What is Affirmative Action?

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The world is a much faster paced and more competitive than it was 20 years ago. In the past you could graduate with a high school diploma, work, buy your house and car with relative ease. Now, you can’t really do much with it let alone afford a small apartment in the city, you will mostly likely need a college degree to be well off. A college degree is now more important than ever, being in the most educated generation thus far creates a great deal of stress on todays youth. The stress and social pressures to do well in school in order to remain competitive for jobs is at an all-time high. College for many is one of the first steps towards adulthood, and for programs such as affirmative action it can hinder some students from pursuing their dreams. The idea of it comes from a good place, but needs to be improved and be reformed for the future generations.  As of currently, affirmative action harms students of merit, as well hurt certain minorities due to the abuse of the system, and can be damaging to students who were recipients of it. 

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        Firstly, it is widely known that college is an educational establishment where intellectuals gather to discuss innovated ideas, have discourse on controversial topics, to experiment and question the natural world around us, etc. So, it is no surprise, that the top universities in the world have high requirements to be admitted, it is a place where it rewards merits through hard work. Affirmative action does just the opposite as it disregards merit and values race instead. This was exactly the case with Cheryl J. Hopwood vs the State of Texas. Cheryl was applying for law school at the University of Texas, previously she had graduated from California State University with a 3.8 grade point average. The statistics provided by the plaintiffs lawyers stated that the law school rejected 668 white candidates before it rejected a single black candidate (Sandel, 2007) ( Justice 2 pg. 239), even law school officials acknowledged that blacks and Mexican-Americans are given something close to automatic admission at index numbers substantially below those of many whites who are rejected  (Sandel, 2007)( Justice 2 pg. 239). Why should the system punish students with high merits and weigh race as more of a determining factor? Merit should be the main considering factor for admission since college is mainly based on the principles of merit, the idea of how well a student preforms academically.

        On the other hand, critics such as John Rawls would argue that merit is non-deserving since it is a social product created by society.  Society is what decides what skills are worth more than others and rewards certain career choices over other careers. Rawls believes that the distribution of natural talents as a common asset and to share in the benefits of [it] (Sandel, 2007)(Justice 2 pg. 218). In other words, he’s suggesting that some people born into this world having an advantage over others right off the gate. That advantage may range from athletic abilities to environmental, some people are just born having a higher chance to play in the NBA more than other people, likewise people under the right conditions such as financially and abundance of resources are more likely to obtain higher paying jobs than others. To deal with this unfair aspect that society naturally created, Rawls’ vision is to set up a social system so that no one gains or loses from his arbitrary place in the distribution of natural assets  so that it could work for the good of the least fortunate (Sandel, 2007)(Justice 2 pg. 218). The advantages that causes the playing field to be uneven, affirmative action is one of many concepts that corrects this unfairness and levels the playing field.

        Secondly, the goal of affirmative action is to help minorities succeed by giving them more opportunities in school and work to improve their social status in society, however this is not always the case. Affirmative action harms certain types of minorities, this is the case with Harvard University using affirmative action to discriminate againist Asian-American applicants. Supported by the Justice department, students are suing Harvard University over affirmative action policies such it is claimed that the system artificially caps the number of qualified Asian-Americans from attending the school to advance less qualified students of other races (Benner, 2018). Harvard is accused using a vague personal rating that harms Asian applicants, that system is infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives to make admissions decisions (Benner, 2018). The argument is that affirmative action has cause Asian-Americans to be held at higher standards while other racial groups such as African-Americans and Latinos receive boosts in the name of diversity. Aren’t Asians considered a minority? The stereotype of Asians being the model minorities being doctors and S.T.E.M majors living in affluent neighborhoods is a slippery slope and is a dangerous idea to put upon the Asian-American community. Not all Asian-Americans are living the good life, some go to the same schools as poor whites, blacks, Latinos, live in the same houses, learn from the same teachers, have the same extracurricular opportunities, and take the same classes. Despite this, they’re expected to be better than all of them just because of presumptions of their race. This is injustice at its finest, the system needs to be reformed.

        Alternatively, being exposed to people of various cultures and ideas that differ from your own may be beneficial in the classroom and at the work place. Having a more diverse environment would encourage more tolerant communities, as the goal of affirmative action is to lessen not to increase the importance of race in American social and professional life (Sandel, 2007) (Justice 2 pg. 250). The main objective of any investor or company is to develop a plan that yields the most profits.  Performance is everything, a study compares the financial outcomes of homogeneous partnerships compared with those of diverse collaborations. The results showed that the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance (Kovvali, 2018), diversity would allow more flexibility in the classroom and work place to allow for improved productivity. Being surrounded by people that are different from you, you are exposed to different points of views and opinions, it allows more space for creativity and more thinking outside the box. A recent NBER analysis of high paying jobs (such as law, medicine, science etc.) it showed a positive relationship between diversity and value of goods and services produced in the United States (Kovvali, 2018). When people openly ignore bias or deny its existence, they will be seeking out business partners and team members who share their own traits. Therefore, missing out on the quantifiable benefits of diversity.

