Why I Support Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is still a hotly contested issue. The Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on it in October, with Michigan once again being at the center of the controversy. A new poll shows that the majority of Americans favor affirmative action in general but oppose it in college admissions. Much of the opposition to affirmative action is based on a sincere belief in colorblindness. Some of it is racist. For instance, some conservatives oppose affirmative action supposedly on the grounds of colorblindness while advocating for a racist policy allowing police to racially profile blacks.

I should clarify the difference between quotas and other forms of affirmative action. A quota is a policy in which it is mandated that at least a certain amount of people from a  group must be hired. For example, if Harvard adopted a policy requiring that at least ten percent of accepted applicants be black, that would be a quota. Quotas, of course, have been present since the foundation of the United States, when most institutions had a policy that one hundred percent of those hired had to be white, heterosexual males. I personally oppose quotas, as do most Americans, including many affirmative action supporters. Quotas have a tendency to treat people as races rather than as individuals, and they can lead to people being hired solely based on race. More popular forms of affirmative action attempt to hire or admit more people from historically underrepresented groups by treating race (or, in some cases, gender or sexual orientation) as one of a number of “plus factors.” In the early 2000s, the University of Michigan was sued for using a point system to evaluate applicants. 100 points were needed to guarantee admission, and it was possible to gain a total of 150 points. Applicants from certain historically underrepresented groups automatically received 2o points. As former president Gerald Ford pointed out in an editorial defending his alma matter’s policy, race was one of nearly a dozen factors that were considered. While the Supreme Court stated that some weaker forms of affirmative action were permissible, it ruled the point system unconstitutional. In case it is not clear by now, I agree with Ford and support the use of point systems. I take this stance, because I believe it is important for historically oppressed groups, such as women, gays, and African Americans, to have representation in our nation’s institutions. If we lived in a society that was and always had been free of sexism, homophobia, and racism, affirmative action would be quite unjust. However, we live in a society where various groups of people were historically oppressed by both government and society. If bigotry had been eradicated, I would still favor affirmative action as a substantive way of demonstrating that oppression against these groups would never happen again. Right now, however, bigotry is still a major problem. We have Senators and Congressmen who defend racial profiling and oppose anti discrimination laws. (People like the Pauls claim to base their anti-anti-discrimination law stances on libertarian principles, but they fail to actually uphold libertarian ideals consistently, making their denials of personal racism ring hollow.) We see tributes being paid to the Confederate States of America. We see the comments section on a YouTube video having to be disabled because so many people went ballistic about the presence of an interracial couple. These are but some of the examples I can cite of continued racism in America, to say nothing of the examples of sexism and homophobia that I could cite. These facts make affirmative action even more necessary. While I understand and sympathize with arguments that affirmative action is reverse discrimination, I believe that it is a too late to avoid taking race, gender, or sexual orientation into account at all when it comes to hiring/admitting people. As referenced earlier, governments in America officially practiced discrimination against women and racial minorities for over 150 years and continue to do so against gays. Society in general was little better. Affirmative action makes sense as a form of restorative justice. The point system helps historically oppressed groups of Americans achieve greater representation in institutions but does not exclude other groups of people from also being hired/admitted. A company that, for instance, only hired blacks, would be guilty of discrimination, but that is not what affirmative action usually means and is certainly not what I am advocating. I also believe that regardless of what the Supreme Court or any other body says, some form of affirmative action will continue to be widespread. Many companies and schools greatly desire diversity, and they will practice it officially or unofficially. For that, I applaud them.


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