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 action.
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