Argument: Affirmative action is only way to level playing field

Issue Report: Affirmative action

Extended argument and supporting evidence

  • Affirmative action is the only way to achieve structural integration and subsequently equal opportunity: Affirmative Action is a means to overcoming the structural exclusion of blacks from major institutions. By assisting structural integration, it enables the ideal of equal opportunity.

    • Lesley Jacobs. “Pursuing Equal Opportunities”. 2004[1]
  • NYTimes. “The New Affirmative Action”. September 30, 2007 – “But there has always been a broader notion to affirmative action as well. It has been the most serious effort of any kind to ensure equality of opportunity, without regard to wealth or poverty. When all else failed — the War on Poverty, welfare, public schools — affirmative action would be there to help less-fortunate Americans overcome the circumstances of their origins. ‘Ability is not just the product of birth,’ Lyndon Johnson said when he effectively created affirmative action during a graduation speech at Howard University in 1965. ‘Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with and the neighborhood you live in — by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child and, finally, the man.”
  • Frederick Douglass, in response to a “colorblind” civil rights ruling by a conservative Supreme Court exactly 121 years ago, delivered a message lost on Justice Thomas and his dissenting minority in Gutter v. Bollinger, decided June 23, 2003[2] – “It is our lot to live among a people whose laws, traditions, and prejudices have been against us for centuries, and from these they are not yet free. To assume that they are free from these evils simply because they have changed their laws is to assume what is utterly unreasonable and contrary to facts. Large bodies move slowly. Individuals may be converted on the instant and change their whole course of life. Nations never. Time and events are required for the conversion of nations.”
    • “The practical construction of American life is a convention against us. Human law may know no distinction among men in respect of rights, but human practice may. Examples are painfully abundant ”
  • History is the cause of present inequalities:
    • “Measured Lies: The Bell Curve Examined”. Kincheloe, Joe L., Ed.; Steinberg, Shirley R., Ed.; Gresson, Aaron D., III, Ed. 1997: – “The failure rate for Finnish children in Swedish schools is very high. When Finnish children immigrate to Australia, however, they do well–as well as Swedish immigrants. Koreans do poorly in Japanese schools where they are viewed as culturally inferior; in American schools, on the other hand, Korean immigrants are very successful. The examples are numerous, but the results generally follow the same pattern: racial, ethnic, and class groups who are viewed negatively or as inferiors in a nation’s dominant culture tend to perform poorly academically. ‘Understood this way, groups’ test scores are not the beginning of an explanation for inequality but the end of one. The beginning is history.”
  • Through the 70s, the US Supreme Court ruled that the law should actively seek to eliminate more subtle and ongoing forms of discrimination and exclusion in the work place that were a legacy of institutional racism:
    • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. “Affirmative Action”. Retrieved 10.1.07 – “In face of the plain language of Titles VI and VII, how did preferential hiring and promotion ever arise in the first place? How could they be justified legally? Part of the answer lay in the meaning of “discrimination.” The Civil Rights Act did not define the term. The federal courts had to do that job themselves, and the cases before them drove the definition in a particular direction. Many factories and businesses prior to 1964, especially in the South, had in place facially discriminatory policies and rules. For example, a company’s policy might have openly relegated blacks to the maintenance department and channeled whites into operations, sales, and management departments, where the pay and opportunities for advancement were far better. If, after passage of the Civil Rights Act, the company willingly abandoned its facially segregative policy, it could still carry forward the effects of its past segregation through other already-existing facially neutral rules. A company policy, say, that required workers to give up their seniority in one department if they transferred to another would have locked in place older black maintenance workers as effectively as the company’s prior segregative rule that made them ineligible to transfer at all. Consequently, courts began striking down facially neutral rules that carried through the effects of an employer’s past discrimination, regardless of the original intent or provenance of the rules. ‘Intent’ was effectively decoupled from ‘discrimination.’ In 1971, the Supreme Court ratified this process, giving in the Griggs decision the following construction of Title VII:
‘The objective of Congress in the enactment of Title VII…was to achieve equality of employment opportunities and remove barriers that have operated in the past to favor an identifiable group of white employees over other employees. Under the Act, practices, procedures, or tests neutral on their face, and even neutral in terms of intent, cannot be maintained if they operate to “freeze” the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices….What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to exclude on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification.’
“…In a few short paragraphs the Court advanced from proscribing practices that froze in place the effects of a firm’s own past discrimination to proscribing practices that carried through the effects of past discrimination generally. The Court characterized statutory discrimination as any exclusionary practice not necessary to an institution’s activities. Since many practices in most institutions were likely to be exclusionary, rejecting minorities and women in greater proportion than white men, all institutions needed to reassess the full range of their practices to look for, and correct, discriminatory effect. Against this backdrop, the generic idea of affirmative action took form”

‘Each institution should effectively monitor its practices for exclusionary effect and revise those that cannot be defended as ‘necessary’ to doing business. In order to make its monitoring and revising effective, an institution ought to predict, as best it can, how many minorities and women it would select over time, were it successfully nondiscriminating. These predictions constitute the institution’s affirmative action ‘goals,’ and failure to meet the goals signals to the institution (and to the government) that it needs to revisit its efforts at eliminating exclusionary practices.There may still remain practices that ought to be modified or eliminated.’
“The point of such affirmative action: to induce change in institutions so that they could comply with the nondiscrimination mandate of the Civil Rights Act.”
  • NYTimes. “The New Affirmative Action”. October, 10 2007 – “[T]here has also been a good deal of social science to support the view that the specific problems surrounding race — including discrimination — endure. One illustrative study found that résumés with typically black names are less likely to lead to job interviews than those with typically white names. Other recent studies have looked at intelligence testing. There have long been two uncomfortable facts in this area: Intelligence, indisputably, is in part genetic; and every intelligence test shows a gap between black Americans and others. For a long time, scientific research wasn’t very good at explaining this gap. But it has gotten better lately. For one thing, the gap between white and black adults has narrowed significantly since 1970, according to work by the noted researchers William Dickens and James Flynn. Four decades is too short a time period for the gene pool to change, but it’s not too short for environment to improve. Most intriguing, Roland Fryer and Steven D. Levitt, two economists (the latter is one of this magazine’s Freakonomics columnists), have found there to be essentially no gap between 1-year-old white and black children of the same socioeconomic status.”
  • “Race-blindness” cannot effectively address more subtle forms of racism and exclusion, which require a focus on outcomes:


The field does not need to be leveled
Affirmative action is not effective.
Affirmative action contributes to racism.