Today, it would be racists who use the tags “minority” and “intellectually impaired” together. However, it is that precise attitude that is promoted by the defenders of affirmative action, a system that is firmly entrenched in the mindset that minorities would be unable to succeed on a level playing field. Based on historical precedence, the legal basis for affirmative action is not well supported. It attempts to protect equality and promote diversity, but it does exactly the opposite. It goes against the basic American principle of allowing anyone to succeed, regardless of superficial classifications such as skin color. It is a flawed and oversimplified attempt at approaching a very complex problem. As such, affirmative action must be abolished as it exists in its current state because it replaces achievement and dedication with arbitrary, logically unsound preferences.
The history of affirmative actions dates back to the mid-19th century. In the US, affirmative action was started as a tool to address the inequalities present in employment for African Americans. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 stated that companies should use affirmative action “to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”(“Introduction”). However, the present use and development goes against its founding belief, that everyone should be given equal opportunity, not to lower requirements for one specific class. This was later reinforced by the SP-1 and SP-2 resolutions passed by the Board of Regents of the University of California on July 20, 1995. These resolutions required that “race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity, and national origin not be considered in the admissions process”(“A Brief History”). This was later amended to also apply to all job positions in the University of California system. This clearly showed the public dissent towards affirmative action, and yet it continues to be used in copious amounts when regarding admissions. The final blow for public affirmative action in California came with the RE-28 Case, which officially incorporated the ban from California’s Constitution on affirmative action into the UC system, setting a precedent for future abolition of affirmative action. The historical legal discord surrounding affirmative action reveals the shaky basis it is rooted in, and the little legal ground it holds.
A primary argument for affirmative action is that it must be kept in place to assure some all-important diversity, but this assumption is fallacious, for “diversity just for the sake of having it provides little benefit to a school” (Ayres). Some institutions will just use affirmative action to pad their statistics to try and seem more appealing, resulting in a myriad of other problems, some of which include underqualification and thus higher dropout rates. Affirmative action should be a tool used to ensure equality, not to be used solely for reputational gain. Additionally, schools such as UC Berkeley, Texas A&M, the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and many others have reported no significant decrease in Latino or African American students as a result of their race-blind admissions process (Potter). If racial diversity (the main reason preferences were established) can be conserved without bluntly resorting to affirmative action, there is no point to using it. The many arguments flying around about race are truly unfounded, as all that really is happening is that people will “perpetuate [a] race obsession that grants preference on the basis of skin color” in spite of the fact that most of the people receiving this benefit do not actually require it, all things considered (Chavez). The amount of emphasis being placed around the relatively arbitrary color of someone’s skin is illogical – this is not unlike admitting someone based on the color of their eyes or hair. None of these physical traits affect merit in any way, and thus should not play a role in the consideration of how successful someone will be at any given institution.
Another contentious point about affirmative action is its questionable legal background. The California Constitution was amended by the popularly voted Proposition 209 in 1996 to prohibit preferential treatment in all public institutions based on race. This was upheld in 2000, and then again in 2010 by the California Supreme Court (“Affirmative Action in California). Even though public schools in California are completely shut off to affirmative action, most still do not report unfair skewing against minorities, as they still compose a fair proportion of students on various campuses. Even private employers and schools are not free to abuse affirmative action – they must abide by Title VII of the Equal Employment Clause. This entails making any preferential plans temporary, presenting factual proof that discrimination is present and thus preference is necessary, and that the plan implemented cannot be at the expense of any current workers (“Affirmative Action Programs”). Private institutions are not transparent about their admissions processes, but it can be assumed that most of their plans are not temporary. The lack of accountability that affirmative actions creates is just another reason that it should not be allowed. There is much historical precedence backing the movement against affirmative action, as Supreme Court rulings such as those in Watson v. Fort Worth Bank and Trust, as well as Wards Cove Packing Company v. Antonio, where burden of proof of discrimination was shifted from plaintiffs to employers (Magee). This proof is often not provided before usage of preference, creating legal shortcomings and is in general a pitfall to the system. The further legal pushback against affirmative action and its derivatives indicate that it has very shallow roots in legal soil and do not hold up well.
