America and Affirmative Action

Essay by Anonymous UserHigh School, 10th gradeA+, December 1996

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America and Affirmative Action

Affirmative action has been the subject of increasing debate and tension in

American society. However, the debate over affirmative action has become ensnared in

rhetoric that pits equality of opportunity against the equality of results. The debate has

been more emotional than intellectual, and has generated more tension than shed light on

the issue. Participants in the debate have over examined the ethical and moral issues that

affirmative action raises while 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

once ill with, but now cured of, the virulent disease of racial discrimination. Affirmative

action is, and should be seen as, a temporary, partial, and perhaps even flawed remedy

for past and continuing discrimination against historically marginalized and

disenfranchised groups in American society. Working as it should, it affords groups

greater equality of opportunity in a social context marked by substantial inequalities and

structural forces that impede a fair assessment of their capabilities.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that one hears about affirmative action policies

aimed at helping Black Americans is that they violate the 14th Amendment of the

Constitution and the Civil Rights laws., The claim is that these programs distort what is

now a level playing field and bestow preferential treatment on understanding minorities

because of the color of their skin. While this view seems very logical on the surface,

many contend that it lacks any historical support and is aimed more at preserving

existing White privilege than establishing equality of opportunity for all. Any cursory

look at the history of this country should provide a serious critique to the idea of a level

playing field. 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 left to dwell in

poverty and powerlessness. The Brown decision removed the legal impediments that had

so long kept Blacks in the impoverished peripheral. Despite this long awaited victory for

Black Americans, the historic decision failed to provide adequate means for the

deconstruction of White dominance and privilege, It merely allowed Blacks to enter the

arena of competition. This recognized and established the status quo (White wealth and

Black indigence, White employment and Black unemployment, White opportunity and

Black disenfranchisement) as an acceptable and neutral baseline. Without the

deconstruction of White power and privilege, how can we legitimately claim that the

playing field is level? Does it not seem more logical and indeed fairer and more just, to

actively deconstruct White privilege, rather than let it exist through hegemony?

Another critique of affirmative action policies is that they stigmatize and call into

question the credentials of the qualified minorities. And furthermore, that this doubt

undermines their effectiveness. This has always been the most puzzling critique of

affirmative action in my mind. The credentials, qualifications, character, and even the

culture of minorities have always been in question and stigmatized in this country.

When racial categories were created, simply being in question and stigmatized in this

country. When racial categories were created, simply being labeled a minority carried

with it quite a slanderous stigma. Even to this day Black Americans combat lingering

racism an stereotypes about their intelligence, tendency toward violence, sexual prowess,

etc.... The idea that affirmative action policies introduce stigmas that did not already

exist into the life of minorities seems nonsensical. To those who claim that this stigma

undermines the effectiveness of Blacks because their coworkers will not be cooperative,

or because the minority will always doubt that he or she deserves to be there, I propose

that affirmative action will only accomplish the continued exclusion of Black Americans

from participation within American society and thus further ingrain stereotypes and

stigmas. Another reason that the stigma critique of affirmative action confuses me, is

because the discussion is always limited to race and gender based affirmative action

policies. Where is the discussion about athletes and legacy students who are accorded

preferential treatment in university admission decisions on a yearly basis? This focus on

gender and race based policies only reinforces my point that the stigma minorities face

has much more to do with persistent racism than the deleterious effects on affirmative


Should affirmative action programs force people to hire unqualified minorities?

No. But affirmative action programs should cause us as a society to re-evaluate how we

access qualifications and how we measure merit. Let us become tenure Harvard Law

School professors for just a moment. Suppose we have two applicants for an open

associate professor position. The first candidate is White, a Harvard Law School

graduate, has impressive board scores, served as editor of the Law Review, etc..., but has

never practiced law before. The other candidate is Black, a Harvard Law School

graduate, average board scores, has excellent person skills, and practiced law as the

county defendant in an inner-city neighborhood. Under the traditional system of merit,

the White Harvard graduate 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 to

the 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 of the future than his

White counterpart. Allowing the Black Harvard graduate to have the job might very well

call into question how we assess the qualifications we require to be law school professor.

This challenge to traditional qualifications brought about by affirmative action

appointments benefits all of society 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 that affirmative action corrupts the purity of the process. Extreme care must be taken

in determining who receives affirmative action program benefits and how long and at

what rate they receive them. I must, also, agree with my critics that 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 to take these risks.

In short, it has been recommended that broad-based affirmative action policies

range from the workplace to the classroom. While they are not perfect and do raise some

legitimate ethical concerns, they take us away from a system that is inherently unfair to

some groups. The active deconstruction of the White privilege that grew out of virulent

American racism affords Blacks a greater chance at equal opportunity and will have the

side effect of forcing us to re-evaluate that unethically and immorally disadvantages

minorities. These advantages outweigh the cost of the risks.