The Perils of Affirmative Action
In the very beginning of this nation’s history, Americans were under the power of England’s monarchy. The Americans were able to overthrow the shackles of bondage and created a Constitution that declares its steadfast belief in the ideals of freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. But immediately after the Declaration of Independence and even after the Constitution was signed and accepted by leaders of the new government, not every American citizen is treated fairly. And a good example would be the Negroes and other minorities such as Asians and more so their women.
Affirmative action has been praised and pilloried as the answer to racial inequality. First introduced by President Kennedy in 1961, “Affirmative action” was designed as a method of reducing the discrimination that had remained despite the civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. It was a method that was put in place as a “Temporary Measure to Level the Playing Field” through the offering of the same opportunities to all Americans.
While the “Affirmative Action” plan was intended to have good effects, it resulted in exposing the flaws in the system as “Reverse Racism” began to emerge and the “Bakke” case came about where a white male was rejected two years in a row in favor of admitting other minorities through a quota system. This “Reverse Racism” and other flaws led to a mounting anger against “Affirmative Action” and soon it became a Zero Sum Game as jobs and opportunities became open to minorities but not to whites. During this period, “Preferential treatment” and “quotas” became expressions of contempt.
This clear violation of the Constitution prompted many to create a landmark law that will turn the tide once and for all. It was “Affirmative Action” that was supposed to save America from the evils of racism and discrimination but this directive failed and in fact it even backfired and instead of helping the oppressed it made them look less worthy of respect as ever before.
This brief discourse will provide a discussion into the reason why affirmative action has proven to be no longer the cherished policy that it used to be. In arriving at such conclusion, there will be a short discussion on the history of affirmative action in the United States. This will be followed by a segment that will show why affirmative action should no longer be implemented because it does not provide the social benefits that it has promised to deliver.
Before going any further, a historical background of the United States of America is needed to fully understand where “Affirmative Action” came from. This nation was created from the union of disparate states and was made possible by two events. The first one is the successful War for Independence wage by patriots like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The second, the creation of a piece of a document called the U.S. Constitution and authored by statesmen like Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams. The war that defeated the more superior English army was simply the beginning and enough to give the Union some breathing room to create their own destiny.
The U.S. Constitution became the symbol of democracy around the world. The contents of this document was used to straighten the crooked path and when there is no road that will lead to progress and good governance the Constitution provided the necessary tools for great men to do their job. Yet every time the Constitution was used to promote the ideals of freedom, justice, and equality it made men of principles to question the inconsistencies and the glaring hypocrisy. How can the Americans say freedom for all when there are men and women who are treated a little higher than cattle in some territories? How can there be equality when there are those discriminated on the basis of race and gender?
Afterwards there was a growing clamor to free the slaves and to be true to the declaration that all men are created equal. After a bloody Civil War that settled the issue of slavery the Negro race was still under a cloud of oppression and discrimination, African-Americans experienced the humiliation of segregation in the South. While the Negro race continued to suffer, America experienced an economic boom that attracted migrants from all over the world. The U.S. also became active in helping other nations and its people to battle tyranny and as a result many Asians left their war torn countries and settled in the land of promise. As a result the Negro race now have companions in misery.
America has to be rudely awakened by the Civil Rights Movement to realize that there is still much work to be done with regards to racism in this country. When Martin Luther King, Jr. died, the nation was ready for a major change. Ending segregation in the South and improving the status of the Negro race is now the correct thing to do. It was the late John F. Kennedy, the first U.S. President since Abraham Lincoln who signed another landmark law, a directive that will improve the lives of all African-Americans in this country.
Barely a few months in office, JFK issued Executive Order 10925 which created the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Its main objective was to eradicate discrimination in the U.S. or at least when it comes to the government and its contractors. Every federal contract includes a pledge that the Contractor will not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin (see Steven Cahn). The JFK administration was calling for an “affirmative action” and it is simply a government that will no longer pay lip service to the ideals of freedom and equality. They are going to do something deliberate about this issue.
In Stanford University, Robert Fullinwider wrote that “Affirmative Action” simply means taking positive steps to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded. Now, that there is a law that forces the issue then interest groups are encouraged to bring the issue to court and to pressure businesses and employers to comply.
In this regard Fullinwider wrote, “When those steps involve preferential selection – selection on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity – affirmative action generates intense controversy” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). So the pendulum has swung to the other side. It is as if the government is trying to make up for a lot of lost ground. It is as if there is a deliberate act of atoning for past sins but the problem is, those who are so passionate about the issue are actually creating a “reverse discrimination”, instead of discriminating against the Negro for instance there is now discrimination for the Negro (Cowan 5).
