Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action

A favorite argument used by opponents of affirmative action claims that it undermines the very people it is supposed to help. Affirmative action, it is said, robs women and minority members of the respect they deserve for getting hired or promoted or admitted to colleges or professional schools. And women and minority members sometimes agree: because they are faced with slurs and innuendos about how they got their jobs or promotions or admissions only through affirmative action, they think they might be better off without it. Then they would be able to feel they got where they got through their own talents and merit, and everyone would agree.

There is no doubt at all that it would be better to get a job or a promotion or a school admission based on unbiased judgment that one deserves it rather than through the pressure exerted by affirmative action programs. It should be everyone’s goal to bring about a society in which this would be standard operating procedure. But this is not the society that would exist without affirmative action, so the choice is not between bias-free employment and education decisions and maintaining affirmative action. What needs to be addressed is the very different question: given continuing discrimination, is it better for women and minority members to face the slurs and innuendos from the position of having a job or a promotion or a degree, or to face comparable slurs and innuendos about a lack of competence or merit from the position of not having the job or the promotion or the degree? The choice then becomes a great deal more realistic, and which judgment to make becomes much more clear.

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Lima