The viability of affirmative action’s results are also at stake in consideration of its efficacy. However, it has far-reaching negative implications, as “if a minority student can get into Harvard with a 3.2 GPA, why should she push to get a 4.0?” (Messerli). Affirmative action removes the incentive to perform at one’s best and replaces it with a biased and undeserved guarantee based on skin color. Again, the problem of this quota culture is that is creates academic underqualification and further serves to undermine the premise of a meritocracy whilst fostering a mindset with gilding statistics and reputation at the forefront. Affirmative action even fails at finding the right targets – America’s poor is disproportionally made up of people of color, but in reality, preferences usually end up benefiting minorities in from middle-and-upper class backgrounds, whom do not necessarily require further aid (Lombardo). Not only does affirmative action have faulty reasoning when it comes to what it provides, but cannot even seem to provide it to the right people. To make affirmative action look all the more useless, a survey from the Pew Research Center states that “the percentage of Americans who feel that racial discrimination is the chief impediment to black progress is falling. Most also agree that the hardest obstacle to scale is the economic one” (Pope). This further shifts the argument away from race, and more to economic class, a much more reasonable discriminator for those who need aid, rather than an arbitrary physical trait. Doing so would not be as blind a method of handing out preference. Indeed, the intellectual gap between, say, White and Black, has never and will never be as large as that of rich and poor, so why only focus on giving preference to the former sector?
The defenders of affirmative action claim that the policy they uphold is some bastion of racial equality, and indeed, it does provide some of its own benefits – but not without its crippling downsides. Its very foundation was based on the racist notion that minorities are always underperforming and thus require an artificial boost to be able to compete. The label of being a “affirmative action hire” is biting, as “affirmative action, whatever its benefits as a form of social engineering, [is] a synonym for mediocrity”(Stephens). Those that would champion affirmative action as a beacon of just society apparently have no trouble swallowing the implicit admission that they are labeling all minorities as unqualified. This method for inclusion is, seen from a different angle, a method for exclusion. In fact, there is little but general absurdity surrounding the subject of preference. As Pojman puts it, “the fact that Asians are producing 50% of the Ph.Ds in science and math in this country clearly shows that we are providing secret advantages to Asians. By the same logic, we should reduce the quota of Blacks in the NBA to 12%.” This sardonic quip reveals the pointlessness of preferences and the little reason there is to use them, at least when they revolve around race. There are some that state that “Across the American workplace, the importance of ‘metocratic criteria’ such as test scores or ‘minimum credentials’ have been downplayed, if not totally eliminated as ‘inherently biased against minorities’” (Mercer). Essentially, this presupposes that all people having the same color of skin are from a lower class, therefore needing help. This is a damaging mindset, as many people hailing from minority ethnicities have proved that they are extraordinarily intelligent and accomplished. In fact, in some cases affirmative action was actually used on racist grounds, as “the original intent of promoting ‘diversity’ as an alternative to strict academic qualifications was to limit the enrollment of Jews” (Wolters). It is ironic that those who steadfastly defend affirmative action claim that it is founded upon a premise of racial inclusion, when in reality in some cases it did exactly the opposite. The alienation of potentially great minds that have already proven themselves capable should not be cast aside for less promising candidates, just because the latter will satisfy some racial quota an institution feels obligated to maintain to pad their numbers.
Affirmative action and the underlying basis of preference is, for better or for worse, deeply ingrained in decision-making for many institutions and employers. As much as race is a poor indicator of potential, there is little hope that it will be removed. While affirmative action serves to really only demean true minority achievement, and it is condescending to suggest that minorities need an artificial boost to succeed, the reality is that nothing will happen about it, at least not in the near future. However, some low-level reform to the system of preference could be instated – if private-sector institution insist on using preferential treatment, then there should be transparency in how and why they do. Too often do obscurity and lack of accountability follow in the shadows of preferences stemming from affirmative action. And, perhaps instead of looking to race to judge preferences, class could be used instead.