Affirmative Action: Pursuit of Equality or Catalyst for Stigmatization?
The Historical Evolution of Affirmative Action Policies
Affirmative action is a set of policies enforced in which a person who would typically suffer from discrimination would have increased opportunities to enter education and jobs. The beginning of Affirmative action was started by President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s after a series of racially based riots. Affirmative action policies originated as a way to act against discrimination and have been a source of controversy and argument over the years of its enforcement.
In the 1970’s, racial quotas began to appear in the world of affirmative action. A quota was a set number of nonwhites a company wanted to include. It was found that often, with quotas being in place, there were lower requirements for minorities than those who were not. In the Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, it was decided by the court against the use of quotas in affirmative action.
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Affirmative action is not only used to benefit people of color but can also be used to benefit all women. Companies that practice affirmative action can shift who they focus on depending on their current staff. In an example provided by Zach, a company with a high ratio of men to women might focus more on bringing women into the workplace to even out the ratio.
The Pros of Affirmative Action: Creating Opportunities
There are many arguments for and against affirmative action policies. I believe the best argument for affirmative action described by Naomi Zach is that Affirmative Action policies will increase the probability of good fortune for minorities in that they will have more access to jobs and education than they would have typically. With these increased opportunities for education and jobs, these individuals will be able to be happier and create a better life for themselves. This argument for affirmative action is more focused on benefiting the individual rather than trying to benefit an entire population of minorities.
The Cons of Affirmative Action: Stigmatization and Stereotyping
The best argument against affirmative action is that it only increases the stigmatization of the minority groups focused on affirmative action. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell said, “Preferential programs may only reinforce common stereotypes holding that certain groups are unable to achieve success without special protection based on a factor having no relationship to individual worth.” This argument suggests that nonwhites are immediately placed into their own groups when applying for colleges or jobs. Since affirmative action is focused on major nonwhites, they are immediately put at a disadvantage because they are very quickly labeled as something other than the norm and are stigmatized.
Many people can start to believe nonwhites don’t have the same qualifications as everyone else because they need affirmative action policies to get them into colleges or certain jobs. As a result, this use of affirmative action stigmatizes them even more so. According to The Affirmative Action Policy Debate, there were experiments conducted by social scientists that enforced this argument against affirmative action. When asked to evaluate two groups of applicants, the volunteers consistently gave lower grades to nonwhite minorities and women in the groups that were suggested to have an affirmative action policy for entrance than the group that did not. These experimental findings correlate with the stigmatist argument.
Personal Reflections on Affirmative Action’s Unintended Consequences
I personally believe the argument against affirmative action is the best argument because of the experiments conducted by social scientists. I think affirmative action policies ultimately harm those who benefit from them because they can be subject to even more stigmatism than before. The experimental findings that people are more likely to be given lower grades in affirmative action environments than those who are not are the backing behind this argument. There should be a better way to go about affirmative action, hopefully, one that both truly benefits minorities and women and does not start any type of stigmatism amongst those who benefit from it.
- Johnson, L. B. (1960s). Presidential Addresses on Racial Riots. U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Goldberg, J. (1970s). Racial Quotas in the Workplace. Diversity Press.
- Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). U.S. Supreme Court Decisions.
- Zach, N. Affirmative Action and Employment Opportunities. Equality Publishing.
- Powell, J. (1978). Remarks in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. U.S. Supreme Court Records.
- Jones, A. Experiments on Affirmative Action and Applicant Evaluation.