Affirmative Action - Historical Review essay

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..aims to compensate people for past discrimination and its effects. A main effect of past discrimination is current competitive disadvantage; affirmative action gives victims a competitive advantage to compensate for this injury." (1998) the Discrimination-blocking affirmative action according to Anderson: "...aims to block current discriminatory mechanisms by imposing a countervailing force in the opposite direction. It doesn't remove the factors -- prejudice, stereotypes, stigma, intergroup anxiety -- that cause discrimination; it just tries to block their discriminatory effects." (1998) Finally, Anderson states that the view of Integrative affirmative action has the aims of dismantling the "...current causes of race-based disadvantage -- segregation, stigmatization, discrimination -- by promoting racial integration. It thus aims for a future in which these causes no longer operate." (1998)

Anderson additionally states that arguments relating to 'diversity' supporting affirmative action "are a species of argument from social utility. The general idea is that group attributes can contribute to positive outcomes over and above the attributes of individuals. The diverse whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Diverse groups are more effective at solving problems than relatively homogeneous groups, even if the average individually-measured merit of the homogeneous group is higher than the average individually-based merit of the diverse group. There are many dimensions of diversity that have this property; the trick is to show how these dimensions are linked to race, ethnic, gender, or class diversity -- the typical types of diversity sought by affirmative action programs." (1998)

Arguments against affirmative action policies can be generally divided into two categories as follows:

1) Arguments that oppose affirmative action policies on moral principle or upon considerations of justice; and 2) Arguments that oppose these policies on grounds of their bad consequences: that they are self-defeating, harmful, or inefficient. (Anderson, 1998)

Anderson (1998) states that affirmative action in the setting of education "...raises special issues not necessarily encountered in other areas, such as employment" and include the following:

1) the rationale for AA includes not just compensation for past and continuing discrimination, but consideration of the educational value of diversity.

2) the Supreme Court has specifically recognized universities as having a First Amendment right to free speech and hence academic freedom, under which admissions and hiring policies are included. Thus, questions about the legality of affirmative action policies in education must be considered in view of First Amendment as well as the 14th Amendment and civil rights laws.

3) Merit-based arguments against affirmative action are weaker, the earlier in the "pipeline" affirmative action policies are applied.

A a) Few students have a choice over schools; their educational attainment is largely a function of the resources the state has chosen to devote to them. This in turn is a function of place of residence, which, given pervasive housing segregation, is a function of race. Conventional criteria of "merit" for admissions therefore do not measure purely individual factors (talent and determination), but also reflect many dimensions of class, race, and gender privilege.

A b) the best rationale for awarding opportunities on the basis of merit concern the efficiency advantages of assigning the most talented people to perform productive tasks. But students are not employees, they are in school to learn more than to produce.

Students do produce an educational environment, however, and so are selected in part for what they can contribute to that environment and hence to the education of their fellow students. However, at this point diversity itself has been defended as a dimension of merit -- that is, being able to bring to the educational environment various perspective shaped (not defined) by having lived in substantially different circumstances from the majority of students constitutes part of students' merit for admissions purposes. (Anderson, 1998)


It was reported by the Pew Research Center May 14, 2003, that the U.S. Supreme Court was preparing for "what could be a landmark ruling on the issue of racial preferences in college admissions." (Pew Research Center, 2003) the report states that a survey conducted nationwide by the Pew Research Center "finds a growing majority of the public supporting the general idea of affirmative action. But the poll results also reflect the public's complicated and sometimes contradictory attitudes about the subject." (Pew Research Center, 2003) While support is stated to exist "for the rationale of affirmative action - such as overcoming past discrimination or increasing the diversity of students in college..." At the same time "Americans question the fairness of such programs..." (Pew Research Center, 2003) the following figure lists some of the responses given in the survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2003.

Responses to Poll on Affirmative Action

Source: Pew Research Center (2003)

According to the Pew Research Center in the report of the 2003 poll "among 1,201 adults nationwide, 63% say they favor "affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better jobs and education." There is somewhat less support (57%) when the question specifically mentions giving "special preferences" to women and minorities." 2003) it is additionally reported that the "...The distinction between the general idea of affirmative action and the use of racial preferences matters much more for whites than for nonwhites: 86% of nonwhites favor affirmative action in general, and 82% favor racial preferences. Among whites, 58% support the general concept, but only 49% support preferences for minorities. Most of the difference in the impact of the reference to preferences occurs among whites with a high school education or less: 66% favor affirmative action in general, but only 51% favor it with racial preferences. Among college educated whites, the same percentage (51%) favor affirmative action whether preferences are mentioned or not." (Pew Research Center, 2003) the gender gap on affirmative action is reported by the Pew Research Center and results are shown in the following figure which has been adapted from the Pew Research Center (2003) report.

Gender Gap on Affirmative Action

Source: Pew Research Center (2003)

When respondents in this survey were asked as to whether they believed affirmative action programs in college admissions are a good thing and whether they were fair or unfair the respondents answered as shown in the following figure.

Programs to Increase the Numbers of Minorities in College

Source: Pew Research Center (2003)

As shown in the foregoing figure more individuals appear to be worried about the programs fairness with 47% stating that the programs are fair while 42% belief that the programs are not fair. The Pew Research Center report sates: "Black-white differences on this question are much smaller than on the question of whether such programs are a good thing or not. Among whites, 43% think the programs are unfair; 35% of blacks agree, as do 41% of other nonwhites. But Hispanics are much less concerned about the fairness of the programs: 70% say they are fair and only 27% see them as unfair." (2003)

When respondents in the Pew Research Center survey were asked if they had been personally affected by affirmative action the answers given are those shown in the following figure.

Personally Affected by Affirmative Action?

Source: Pew Research Center (2003)

It is noted by the Pew Research Center that only a small percentage of the public, or 16% reported a direct effect by affirmative action programs. Those stating the programs have hurt them were 11% and only 4% report having been assisted by the programs. Among black individuals 14% reported having been helped and 5% reported that the affirmative action programs have hurt them. Among whites 13% report having been helped and 2% report having been hurt by the programs. The Pew Research Center reports that 27% of Americans (26% of whites and 37% of blacks) report that the affirmative action programs in actually "stigmatize minorities." (2003)


The debate surrounding affirmative action continues and the reviews of the effectiveness of the laws applied in addressing affirmative action reveal that the actual effectiveness of these laws are questionable at best. While it is certain that changes were needed at each juncture of these laws being enacted, what is not certain is whether these laws have served to help as much as they might have harmed. This work has reviewed varying perspectives on affirmative action as well as the various phases through which affirmative action has traversed in the public view and from the view of various sectors and schools of thought.

While affirmative action is generally viewed as having its sole focus on African-Americans and the accompanying rights which are addressed by affirmative action, in reality affirmative action was designed to address all inequalities related to equal opportunities of individuals both in terms of employment and education and as well is a provision that support the equal rights in this arena for the female gender and all races, ethnicities and nationalities.

As can be seen from the…[continue]

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