        Lastly, affirmative action may even be harmful towards its recipients as it questions their merit and is left feeling inadequate. Affirmative action has the potential to reinforce stereotypes and perpetuates the racist idea that minorities as whole are unintelligent that need pity to succeed. The argument is that it disregards the accomplishments and achievements of the individual and categories them into social groups instead. This is unfair to the individual and subconsciously lets society judge a person based on their social group rather than their individuality.  There are people who believe that African Americans can never be successful in a subject as complex and sophisticated as physics, and that they should stick to subjects such as music and drama (Baranger, 1996). Recipients would then leave with the impression that they are inferior since they have lower standards to be admitted when compared to their colleagues whom have much higher standards to be in the same position. Affirmative action sets up minorities for failure in a way that damages their self-confidence and reinforces white prejudices about minority inferiority. The current system is practicing discrimination against individuals for the purpose of admitting members of minority groups who do not represent the same levels of academic credentials  (Baranger, 1996). It is agreed upon that diversity is good, however it should not be the overwhelming factor. An example would be appointing a teacher in the inner city, a minority teacher would be preferable since it would be easier to interact with the children. But it would not benefit the children if the teacher doesn’t know the material well, even if he or she were a minority. 

        On the contrary, affirmative action is there to uplift minorities and to influence/encourage the next generation to strive for professional careers. Affirmative action tries to reduce the degree to which American society is over-all a racially conscious society (Sandel, 2007)(Justice 2 pg. 250), by increasing the number of minorities in various professional careers. By doing so, minorities can begin to think themselves as individuals who can succeed like others through talent and initiative. By increasing the number of minorities in academic establishments and work force, it is hoped that one day that professional careers that are traditionally lacking minorities such as medical or engineering that it would reflect the racial makeup of the community as a whole (Sandel, 2007)(Justice 2 pg. 250). Seeing is believing, if minority children grew up seeing people whom are similar as themselves doing amazing things and contributing to society that they too can become like them. Minorities in power or as professionals serve as role models for minority children as a testament of what is possible and what to strive for. Due to American’s rich dark history of racism towards minorities, this is the first step to bridge the gap and towards the goal of society of seeing color in race and more towards the individual instead.

        America has always been a melting pot of different cultures and ideals, but it also has its shares of a dark history as well. Due to the years of oppression and racisms, minorities are left starting late in the race and are left in an uneven playing field. Minorities who come from poor backgrounds are at a disadvantage the most through no fault of their own. Disadvantages such as economic factors play a large role in getting admitted to selective college and eventually to the work force. Growing up poor hinders educational opportunities and various resources needed to compete with those who can afford private tutors and much more rigorous private schools.  There is roughly 111,000 minority students a year who never go to a selective school, even though their standardized test scores suggest they would probably be able to graduate (Weissmann, 2013). Those students were never given that chance given the hand they were dealt with. Affirmative action gives these students an opportunity to go to a good college that overwise would’ve not accepted them due to the lower test scores when compared to other applicants higher scores. If you’re going to take the kids with the highest test scores, you’re taking the rich kids (Weissmann, 2013). The rich kids that got higher scores aren’t necessary smarter than poor kids, they just grew up with better resources and better environment that maximizes their chance for success. If the poorer students were in the same positions as the rich kids, they would’ve got higher test scores as well. There must be encouragement and effective resources for minorities to succeed, which allows them to enter fields which has been traditionally closed to them in the past. Affirmative action is there to ensure that the next generation of minorities will have true equal opportunity (Baranger, 1996).

        Affirmative action is a complex and fiercely debated issue, it is one of the issues that is dividing America and forcing people to take sides. While it is true that there is both pros and cons for both sides of the argument, the current system is far from the solution. The fact of the matter is that affirmative action with or without is hurting students and people going to the work force. What about the people who slip through the cracks? Don’t they deserve a chance as well? It is foolish to believe that based on someone’s race alone that they need help to be successful, the students who grew up with minorities in the same system, the same economic background, should be given a chance as well. At the end of the day, there will be people who dislike the solution one way or another, but it is unethical to punish those in the crosshairs. Although I do agree that minorities who come from poorer economic backgrounds should be given the same opportunities as everyone else, race should not just be the determining factor.  The emphasis instead should be on the individual, what he or she brings to the table whether its merit or unique trait that enhances the school or company.

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What Is Affirmative Action?. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved October 6, 2022 , from
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