Editorials and Opinions

Opposing Viewpoints: The system of affirmative action is an inadequate solution to discrimination

By Thomas Li
Published: March 2010

Affirmative action, as defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, consists of any steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded.

This type of selection, based on race or gender, has often been viewed as a necessary social law aiming to compensate for the discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage facing minorities. In addition, affirmative action is a method by which workplaces or schools create diversity.

These arguments, although each deserving merit, are flawed in a few key ways.

The restorative justice argument suggests that affirmative action be implemented as a means of repairing for historic race and gender discrimination.

Aiming to combat discrimination makes affirmative action seem like a noble cause; however, to ignore the other effects would be unfair.

Affirmative action functions in two ways: the first, choosing an equally qualified minority student over a non-minority student.  The preference goes to the minority student for the purpose of creating diversity; the issue is whether or not diversity is a worthwhile cause.

The second way affirmative actions functions is choosing a less qualified minority student over a more qualified non-minority student.  The apparent result is a phenomenon called reverse discrimination.

The argument behind reverse discrimination is that although minorities deserve some sort of reparation for past wrongs, this reparation cannot come at the expense of an innocent non-minority student.

For example, a white student from current times should not be blamed for the wrongdoings of his ancestors against African Americans.

The numerous issues revolving around slavery, albeit important, are outdated and ought not to be used when making such a decision.

Another common argument is that minorities suffer from current day disadvantages because they start off in poorer conditions with fewer opportunities.

This argument only stands, however, if the assumption is made that minorities are automatically disadvantaged to begin with, which is certainly inaccurate.

We should recognize that people of all colors are at every rung of the socioeconomic ladder.  Under affirmative action, wealthy minorities still receive the same boost as the truly disadvantaged despite having access to better schools and opportunities.

This is inherently unjust because rather than creating equal opportunity, affirmative action perpetuates inequality.

The final argument for affirmative action is one that is more pragmatic.  The diversity argument contends that diversity is some sort of beneficial quality in either the workplace or in an educational institution.

Supporters claim that diversity brings innovation through the different ideas brought from each unique background.  This view, however, is simply narrow-minded.

First, although race a gender differentiate people, they are not the only factors separating one from another.  Diversity does not solely pertain to race, but rather to other qualities, such as if one was an artist or an athlete.

As a matter of fact, creating diversity through selection according to race and gender is simply an immoral process because nobody has the ability to choose whether he or she is born a male or a female or a minority or a non-minority; to discriminate against an uncontrollable factor is simply unfair.

Clearly some steps need to be taken to improve the situation of disadvantaged minorities; however, these steps ought not to be taken at the expense of an innocent member of society.  Affirmative action, therefore, is clearly not the adequate solution to this problem.

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