Affirmative Action for United States
The election of Barack Obama as President in 2008 marked the first time an African-American had been elected to the nation’s highest office. While many of his political opponents were inspired by the milestone, it also raised questions about affirmative action policies. These policies started in the late-1960’s and required employers and schools to take “affirmative action” to ensure that qualified minority applicants were considered without regard to race. Affirmative action was justified to counter the effects of historic racial discrimination.
Nearly everyone acknowledges this as a worthy goal, but critics of the policy argue that in practice, it has allowed unqualified minority candidates to be selected over qualified white candidates. Some critics believe that affirmative action may have been justified in the 1960s when state governments officially discriminated against minorities, but it has no place in today’s society. They argue that now that official segregation has been eliminated, it is time for minorities to stand on their own merits.
This is a problematic issue since few people dispute that there are still significant inequities in American society today. However, eliminating affirmative action would probably be for the best for several reasons. First of all, many of the disparities in American society today are based on economic factors rather than race. Statistically, African-Americans are more likely to be poor than whites. Affirmative action has alleviated this somewhat by helping expand the black middle class, but a significant number of African-Americans remain trapped in poorer neighborhoods. This implies two things – first, affirmative action has been unable to benefit this group, and second, policies such as improving inner-city schools might be more successful. Of course, improving schools would require a great deal of time, effort, and money, while affirmative action is much cheaper by comparison. In this way, affirmative action serves as an easy way out instead of addressing the main problem.
Another argument against affirmative action is the basic fact that it elevates less qualified applicants over more qualified ones. Proponents of affirmative action would dispute this, but the evidence seems clear that at least some beneficiaries of the policy at universities would not be admitted if not for their race. Of course, grades and test scores are not perfect indicators of academic aptitude, but if they are used, they should be applied equally for all applicants.
It benefits neither society nor the actual applicant to have someone admitted to a school that they are not academically prepared for. While there are other examples of this happening (athletes, legacy admissions, etc.), the solution should be to eliminate these examples rather than compound the problem. Besides, it is challenging to justify admitting a black student from a wealthy family over a white student from a low-income family (everything else being equal) because the black student has been “disadvantaged.”Another problem with affirmative action is the corrosive effect it has had on race relations in America.
Many whites bitterly dislike affirmative action and suspect that they have somehow been “cheated” out of a job or place at a university at the hands of a less-qualified (in their view) minority. African-Americans who become successful are often accused of somehow being “propped up” by affirmative action – even blacks who obviously would have been successful with or without the policy. President Obama himself is not immune to these whispers (though his success would seem to be an argument in favor of affirmative action). Naturally, successful minorities resent these innuendos. The resulting tension is excellent for talk-radio hosts, but it is not suitable for race relations or the country as a whole.
If affirmative action is a complex issue, creating gerrymandered legislative districts to ensure the election of minorities raises additional concerns. The Voting Rights Act has been interpreted to mean that minority citizens should get every opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice (which in practice is usually a minority). Over the last 40 years, this has led to an increase in the number of “majority-minority” districts, or districts comprised of greater than 50% minorities. The intent behind this was noble. Lawmakers felt that minorities should elect representatives of their choice, and they also believed that legislative deliberations would benefit from having a greater diversity of representatives.
Recently, though, the practice has created problems. Computer technology has honed the ancient art of gerrymandering to a science. African-Americans tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans naturally want to limit the number of Democratic districts to control the remapping process. However, by law, they are required to ensure that minorities are fairly represented. Their answer has been to “pack” as many minorities as possible into as few districts. Minorities will elect their candidates, but Republicans will theoretically have a better chance in all the remaining sections.
The problem is that the law assumes that minorities are better off being in their districts. This has led to more minorities in Congress, but it also limits minorities’ influence in other districts. The result has been that the few minority representatives in Congress are often the only ones listening to the concerns of minorities. One could argue that minorities would be better off having influence (even if less than a majority) in more districts. Even if they could not elect a representative by themselves, more representatives would have no choice but to listen to their concerns.