I think we can all agree that people deserve a chance to succeed. Regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin or any other distinction, a person should be able to sink or swim on the basis of their own ability and not be denied opportunities solely on the basis of those aforementioned characteristics. There are many suggestions about how to go about making that ideal a reality, and the most prominent one we’ve seen in this country has been affirmative action.
The practice, which primarily seeks to prevent employers from hiring based on race and gender, has seen some controversy over the years with allegations of “reverse discrimination.” The claim is that implementing affirmative action predisposes decisions in favor of one group to the exclusion of others regardless of qualification. For instance, if a firm begins hiring employees of a certain ethnicity to the exclusion of others in order to qualify for some incentive, it is just another form of discrimination.
Such discriminatory practices have happened before, though it should be noted that this is not affirmative action. By definition, affirmative action does not favor one race over another. Instead, it seeks to take race out of the equation. Implementation of affirmative action in the United States has yet to reach that ideal since the law still allows these factors to influence decisions in regards to hiring and school acceptance, though in a very narrow sense.
In 2003, the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s admittance policy, which allowed for race and ethnicity to be taken into consideration, as constitutional.
One reason the court upheld the policy was because the school considered each applicant on a case-by-case, subjective basis, so that applications were accepted or denied in isolation. In addition, the school’s stated goal of student diversity was deemed “compelling” enough to merit consideration because of the end result it sought. In this way, the court decided that consideration of race was permissible, as long as it was one factor among many, rather than the only factor that mattered.
It’s an important distinction, because while it doesn’t discourage the majority, it does encourage the minority, which is something that needs to be done. Some might disagree, but in many cases discrimination is cyclical. A minority individual who is denied opportunities will become progressively less qualified to take advantage of such opportunities and will ultimately be unable to fulfill his or her potential.
Race relations in the U.S. are a case in point. Minorities with a history of discrimination and even outright oppression are notably less well-off. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median income of black families was less than two-thirds that of the median of all U.S. families in 2009.
It is for this reason that affirmative action is necessary. In the past, discriminated minorities have been denied opportunities necessary for proper growth. Even though those opportunities are available to them now, they are at a disadvantage because they have to make up for lost time.
In the end, this can and will balance itself out. As more opportunities become available, those who have been denied in the past will be increasingly better positioned to take advantage of them. In order to establish this happy medium and to make sure opportunities are not being unjustly withheld, affirmative action is necessary.
Randall Hellmer is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.