James Nickel was able to put it succinctly when he wrote:
To state the argument in a slightly different way, one might say that if a group was discriminated against on the basis of a morally irrelevant characteristic of theirs, then to award extra benefits now to the members of this group because they have characteristic is simply to continue to treat a morally irrelevant characteristic as if it were relevant. Instead of the original discrimination against these people, we now have discrimination for them, but in either case we have discrimination… (4)
In one of the more glaring example of “affirmative action” gone bad was the case of The Regents of the University of California v. Allan Bakke (Dwokin 103). In this particular case the University Of California Davis School Of Medicine has an affirmative action program that was designed to admit more black students. In fact for the 100 slots offered every year there are 16 slots reserved for blacks and other educationally and economically disadvantaged minorities can avail. As it turns out Allan Bakke was forced to compete for the remaining 84 slots but he was rejected. The only problem here is that Bakke has significantly higher scores than the other black students who were admitted to the program, Bakke sued the school and the California Court agreed with Bakke while the school appealed to the Supreme Court.
This shows that there is a growing difficulty now in appreciating the “Affirmative Action” as even liberals have adopted the stance that affirmative action may even result in injustice as in the case of Wygant in 1986 where black employees kept their jobs while white employees with seniority were laid off. Recent cases have once again brought “Affirmative Action” into public view as in 2003; the Supreme Court decided that there was a right of affirmative action in higher education.
The relevance of this decision is that it somewhat creates a measure by which affirmative action can be implemented. In the 2003 Michigan Cases, it was stated that “Affirmative action was intended to promote a “Compelling State Interest” in diversity in not only a particular aspect of society but on all levels.
A similar case can be seen in the analysis of SAT scores in the 90s. According to researcher Byron Roth elite US Colleges require a score of over 600 on the verbal portion to be admitted to their program. But Roth found out something that will give a headache to advocates of “Affirmative Action” and he remarked, “…blacks represented only 2 percent of those scoring above 600, wile whites represented about 73 percent of those scoring above 600” (265). The same is true for Math scores where only about 3 percent of the total population of black students who took the test scored higher than 600, while 13 percent of whites scored higher than 600 (Roth, 265).
If “Affirmative Action” forces the issue of giving up slots to minorities then how can this action be justified on the basis of fairness and rewarding people according to hard work etc.? Bakke as well as other white folks clearly deserve equal treatment as do members of the minority. There is no excuse for giving preferential treatment to black students or traditionally marginalized groups for this is actually doing them a disservice. Instead of helping them be strong this society is keeping them lame and forever bound to negative connotations of their social status. It is time to punish discrimination and at the same time promote equality in the proper way.
A common feature of “Affirmative Action” is the establishment of quotas such as in employment or in the admission to academic programs etc. This may be a deliberate step to create a level playing field but there are now evidences to prove the contrary. It is even ironic that the same people that are supposed to be assisted from “Affirmative Action” are the ones who are suffering from the recoil so to speak. For instance there are increasing number of Jews and Asian who are now beginning to feel that “Affirmative Action” is actually hurting their chances to be admitted to academic programs (Swain, 296). This is because the high number of Asians and Jews who get high scores would simply mean that not all can be included considering that there are already reserved slot for other minority groups.
On a final note, there was this documented story of a black man hired as a messenger in the Department of Commerce. It turns out that this man, Leslie Perry actually held a bachelor’s degree as well as a law degree but was only able to secure a job doing menial tasks (King, 72). There are many stories like that of Perry but there is no excuse for creating an “inverse discrimination” as experienced by Allan Bakke.
No one is arguing the fact that deliberate steps must be done to rectify an injustice that has taken hundreds of years to correct. But discriminating in favor of minorities – blacks, Asians, and women – is similar to discriminating against them; it is without a doubt a flawed solution for it is not helping them at all. It is similar to a parent not training his children to lift themselves up and be self-sufficient. The child will grow weak and lack the motivation and confidence to succeed in life. No matter how tempting it is to give preferential treatment to members of the minority group in America, there is no excuse not to strive hard and compete just like the rest of the members of the American society.
As the United States continues to grow in population size, the impact that the minorities have on the future of America will no longer be a minor one, to say the least. Without any effective action, these minorities will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities that America has to offer. Affirmative action was supposed to be the future of a great America. An America as envisioned by the forefathers who declared that no person shall be denied the right to life, liberty or property just on the basis of the color of his skin. Any effective action with regard to improving society should not be about segregating people or creating a different class. It should instead focus on creating opportunities for those who have none and building relationships that will ensure that America can remains as the great country that it has been and is for ages to come.
Affirmative Action. Ed. Robert Fullinwider. 2005. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Stanford University). 24 March 2008 < http://plato.stanford.edu/
Cowan, J. L. “Inverse Discrimination.” The Affirmative Action Debate. Ed. Steven Cahn.
New York: Routledge, 2002. 5-7.
Dworkin, Ronald. “Bakke’s Case: Are Quotas Unfair?” The Affirmative Action Debate. Ed.
Steven Cahn. New York: Routledge, 2002. 3-4.
King, Desmond. Separate and Unequal. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Minchin, Timothy. Hiring Black Worker: The Racial Integration of the Southern Textile
Industry. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Nickel, James, W. “Discrimination and Morally Relevant Characteristics.” The Affirmative
Action Debate. Ed. Steven Cahn. New York: Routledge, 2002. 3-4.
Roth, Byron. Prescription for Failure: Race Relations in the Age of Social Science. New Jersey:
Transaction Publishers, 1994.
Swain, Carol. The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2002.