsensical. Tothose who claim that this stigma undermines the effectiveness of Blacks becausetheir coworkers will not be cooperative, or because the minority will alwaysdoubt that he or she deserves to be there, I propose that affirmative actionwill only accomplish the continued exclusion of Black Americans fromparticipation within American society and thus further ingrain stereotypes andstigmas.
Another reason that the stigma critique of affirmative action confusesme, is because the discussion is always limited to race and gender basedaffirmative action policies. Where is the discussion about athletes and legacystudents who are accorded preferential treatment in university admissiondecisions on a yearly basis? This focus on gender and race based policies onlyreinforces my point that the stigma minorities face has much more to do withpersistent racism than the deleterious effects on affirmative action.Should affirmative action programs force people to hire unqualifiedminorities? No. But affirmative action programs should cause us as a society tore-evaluate how we access qualifications and how we measure merit. Let usbecome tenure Harvard Law School professors for just a moment. Suppose we havetwo applicants for an open associate professor position.
The first candidate isWhite, a Harvard Law School graduate, has impressive board scores, served aseditor of the Law Review, etc…
, but has never practiced law before. The othercandidate is Black, a Harvard Law School graduate, average board scores, hasexcellent person skills, and practiced law as the county defendant in an inner-city neighborhood. Under the traditional system of merit, the White Harvardgraduate gets the appointment hands down. But under affirmative action policies,the Black Harvard graduate receives the job.
Why is this the optimal situation?The Black lawyer brings non-traditional, but certainly valid, qualifications tothe table that are not recognized under our current system of merit. In fact,common sense suggests that he is as. or even more, qualified to train lawyers ofthe future than his White counterpart. Allowing the Black Harvard graduate tohave the job might very well call into question how we assess the qualificationswe require to be law school professor. This challenge to traditionalqualifications brought about by affirmative action appointments benefits all ofsociety by forcing us be critical of how we assess the nebulous notion of merit.The critics that attack affirmative action are correct when they say thataffirmative action corrupts the purity of the process. Extreme care must betaken in determining who receives affirmative action program benefits and howlong and at what rate they receive them.
I must, also, agree with my criticsthat affirmative action may destroy or motion of a “color-blind” society. But,the rights of Blacks and other minorities to have equal opportunity forces us totake these risks.In short, it has been recommended that broad-based affirmative actionpolicies range from the workplace to the classroom. While they are not perfectand do raise some legitimate ethical concerns, they take us away from a systemthat is inherently unfair to some groups. The active deconstruction of theWhite privilege that grew out of virulent American racism affords Blacks agreater chance at equal opportunity and will have the side effect of forcing usto re-evaluate that unethically and immorally disadvantages minorities.
Theseadvantages outweigh the cost of the risks.