Affirmative action is a concept that comes up for debate time and time again. When affirmative action was first initiated, the goal was to help give underrepresented social groups equal opportunity to succeed in schools and the workplace. The idea is that this would make up for the opportunity gap produced by past discrimination as well as prevent further discrimination from occurring. The debate arises when the question of “when does helping some people hurt others” becomes difficult to answer.
In an article by Touré in TIME magazine, he argues that affirmative action should still be implemented because without it, employers and school admission boards are blind to the characteristics by which people define who they are. Usually a person attributes themselves to certain social groups because that is the way that person would like to be perceived by others. If a person voluntarily defines themselves by these criteria, then employers and school admission boards should be able to consider these factors so that they can obtain a whole view of that person.
Touré describes how white privilege is ever present in our society and limits economic progress throughout non-white family generations. He says that affirmative action is not about decreasing the amount of opportunities for white people, but just providing additional opportunities for people of other races. These additional opportunities help boost each generation to a more equal playing field.
Touré does not suggest that the quota system should be implemented again. Using affirmative action in a machine like method takes out the human aspect that affirmative action was trying to achieve in the first place. Instead, employers and school boards should be aware that creating a diverse community helps employees and students become exposed to and grow from new perspectives.
Another one of TIME’s authors, Eric Liu published an article about how affirmative action affects Asian Americans. Liu stresses that diversity in general is what will help Americans gain opportunities for success. Since America prides itself on being so diverse, then it should strive to develop diverse environments in schools and in the workplace because it is from these places that the leaders of America are created.
Liu also reminds us that affirmative action is not just about selection by race; there are many other factors to consider. Social groups are not just defined by race, but also by religion, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientations, and other characteristics. All of these characteristics contribute to the image of the person in the selection process.
In yet another article, Heather Mac Donald provides a counter argument to affirmative action. One point Mac Donald makes is affirmative action could place people, more specifically students, at a higher level than what they are prepared for. Because colleges are so focused on creating this diverse environment, they select students from the underrepresented social groups without realizing that these students will have difficulties keeping up with the pace and vigor of that school. She makes the analogy that a person with average math skills will have a hard time achieving good grades at a math and science orientated school like MIT. Even if a university were to select only the top 10% of students in every high school, there would still be a very large gap in the capabilities of the students just because each high school has different standard levels.
It is hard to say if the question of whether to implement affirmative action will ever be solved. We can strive for a happy medium, but perhaps one simply does not exist. It has been proven over and over that trying to please everyone in a population is a losing battle.
Here are some questions that I thought of while reading these articles:
How selective should affirmative action be?
Do white people earn more privileges than other people?
Is affirmative action needed to ensure that everyone has a chance to achieve the American Dream? Is this true for each changing definition of the American Dream?
How can selection based on race and other social groups be avoided when face-to-face interaction is a factor of the admissions process?
If affirmative action does not mean placing someone where they do not belong, then why does affirmative action need to be in place at all? If a person, based on the criteria of eligibility, has the standings to be accepted, shouldn’t that person be admitted just on that basis?
Should we be questioning affirmative action when the big concern at hand is the how the number of ways to achieve success is so limited?
By: Carali Van Otteren
(Photo by ArchGreenHand under a Creative Commons License)