Affirmative Action is one of the most controversial civil rights policies ever. Affirmative Action is the process in which minority groups are given preferential treatment in areas such as job hiring and university admissions. Proponents of affirmative action claim that it benefits everyone and that it is a moral necessity in our society. Opponents claim that it actually hurts society by maintaining racial stereotypes and pitting races against each other. Some opponents even claim that affirmative action in relation to African Americans is reverse discrimination against the white populace. After reviewing a short history of affirmative action and the theory behind rectification and compensation, I am against the current systems interpretation and practice.
During the last fifty years, the Supreme Court has been busy debating the legality of affirmative action, so it is no surprise that affirmative action took a long time to be implemented. In 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson sparked the debate on racial equality. This ruling was later interpreted to have violated the fourteenth amendment by upholding separate but equal standards. (http://www.lawbuzz.com/can_you/plessy/plessy.htm) This court case set the precedent for the legality of discrimination. For sixty years this went on, and finally in 1954, Plessey vs. Ferguson was overturned. This Supreme Court case was Brown vs. the Board of Education. Nothing was done, however, about discrimination until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. This act stated that no one was allowed to discriminate against race, religion or sex. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson used the phrase, affirmative action, which required federal contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employers are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed or color. This was known as Executive Order 11246. Businesses then adopted the first quota system, which gave employers a minority goal, or a number of positions they needed to fill with minority workers. For thirteen years these quotas existed. In 1978 in Bakke vs. University of California Davis Medical School, these quotas were ruled unconstitutional. In 1996, Hopwood vs. Texas stated, diversity is not a legitimate goal. Starting with Bakke, the scope of affirmative action got narrower.
In the debate over affirmative action, we must also look at the way minorities were treated in the past. In 1857 in the Dred Scott decision the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that slaves were of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race. Proponents of affirmative action claim that in order to achieve equality we must dismantle this kind of prejudice. Supporters claim that this is a necessary means to creating equality. Affirmative action allows minorities to be hired, and if this is discontinued, history may repeat itself. Jesse Jackson said that affirmative action is good for everyone. Jackson claims that everyone benefits from affirmative action. The basis for this program lies in the premise that the majority race must let minority groups catch up because of strong racial discrimination, such as slavery, years ago. Because of slavery and rulings such as the Dred Scott decision, the minority groups were left behind and todays generations of minorities are unable to get the jobs they want. Affirmative action allows minorities to get these jobs that perhaps their parents or grandparents could not get. Supporters believe affirmative action is socially and morally justified in society because of the discrimination that occurred within the last 200 years.
Opponents of affirmative action criticize its intent saying it is based on rectification and compensation, which means society has to make up for the discrimination of the past by setting things correct now. This argument applies that there is now creditor without a debtor. Opponents also criticize affirmative action because it does the opposite of what it is designed to do. Instead of giving minorities a head start, it actually pulls them down. This is because the very nature of affirmative action describes a race as unequal and in essence, inferior. Handicapping and preferences actually put the particular race behind because it implies that the particular race needs to be propped up to be something they are not. These opponents of affirmative action argue that it causes more harm than good for all races.
Personally, I feel the current interpretation of affirmative action is illogical and somewhat immoral. I cite the current interpretation because the concept of affirmative action is positive; however, the recent implementation of affirmative action has been construed to fill quota systems. Obvious reasons to oppose affirmative action are the hiring of unqualified individuals, the decreased legitimacy of accomplishments made by minorities who have proven themselves, and the perpetuation of racial stereotyping. Justice Scalia criticized the idea of rectification and compensation in The Disease as a Cure. Scalia pokes fun of this idea by saying it should be called the restorative justice handicapping system. Scalia argues how ineffective this system is, and how there is no real way to tell who is actually being discriminated against. The concept of rectification and compensation as it is used in affirmative action is like punishing Adolf Hitlers great grandchildren for the holocaust and giving my Jewish friend Matt a ferrari.
Punishing future generations for todays crimes and compensating future generations for yesterdays injustices is equally silly. Like many things created by man, the idea of affirmative action was intended to be positive; however, due to mans inevitable imperfections, the current implementation of the system is unethical and unreasonable.
Curry, George E. The Affirmative Action Debate. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Brisbin , Richard. Justice Antonin Scalia and the Conservative Revival. N.p.: Johns
Hopkins Paperback, 1998.
Fireside, Harvey, and Sarah B. Fuller. Brown V. Board of Education: Equal Schooling for
All (Landmark Supreme Court Cases). New York: Enslow, 1994.
Law Buzz. 01 Jan. 1999. 1 Dec. 2003