Affirmative action: Where’s the logic?

By Stephan L. Lopes

Can affirmative action programs be good for all? Anyone? No. And before you grab your trusty pen, I’ll explain.

Affirmative action proponents and opponents have many arguments. But, all but one used by both camps have gaping logical holes which leave us with empty justification for its existence. Let’s examine the most popular arguments used by each side.

The most popular one favoring it is the compensatory one which says affirmative action programs should exist to make up for past injustices incurred.

I feel no guilt for injustices suffered by minorities. Besides, those who reap the advantages of preferential treatment should be the ones who were wronged—not their decendants. However, the compensatory argument is the one which might have validity if restated, but it is the only one. If affirmative action programs are used to offset current discrimination in the workplace then—and only then—can it have utility.

But you don’t need a magnifying glass to see the problem with this. How can racism during hiring be identified? And if it could, should all employers have to adapt their hiring criteria to meet regulations made because some were shown to discriminate? In a capitalist country where we are expected to compete for resources, should you tell a business how, and possibly who, to hire? Certainly not.

The most prevalent argument used by opponents is the cost_benefit analysis approach. They say the “most qualified” should always get the job. They say affirmative action programs interfere with productivity and a company’s ability to compete in a free market. They suggest using test scores alone to determine who gets the job.

People who fill positions will tell you there are certain intangibles which cannot be qualified by test scores. That’s one of the purposes of an interview. Creativity cannot be gauged by a test. If tests of knowledge were issued to musicians, America wouldn’t have given birth to jazz.

arvard law professor Ronald Dworkin says that affirmative action programs should be instituted in the medical profession “because blacks, for no fault of their own, are now unlikely to be well-served by whites, and because a failure to provide the doctors they trust will exacerbate rather than reduce the resentment that now leads them to trust only their own.”

Do white doctors provide less-than-optimal care to black patients because of their color? And do blacks not trust their white physicians because they are black? I give people more credit than that. Dworkin thinks with his heart, not his head.

Let’s face it. Most of us want to do the right thing. In a mad dash to even the scales of social equality we have thrown logic to the wind and tried to justify our actions.

Reverse discrimination will not make people feel their race is integral to society. And, it will further the resentment held by equally-qualified applicants who get passed by.

Affirmative action is not the answer for social inequality. As education and media access improve, so will our ability to appreciate our differences and learn to view them as a resource.