Affirmative Action versus Reverse Discrimination

Affirmative Action

The early 1960’s were the starting point of affirmative action in United States of America. It was accepted with many other anti segregation laws. Affirmative action was initially a part of Civil Rights act of 1964. Nowadays affirmative action is as strong as it has ever been. There are quite a few positive sides to it, but negative affects are there too. One of them is called reverse discrimination. In this essay, I would like to take a look at both Affirmative action, and reverse discrimination. I will talk about being supported, or unsupported by general critics and give my own opinion on the Affirmative Action versus Reverse Discrimination.

Webster’s Dictionary has the definition for affirmative action: it is “an active effort to improve the employment or education opportunities of members of minority groups and women.” Some of the other fields that are covered are ethnic origin, religion and age. I cannot but agree with the creators of Encyclopedia of the American Constitution that said: “…laws were brought about because,

In the judgment of a good many Americans, equality qua equality, even when conscientiously enforced with an even hand, would neither suffice to enable those previously deprived on racial grounds to realize the promises of equality of opportunity, nor would it atone, and provide redress, for the ravages wrought by two centuries of past discrimination. Consequently… programs were established… to go well beyond “mere” equality of opportunity and provide not only remedial but preferential compensatory action, especially in the worlds of EDUCATION and employment (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 34).

Soon enough in 1978, the Supreme Court raised an opinion to not accept any laws that support reverse discrimination, which according to Webster’s Dictionary is “discrimination against whites or males as in employment or education.” In my opinion they meant that even though affirmative action is necessary, it does not have to be as strict to force majority to be discriminated against, because what it does is just – reversing discrimination. There were lots of trials defending each side of the issue.

Supreme court has seen many big cases that led up to affirmative action. One of the major ones was Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 that addressed the question that the constitution equal not socially equal. It was a huge strike on affirmative action since it started the process of desegregation.

Once affirmative action appeared in U.S. it became the next battleground. In few years, after accepting the Act about affirmative action, there was a Supreme Court trial against it. It was DeFunis v. Odegaard. According to the Encyclopedia of The American Constitution, it “dealt with preferential racial admissions quotas that by design advantaged nonwhite applicants and thereby ipso facto disadvantaged whites” (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 34).

Affirmative action without doubt has helped minorities when entering schools. Shelton showed this when she said,

“In 1955, only 4.9 percent of college students ages 18-24 were African American. This figure rose to 6.5 percent during the next five years but by 1965 had slumped back to 4.9 percent. Only in the wake of affirmative action measures in the late 1960s and early ‘70s did the percentage of black college students begin to climb steadily: In 1970, 7.8 percent of college students were African American, in 1980, 9.1 percent and in 1990, 11.3 percent” (Shelton, par. 13).

We also know the examples when affirmative hurt some of the majority representatives. Clegg showed this in his essay Affirmative Action: “It’s Counterproductive. He shows this when he states, “Only ‘qualified’ applicants are given preferences. The issue is not whether the winning applicant is in some absolute sense ‘qualified.’ If you use race (or sex) to select a less qualified applicant… your discriminating” (Clegg, par 8). To speak shortly whenever we use sex or race to limit our choices we are discriminating in some way.

Ideally affirmative action is meant to help African Americans not because of their skin color, but rather to earn compensation for past injustices. Opponents of affirmative action say that society should not discriminate at hiring on the basis of color and sex. This would make the preferential hiring of blacks just as wrong as preferential hiring of whites.

Then opponents say that involvement of past injustices is not logical. If blacks were mistreated in the past for a morally irrelevant characteristic (being black), then to give them preferential treatment for the same morally irrelevant characteristic is equally indefensible.

Now, opponents of affirmative action may question whether affirmative action is the right way to go about correcting past and present injustice. For example, can we compensate the living for sins committed against their ancestors? Is it right to compensate groups instead of specifically harmed individuals? But these are separate issues, ones that should be addressed elsewhere. The point here is that affirmative action is intended not as reverse discrimination, but as compensatory damages for injustice.

Those supporting affirmative action usually blame “reverse discrimination” supporters in engaging in moral absolutism, a completely unworkable concept that has never been practiced by any society in history. An example may best highlight its difficulties. Suppose our society passed a law that says, “No one shall forcefully take a television set from the possession of another.” But the next day your neighbor comes over to your house with a gun and forcefully takes your television set from you. Having identified your neighbor, you call the police. The police show up at his door and demand that he surrender the television; he refuses, whereupon they pull out their guns and forcefully take it from him.

Now, it would be illogical for your neighbor to claim that the police were immoral and broke the law, since they forcefully took a television set from his possession. This is a completely invalid argument, because correcting injustice is neither immoral nor against the law. Only in a world of moral absolutism would an act be condemned in and of itself, without considering its context or its justness. And at any rate, falling back on a defense of moral absolutism is disingenuous. Your neighbor, having acquired the TV set immorally, would now evoke moral absolutism to avoid giving it up – and act morally outraged in the process. This is nothing more than a wise attempt to protect his self-interest through slippery rhetoric. It is certainly not a morally consistent argument.

Now I would like to give my own opinion on the issue described above. The first problem with affirmative action is that it is basically a try to end discrimination with the help of discrimination. When a company or university discriminates against a white male for the sake of bettering the outcome of another racial group, an injustice occurs. Affirmative action is the governmental legislation of the active discrimination of one person over another – an unacceptable and dangerous double standard.

Secondly, affirmative action seeks to reconcile the injustices of the past. The horrible atrocities of the past, including slavery and the refusal to grant women and minorities the right to vote, cast an ugly shadow on the history of our nation. But affirmative action cannot erase what our ancestors did years ago. Instead of trying to reconcile the oppression of the past, we should try to lend a hand to young minorities that want to learn and be successful, but lack the resources they need to accomplish their goals.

Another issue concerning affirmative action is the stigma attached to the minorities themselves. Minorities are capable of getting the best jobs, obtaining admittance to the most prestigious schools, and being as successful as any white male has ever been. The problem occurs when people view them as inferior because of affirmative action–the attitude of “You couldn’t do it on your own.” These implications have a lasting, damaging effect on the mental well being of minority students. How can anybody feel truly accomplished when a lingering
doubt about the legitimacy of his achievements exists?

Our society must learn to embrace diversity. People from a variety of different cultures and racial backgrounds have a lot to teach one another. The only way for this to happen is to maximize diversity on
college campuses and in the workplace. While affirmative action is not the best way of going about this, there are other ways of promoting diversity. Encouraging minorities from a young age to pursue their goals and obtain a good education is an important start. Assisting people from poor socio-economic backgrounds in gaining the resources and motivation they need to level the playing field with the more privileged population should be something we all actively do. Understanding and accepting diversity is not the issue in question; the issue is the best way of
going about creating a society where minorities and non-minorities alike can be judged based on merit and character, and not on the color of their skin.

Bibliography on Affirmative Action versus Reverse Discrimination:

  • Anderson, Elizabeth S., 2002, “Integration, Affirmative Action, and Strict Scrutiny,” New York University Law Review, 77: 1195–1271.
  • Beckwith, Francis J. and Todd E. Jones (eds.), 1997, Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination? Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.
  • Sher, George, 1975, “Justifying Reverse Discrimination in Employment,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, 4: 159–170.
  • Stroup, Timothy, 1982, “Affirmative Action and the Police,” International Journal of Applied Philosophy, 1: 1–19.
  • Taylor, Paul, 1973, “Reverse Discrimination and Compensatory Justice,” Analysis, 33: 177–182.

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