Friday, March 1, 2013

Rethinking Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is « a policy or a program that seeks to redress past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, as in education and employment » (The Free Dictionary). According to this definition, affirmative action is a way to make up for historical mistreatments of the minorities. In the United States, it began as a tool to address the persistent discriminations against African Americans in the 1960s. President Lyndon B. Johnson described it as “the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity” ("Commencement Address at Howard University". Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. 1965). Brown v. Board desegregated schools in theory but in practice it could not ensure that African-Americans got the same opportunities as the whites in universities. Affirmative action is thus supposed to be a means to reach “equality as a fact and equality as a result” as Johnson stated.

Nevertheless, affirmative action is a controversial issue. It has been the target of many court cases. Opponents argue that racial affirmative action benefits wealthy African Americans but does not take into account poor Asians or Europeans for example. Another argument underlined by the opposition is that affirmative action appears like reverse discrimination. It would minimize the minorities' real accomplishments and make them appear as assisted people. Recently a white student, Abigail Fisher, sued the University of Texas at the Supreme Court because she believes she was denied acceptance to this university due to her race. The University of Texas uses the “top ten percent law” guaranteeing Texas students who graduated in the top ten percent of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded universities. Would affirmative action be a new segregational system against whites?

As far as I am concerned, I found this assumption ridiculous. Considering the historical restrictions imposed on African Americans, it is logical that the State helps them to integrate and to overcome obstacles. I think Abigail Fisher was just frustrated because she was not among the best ten percent students of her high school and so takes revenge on the program implemented by the University of Texas. In the 1960s, Dr. King wrote in a private letter: “Many white workers whose economic condition is not too far removed from the economic condition of his black brother will find it difficult to accept.” It shows that in a society which has always privileged whites, racial issues are still existing. A little help from the government can be essential to help blacks to reach the American dream.

However, the American system value diversity over fairness. A New York Time article ( suggests to “modernize” affirmative action and so to rethink it. The author of the article, David Leonhardt, explains that in the 1960s the Americans “were creating a system that depended on racial categories.” As these programs were launched at a time when American society was fighting segregation, it made sense. Yet, in 2013 it may be more relevant to refocus affirmative action on fairness and so to consider class. Racial discrimination did not disappear especially not in education and employment. Though, as David Leonhardt stated : “simple discrimination seems to have become a relatively smaller obstacle over the last few decades, while socioeconomic disadvantage has become a larger one.” I also think that the defenders of affirmative action advocate this policy for wrong reasons. For them, this is a way to get racially diverse classes and represent the American society as a melting pot whereas it should be a way to help people in need. They should not be used for their racial image. Furthermore, black and Latino students are often affected by poverty so they would still benefit from this potential new plan of action.

Trying this form of affirmative action would be a good step to integrate more fully disadvantaged people in the widest sense.


  1. I find Abigail Fisher's case to be ridiculous as well. If she had finished in the top 10% of her high school class, she would have been guaranteed a spot at the University of Texas. She did not, so she was not. It's simple. From what I've read, she did fairly, though not spectacularly, well on her SATs and was fairly, though not spectacularly, well-rounded, involved in orchestra and some volunteer work. Her GPA was not astoundingly high, and there is nothing that I have read that I feel should have guaranteed her a spot at UT. In reality, it probably all boils down to her sense of entitlement and the inability of people to take responsibility for their own failings. For me, it's comparable to the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself at McDonalds and sued the company...

    Aside from that, it seems logical that affirmative action could use a revamping of sorts. Rather than focusing on it as an issue of diverse races, it seems feasible to approach it as an issue of class instead.

  2. I think what you said at the end, about black and latino students who are affected by poverty not even benefitting from affirmative action, shows that the program needs a serious make-over, or "revamping," as Taylor pointed out. If only a small percentage of blacks, latinos, and Native Americans are wealthy enough to have the opportunities to excel in school, then accepting the top ten percent is in effect accepting the students who came from wealthy families that could afford to devote the time and money towards a good education. Furthermore, it is more than likely that the top ten percent of students in Texas are white and thus, the program is not achieving its goal of representing more students of color in higher education.

    As far as "Reverse Discrimination" goes, my opinion is that compared to the overall inequality faced by the black community to the white community, some reverse discrimination might even out the "social injustice" dealt to communities of color and create greater class equality if more students of color were accepted in comparison to whites.