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Affirmative Action - does it work?

Affirmative Action - does it work?


Definition: Programmes designed to remedy (put right) past discrimination and to prevent future discrimination. These programmes usually involve preferential treatment for a minority group and are commonly associated with African-Americans.


Arguments against


It is unconstitutional and un-American

•The Declaration of Independence pledged that “All men are created equal.”

•This suggests that the Founding Fathers were not racist.

•The American Dream is a tale about how anyone with talent can succeed.

•Irish-Americans started off poor but ended up rich.

•Republicans have claimed AA programmes prevent self reliance.

•The constitution, they argue, should protect individuals and not groups.

It is Unfair

•Why should white Americans pay for the sins of their ancestors?

•Even blacks owned slaves.

•Other minority groups such as Chinese-Americans have prospered without preferential treatment.

•Public sector workers suffer most from these schemes, as well as those in moderately paid professions, not the rich.

•AA was merely a response to civil unrest and race riots in the 1960s.

•President Ford claimed AA was a victory for “lawbreakers” and “mad dogs”.

It is Unnecessary

•Many African-Americans have prospered in recent years, as demonstrated by emergence of a black middle class and politicians such as Barack Obama.

•Segregation is a choice: Even wealthier blacks in suburbs (towns outside big cities) are segregated, even though they could afford to live in white areas.

•More African-Americans than ever before are taking in part in politics. Front Loading in primaries has led to states with sizeable African-American and Latino populations influencing the nomination process.

•In Thernstrom’s book “No Excuses”, black underachievement is blamed more on family structure (single parent households) and black culture. Gangster rap, for example, promotes violence and drugs.

•The Supreme Court recently struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act 1965. The key claim of the majority on the court was that racism is no longer so prevalent in the South, thus regulations from the federal government cannot be justified.

It is counter-productive and poorly implemented

•Preferential treatment in education has meant weaker students are ill equipped to handle the workload at the universities they attend.

•Those minorities who are successful face the stigma (label) that they are “only successful because they are black”.

•It is not the fault of those living in suburbs that the cities are in such a mess.

•Yet it is the schools in these areas that had to endure Busing (the attempt to de-segregate schools by transporting inner city children to good schools), which is universally accepted as a failure.

•Programmes such as these led to a backlash against AA. 

•Failures such as Busing led to the banning of AA in California under Proposition 209.


Arguments for Affirmative Action


The Constitution has not provided equality for all and AA is needed to ensure that it does

•The Founding Fathers supported slavery and the constitution allowed, for 100 years, for legalised segregation.

•The US government has a duty to put right these wrongs.

•Past programmes to remedy (put right) poverty benefited whites instead of blacks. The New Deal created construction jobs for Irish-Americans. The GI Bill helped American soldiers who fought WWII to find suitable housing but benefited few non-white servicemen.

•The New Deal was implemented in a racially discriminatory way in the South.

•African-Americans are the only group that encountered political, as well as economic barriers to advancement, hence the need for a different approach.

 It has made The US a fairer place

•By 2002, 70% of African-Americans were in white collar (middle class) jobs, compared to 15% in 1960.

•There has been a steady flow of African-Americans moving from the inner city to the suburbs, which has led to the development of a black middle class.

•There are over 40 African-Americans in the House of Representatives, largely as a result of re-districting (the drawing of Congressional district boundaries for political gain) that created “minority” districts.

•The number of black politicians holding state-wide positions has also grown.

•The numbers of African-Americans with a university degree has increased by 43% since the 1970s. 

•Nixon’s AA programmes broke up the white-dominated unions in the construction industry.

•The Housing and Urban Development Act and the Fair Housing Act provided relief to low-income earners.

But social justice has still not been realised, hence the continued need for AA

•Johnson: “It is not enough simply to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.”

•Brown V Board did not end segregation.

•Racial profiling (the use of traffic enforcement law as a justification to investigate African-Americans) proves that America is institutionally racist.

•Mandatory Minimums (minimum prison sentences) penalise (punish) users of crack cocaine (likely to be black) more harshly than users of powdered cocaine (usually affluent whites). Granted, Congress has recently acted to limit these sentences.

•13% of African-Americans have lost the right to vote due to past felonies (crimes).

•The refusal of presidential candidate Donald Trump to condemn the KKK demonstrates that minority groups still need protection.

•While some African-Americans left the cities for the suburbs, this only exacerbated (made worse) the conditions of those who were left behind, and led to the creation of ghettos.

•There are more African-American men in jail, on parole or on probation than there are black men in university.

•African-Americans are less likely own houses and have savings, which means they have fewer sources of income.  Of those who did own property, they were far more likely to lose their home in the credit crunch, owing to a large proportion of African-Americans taking out “sub-prime mortgages”.

•This means that having a job is vital, and that makes AA all the more important.

Affirmative Action is not as radical as critics suggest. More radical forms of AA, such as Reparations (payments to descendents of slaves) are needed.

•The Supreme Court has watered down AA – the 1978 California V Bakke case banned using AA for righting past wrongs. It can now only be used to “promote diversity”.

•The current Supreme Court could end AA altogether, given its conservative nature.

•A number of initiatives have banned affirmative action at state level. – Arizona’s Proposition 107 bans affirmative action in employment.

•Those who advocate reparations do so for a number of reasons:

•There needs to be recognition of the scale of the Maafa (disaster) that befell slaves. It is not recognised as a crime against humanity, which it clearly was.

•It was as bad as the holocaust, the taking of native-American lands and the internment (imprisonment) of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

•The case for reparations is not a new argument made by a generation who want to milk the government. It is an argument that has been made by African-Americans ever since they were freed. Yet such demands (freed slaves asked for 40 acres of land and a mule) were ignored.

•Reparations could ease “white guilt” and address psychological grievances of African-Americans.

•The details of who should receive what could be worked out later. Perhaps money could simply be used to ensure every African-American has health insurance.


•Perhaps the happy conclusion could be that a weakened Affirmative Action (with no reparations) would not create as much resentment among whites, whilst at the same time it could still help some minorities. Would banning it make America a happier, less segregated and tolerant place?

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