An Ethical and Practical Defense of 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
In this essay I will expose what I see as the shortcomings of the current ethical attacks on affirmative
action (1), the main one being, that these attacks are devoid of proper historical context and
shrouded in white male hegemony and privilege. Then, I will discuss the moral and ethical issues
raised by continuing to function within a system that systematically disadvantages historically
marginalized groups. With that as a backdrop, I will make a positive case for continuing affirmative
action programs and discuss the practical concerns that continuing such programs may raise.
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.