Has Affirmative Action outlived its use in today's society? And if so should the program change or simply come to an end?
The issue of Affirmative Action (AA) is one that is currently being hotly debated by both policy makers and the public. Like racism itself there are many opinions all of which are run the gamut between logical and illogical and constructive and destructive. In general it is come to be an accepted premise that AA has outlived its usefulness, has a tendency to do damage to both the minority beneficiaries of it and the majority and should either be changed drastically in application or eliminate it altogether (Todd, Spanierman, & Poteat, 2011). In looking at this issue through the perspective of academic literature this researcher developed two general questions regarding AA; Has Affirmative Action outlived its use in today's society? And if so should the program change or simply come to an end? Using these two questions as a lens creates an interesting academic picture of the issue. This work will provide a literature review that addresses the topics of this question looking specifically at literature that addresses reasoning and opinion regarding AA and why specifically it is under attack.
Literature on AA in general supports the popular public opinion that AA should be addressed in some way in both a legal and practical sense. The basis of popular public opinion is not necessarily based upon academic literature but is based on multiple media representations of conservatism denoting the general idea that government has simply overstepped its bounds in dealing with state and individual rights. The same pundits also stress the importance of meritocracy, colorblindness, the absence of racism and the importance of eliminating and reversing the growth of government and government regulations. (Hustwit, 2011, 639-670) Yet the literature also often supports the idea that the majority demonstrates limited knowledge of the continued condition of racism in society and often utilizes self-serving biases to support elimination and/or alteration of AA legal precedence and policy (Hughes & Bigler, 2010; O'Brien, Garcia, Crandall, & Kordys, 2010; Oh, Choi, Neville, Anderson, & Landrum-Brown, 2010; Riccucci & Moon, 2005).
Meritocracy is a particularly interesting concept that some indicate should replace AA as a fairer ideal for the development of policies and procedures that respond to qualifications of all rather than considering race in the equation (Phelan & Rudman, 2011). Yet the literature also makes clear that meritocracy is fundamentally present in most policies and procedures having to do with AA, as most policies of AA demonstrate at least the intent to look at only equally qualified individuals and then use minority status as the final determining point (Riccucci & Moon, 2005). Meritocracy is the kind of ideal that the literature a contests is a denial of the reality of continued racism and especially institutional racism (Ledford, 2011). According to Oh, et al., (2010) teaching diversity over the last two decades may have led many in the majority to acceptance of this colorblind ideology and in a sense reversed the intention of multicultural and diversity education. This acceptance according to the researchers is in part because the majority is not likely to see or deal with racism on a daily basis and therefore to think about it or even believe it exists. Additionally, they have been told repeatedly, as a byproduct of diversity education that no matter ones' race he or she should be able to accomplish whatever task he or she set his or her mind to and works hard toward achieving. Again according to Oh, et al., (2010) this contention undermines the reality of institutional and direct racism and creates a false sense that it no longer exists in the culture. Again this research group affirmed that the support of this belief is founded in a self-serving bias, similar to the one noted by O'Brian et al. (2010)
Having then brought up the point of what the literature has to say about self-serving biases, also defined by some as systems biases needs further explanation. Phelan & Rudman, (2011) demonstrates that system justification, like that discussed in O'Brian et al. (2010) regarding harm to the beneficiaries and the colorblind ideology, as discussed by Oh, et al., (2010) are both supported by research as the foundational reasoning for why many individuals seek the alteration and/or elimination of AA as a policy premise in both the public and private sectors. Phelan & Rudman (2011) also add yet another system justification claiming that the majority supports that AA is a form of reverse discrimination is again at play in the preference for merit-based company ideology advertisements with regard to employment. Hughes & Bigler (2010) create a primary research study on the views of adolescents with regard to AA and diversity that offers the researcher a view of the future of affirmative action. In short they contend that adolescents of different races viewed AA and diversity from different perspectives, likely as a result of exposure to racism or the lack there of. Yet, they went on to say that these same adolescents were statistically in favor of creating polices that were responsive to issues of improved diversity.
The issue of AA as a policy standard is essential to the future of the ideal, as either something in need of serious change or something that should be eliminated altogether. Hall, Martinez, Tuan, McMahon, & Chain (2011), dissect the issue of AA and ethnocultural diversity from a policy level. Martinez, Tuan, McMahon, & Chain (2011) contend that there are three varied points-of-view on the issue of AA and ethnocultural diversification; the dissenter who is opposed to diversification, the passive supporter who values the benefits of diversification but engages in efforts to support it only when required to do so and active supporters who seek out opportunities to be proactive regarding diversification and take action regardless of mandates. This view demonstrates a template that can be used to see who will be an agent of change and/or support of affirmative action, who will only participate when mandated and lastly who will attempt to create barriers for diversification in policy and practice. The intended audience is those who develop affirmative action programs and policies and is comparable to many other exploratory articles on this issue with the addition of extremely effective analogies that further a holistic view of the topic of AA.
A very limited research base and the only example I found analyzing an application of a colorblind policy can be found in Ledford (2011). Ledford (2011), discusses the application of race neutral policies in a French experiment and supports the application of such changes to the U.S. academic system. Ledford discusses the current debate regarding race based AA and compares it to the French example which utilizes class rather than race in a race neutral legal application. According to Ledford; "Proponents of race-conscious programs have argued that they are needed to correct centuries of racial oppression and discrimination, while many opponents push for class-oriented remedies that will compensate for economic inequalities among both underrepresented minorities and whites," (2011, p. 357). The comparison is both intriguing and informative as each example (the U.S. And France) offer guided solutions to serious social problems. Examples in the literature that look at corporate/business are also rare, but Phelan & Rudman (2011) offer a community/corporate based AA research design that looks at job seeker preferences for companies that advertize as affirmative action and equal opportunity (EO) focused and those that express merit-based practices. The work demonstrates that system justification allows decisions regarding race to be made preferential above qualifications but that AA is only intended to be used as a guide when candidates are equally qualified. The result then, according to the researchers, is that those who oppose AA (even when used correctly) are opposing systems that support a world that they already believe exists.
The application of a "colorblind" ideal that replaces race with class in AA selection and hiring practices is indeed and issue that should be further explored in the U.S., with regard to policy change as debate will likely continue and this idea of class as a more effective distinction to address disparity might fit in to the application of change. This is especially important in the wake of literature that stresses how truly, ineffective AA has been even at its source application, i.e. The federal government. Riccucci (2009), attempts to determine the extent to which the U.S. Federal Government has implemented its AA programs and ideology. The work does so by performing a statistical analysis of the wage and job level attainment of white women and people of color as compared to their white male counterparts. The research looks at distribution of disparity in non-postal jobs in the federal government. Riccucci (2009), finds that white women and people of color are still poorly demographically represented in the power position jobs of the federal government, those jobs in high middle…