Affirmative Action: A Detriment to Society
The time for Affirmative Action has come and gone. In March of 1961, President of the United States, John F. Kennedy signed the Affirmative Action Act. As an attempt to eliminate discrimination in the work place and in places of higher education, the policies that defined affirmative action (and still do) established guidelines for the recruiting process. These guidelines require that decisions on acceptance not be made with regard to race, religion, or gender. For the time that affirmative action was created, it provided the necessary balance that minorities needed to establish themselves as equals among a predominantly white nation.
A component of affirmative action is the quota system that has been implemented by institutions to ensure their cooperation with the new government policies. This system holds that in a place of employment or higher learning, all races be “proportionally” represented. This does not necessarily mean that the number of caucasians must match that of black and hispanic; however, it means there must be adequate numbers of each depending on the population of each minority group in the country. To the creators of affirmative action, if admissions and hiring was color-blind so that race, gender or religion did not determine acceptance, they had successfully given everyone an equal opportunity for a position(s).
Fifty years after the introduction of affirmative action, the “balancing act” is no longer well balanced. The problem of under representation of the majority has offset that balance that existed only in the early life of affirmative action. Now the majority is demanding something to fix the imbalance.
Initially the policies of affirmative action sought to eliminate discrimination, but instead has created discrimination of a different group of people. It is now common to hear the term “reverse discrimination,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Before affirmative action, for example, an employer could very easily reject an applicant for simply being black. Now that employers are required to hire specific numbers of minorities, but there is still a majority looking for the same position, it is possible to see a white person eliminated from the hiring process for not being a minority. Arguing the fairness of reverse discrimination over the fairness of regular discrimination is the tricky part. Which is more unfair?
Perhaps the correct question to be asked is whether affirmative action actually does more good than harm?
Not only has the view of affirmative action changed greatly over the last fifty years, but the United States of America as a whole has changed dramatically. There was well defined need for affirmative action at its time of birth, being at the center of the civil rights movement. Since then, we have seen racism decrease significantly, and it is arguable that without five full decades of affirmative action, the United States could have already been a truly “color blind” nation. Making applicants specify race brings skin color to the surface, where in the absence of affirmative action, it could have been irrelevant. Those that believe the nation would go back to its old ways without affirmative action are ignorant to the changes the country has seen.
Instead, the nation watches as the underrepresented majority misses out on job opportunities and admittance to universities. In an article by Amara Phillip, two such examples are outlined. In 2003 the University of Michigan was sued by multiple white students claiming they were unconstitutionally denied due to being white. In the one case, a well qualified white female sued the law school after being denied solely because there was not enough room for more white females. The Supreme Court upheld that admitting students with regards to grades, test scores, recommendations, and race was well within the legality of affirmative action. Thus, the plaintiff lost her case. In the second case, two white applicants were denied and as a result sued the school for the unconstitutionality of the point system used by the University of Michigan for admittance. This point system assigned a certain number of points to each part of the student’s application, where minority status earned more points than that of majority status. After the application had been fully assessed, students with sufficient points were admitted, and those that did not meet the mark were rejected (Phillip). Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that this point system was unconstitutional; however, there is not much difference between the first case and the second.
The minority status is more “point worthy” than majority status because the university is required to fill seats with minorities even if it means denying better-qualified individuals.
Another example of reverse discrimination of those in the majority is outlined in a study done by two Princeton sociologists. The study they preformed revealed a very interesting fact about how elite schools weigh SAT scores for applicants. African Americans who scored above a 1500 (1600-point scale) were awarded an equivalent of 230 SAT points and hispanics were awarded an additional 185 SAT points. The study concluded that this was an attempt to “level the playing field,” but in reality, if a test represents academic ability, receiving extra points makes that person under-qualified for the final number they receive (Espenshade and Chung).
Recruiters use a variety of techniques to favor less-qualified minority students over better-qualified Caucasians, all to satisfy different affirmative action goals. Either admissions hopes to satisfy the government mandates, or they hope to achieve diversity. The reverse discriminatory factor here is simple. Caucasians are less “enticing” because they simply are not a minority.
Reverse discrimination now causes other problems in society, and whether or not hatred is directed at the correct people is irrelevant. According to Ernest van den Haag, racism can actually result from decisions based on affirmative action. If a well qualified person is denied a position so the recruiter can fill a quota with a minority, that rejected person may develop animosity towards the minority, which can lead to hatred (van den Haag). Sadly, the energy fueling that animosity could be used to attempt to change the affirmative action policies, but that is much easier said than done.
Another example of misdirected animosity comes from an article written by authors David Sacks and Peter Thiel, where admissions officers at Stanford have been unfairly labeled as racist for denying caucasians (Sacks and Thiel). These unidentified admissions officers, perhaps black men, perhaps white women, were unfairly accused of racism against caucasians for correctly following mandated affirmative action policies. Not only is rejection because of being caucasian unfair, but so is unjustly labeling someone as a racist for simply following regulations imposed by the government.
Allowing underprivileged people to reach just as high as those that are fortunate, is something that all governments should always promote. Unfortunately, the United States only considers minorities as the underprivileged in regards to affirmative action.
It is certainly upsetting to see a program with such great intentions cause so much controversy. Unfairness is seen everywhere, from those qualified in the majority missing out on opportunities, to the legitimate minority accomplishments that are not taken seriously. Ultimately, a different approach to “leveling the playing field” should be considered. With the greater good of the American people in mind, the brilliant minds that govern this country should provide a better solution for the underprivileged.
Espenshade, Thomas J., and Chang Y. Chung. “The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities*.” Social Science Quarterly 86.2 (2005): 293-305. Print.
PHILLIP, AMARA. “The Diversity Imperative.” Diverse: Issues In Higher Education 28.18 (2011): 16-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Sacks, David, and Peter Thiel. “The Case Against Affirmative Action.” The Case Against Affirmative Action. Web. 06 Mar. 2012.
van den Haag, Ernest. “Affirmative Action And Campus Racism.” Academic Questions 2.3 (1989): 66. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.