Affirmative Action Morally Justifiable in a Race-Conscious Society
Affirmative action morally justifiable in a race-conscious society A common belief for most opponents of affirmative action is that it makes qualifications and experience secondary to race and is thus, “unfair to those whose superior qualifications are bypassed” (Sher 81). It merely takes away opportunity from one race, gives it to another and results in reverse discrimination. However, we live in a society where race is already used as a decision making factor in various aspects of daily life.
The use of race as a decision making factor manifests itself as personal biases, which typically influences the life of minorities in a negative way. Thus, in a race-conscious society, affirmative action is morally right because it inverts the societal norm of viewing race negatively, while compensating for people’s natural tendencies to discriminate. Both Sher and Scanlon explicitly state that past discriminations should be ignored if one is to create a strong pro-affirmative action argument. Nonetheless, history needs to be taken into account in order to give my pro-affirmative action argument context.
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I will not be arguing, however, that affirmative action is a means to correct or compensate for past wrongs. I will argue that the mindset of the past manifest itself today as a societal norm, which negatively influence the minority. In my argument, whites represent the majority and blacks represent the minority. All minorities should benefit from affirmative action, not just blacks specifically, but since black and white are the racial groups oftentimes used when dealing with racial issues, I will use these two groups as well. Historically, some groups of people have been viewed, and thus treated, inferiorly.
The most well known group of people to experience this type of treatment is African Americans. It is common knowledge that slavery was an extremely dehumanizing practice where the self-worth of blacks was marginalized on a daily basis because society viewed being black as indicative of inferiority. However, even after the abolition of slavery, other laws were passed to keep blacks in a state of inferiority. For example, the doctrine “separate but equal,” allowed whites to legally segregate the public school systems based on race. The only stipulation was that the schools had to be equal, which history disproves.
The black schools did not have many resources that the white schools possessed, such as heat, updated materials and transportation (Separate But Equal). Thus, even after emancipation, blacks were made to feel inferior – in some states by law, and by social practice almost everywhere else. Scanlon states that “people’s beliefs about the abilities of members of a group are strongly shaped by what they have seen such people do in the past,” but I extend this belief further by stating that remnants of past societal beliefs influence the modern day mindset (Scanlon par. 2). In other words, the belief that dark skin color is indicative of inferiority is an ingrained mindset from slavery that has carried over to today. Beliefs about a group’s supposed inferiority is clearly seen in middle schools and high schools where race is a factor that is used to determine which track a student should follow. A track is a series of courses with ultimately two skill levels: a low track, which consists of mediocre courses and a high track, which is composed of higher courses, such as honors and AP course work.
In many schools around the country personal biases about the capability of a certain group of students (i. e. , students of color) leads to the students being directed into the lower tracks. These personal biases stem from the societal mindset about these certain groups of people. While in the lower track, the students are deemed as “slow” learners, so the teacher uses basic vocabulary to address these students, does not call on them to answer questions even when their hands are raised and instead of actually providing them with assistance when they have questions, the answers to the questions are just given to them.
In other words, a preconceived notion that the students would not be able to perform at the same level as the other students in the class because of some ascribed characteristic (i. e. , race), manifests itself in the teaching of these “deficient” students. Then when these students have to take standardized tests in order to be admitted into universities, they will not have been exposed to the material needed to score well on these tests.
Additionally, inner city schools are usually overcrowded, lack sufficient number of materials for all students, teach from dated materials and do not have the latest technologies. Statistics are not needed to prove that inner city schools are composed mostly of racial minorities because it is a fact. I am not saying that suburban schools also do not face issues such as overcrowding and not having enough materials for their students, but these issues are uncommon for suburban schools and are usually remedied in a timely fashion. This is not the case for the inner city schools.
The state and government does not respond quickly to these issues because of the racial composition of the school. These are students who people view as not having the capability to perform well in the first place, so fixing these problems will not change the fact that these students lack this capability. This is also the reason why inner city schools are affected the most when the government has to cut educational funding. Before the funding of the suburban schools is even considered, programs and funding to the inner city schools are cut first.
Thus, when it comes to standardized tests for example, a minority student from an inner city school who is learning from outdated materials can only being outdated knowledge to an up-to-date exam. There is no way that this student can fairly compete with his suburban counterpart using only the knowledge taught to him from his inner city schooling. This cycle, fueled by a mindset that views race as a negative characteristic, sets the minority student up for failure every time. Like these previous two practices, affirmative action also uses race as a deciding factor.
When an institution of higher learning is confronted with two equally qualified applicants, whose only main difference is race, affirmative action requires the institution to choose the applicant who is the minority. Requiring these institutions to choose the equally qualified minority eliminates the opportunity for personal biases to interfere with the decision-making. Equally qualified means that they both meet the standards laid out by the university and the fact that one might exceed those standards is irrelevant.
To be considered for admissions to many universities, the university only requires an applicant to meet the standards. Thus, affirmative action adheres to the same practice of using race as a deciding factor, except race is viewed as a favorable characteristic, which inverts the societal norm of viewing race negatively. We live in a race-conscious society, where racial groups of color are negatively impacted because the societal norm is that dark skin color is indicative of inferiority, which dates back to slavery.
Educational systems, banking institutions and retail stores currently use race as a decision-making factor when a student of color is led into the low track, a loan applicant of color is denied the loan for no other reason than a racial one and a customer of color walks into a high class clothing store and is followed around not with the goal of providing customer service in mind. Additionally, practices such as racial profiling where blacks and Latinos are unjustly pulled over and any person that resembles Middle Eastern descent is discriminated against at airports, use race as a negative decision-making factor.
It is true that using race as a decision-making factor creates a rift in society and hinders any chance of all races to be viewed as equals. However, in order to see the concept of equality realized in our society, race cannot be the basis of any system in America. The key to effect this magnitude of change is to change the mindset. Affirmative action has the potential to effect this type of change because it makes people aware of their personal biases when a person of color is chosen by a university between two equally qualified applicants.