Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Affirmative Action

I've been hearing a lot lately about Judge Sotomayor, Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. And connected with that I've also been hearing about the white firefighters in Connecticut who were denied promotions because not enough minorities scored well on the exam. All of this brings the topic of affirmative action to my mind, so I decided to write a short post on it.

Affirmative action is described in the online Encyclopaedia Brittanica in the following way:
In the United States, an active effort to improve employment or educational opportunities for members of minority groups and for women. Affirmative action began as a government remedy to the effects of long-standing discrimination against such groups and has consisted of policies, programs, and procedures that give preferences to minorities and women in job hiring, admission to institutions of higher education, the awarding of government contracts, and other social benefits. The typical criteria for affirmative action are race, disability, gender, ethnic origin, and age.
To give an example: many universities have percentage quotas or goals in the hiring and/or admissions processes, which is basically to say that they aim to have their faculties and/or student bodies have a certain percentage of caucasians, a certain percentage of blacks, a certain percentage of women, etc. Given these quotas or goals, when faced with a decision between several candidates or applicants, the university will give the position or admission to the candidate who is the member of whatever ethnic group or gender is needed to meet these quotas. What this means is that if I applied to the university and had an SAT score of 2200, and another person of some minority group also applied, but with an SAT score of only 1900, the university would accept the other person instead of me if they had to meet their minority quotas. Basically, the other person got accepted, as the encyclopaedia article stated, on the criteria of race or ethnic origin, and NOT on the basis of academic prowess or ability.

Now, although affirmative action was originally touted as action AGAINST discrimination and racism, I say that, today at least, it FOSTERS these things more than anything else. In the example above, applicants to the university are not being judged on the basis of character or what they have accomplished as an individual. They are being judged on the basis of something that they cannot help or change - their race. And therefore when one applicant is selected over another, it sends an implicit message that the race of applicant (A) is better or more desireable than the race of applicant (B), which sounds a lot like the very definition of racism: "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

One problem with this is that it leads to resentment among those people who have been turned down because they were not of the race or ethnic origin needed to meet the quotas. If anything, affirmative action (AA for short) will actually help to establish racism by causing this resentment and dislike of the members of the race which is being given preferential treatment. In this way AA defeats its own end, since racism and discrimination is more likely because of it than without it.

In addition, I would hazard a guess that many members of minority groups might actually feel insulted by AA, for the very reasons given above. If I were aware that my race was the only reason I was getting preferential treatment, I would certainly feel insulted. I didn't have to work or sacrifice to get my race. I didn't put any effort into it. It's not because of any merits of my own or any character traits that I have that I was selected for such-and-such a position. If it weren't for my race I'd be out the door, and quick. To me, this would be extremely insulting, and I can't imagine that there are no minorities out there who share these feelings.

In light of all this, isn't AA doing exactly the opposite of what Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of in his famous "I have a dream" speech? He said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Well, as long as AA still holds sway, I say that that nation has not yet come to be, because as far as I can tell, people are still being judged by the color of their skin.


Blogger Mary French said...

Somewhere along in the late 60s or 70s, the "race victimhood" industry got hold of the civil rights movement and turned it from a movement seeking equality of opportunity for minorities into a movement seeking equality of outcome. They are now firmly entrenched in the fabric of government and law, and it will take herculean efforts to defeat them and heal out culture.

8:52 AM  

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