In 1963, Whitney M. Young – then executive director of the National Urban League – made an early argument for affirmative action in which he openly advocated discrimination against whites as a way of mollifying past racial ills, saying: “If two men, one negro and one white, are equally qualified for a job, hire the negro.”
Nowadays, Young’s “reasoning” permeates not only private industry, but also governmental hiring and contracting practices, as well as admissions procedures in higher education. Affirmative action takes into account both ethnicity and gender.
This means discrimination, rather than being rightfully castigated, is now institutionally sanctioned as a means of fostering a shortsighted notion of diversity as skin color or gender, instead of a veritable notion of diversity as one’s merits as an individual.
Despite the egregious racism and sexism inherent in affirmative action practices, proponents of such measures nevertheless maintain that the ends justify the means. They reason that a little bit of discrimination against whites and males is justifiable to make up for past injustices.
It’s also thought that the benefit “diversity” brings to campuses outweighs whatever setbacks come by denying admission to perhaps higher-qualified applicants.
This reasoning assumes two fallacious premises. The notion that a little present injustice is acceptable to make up for past injustices is an example of the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy. This reasoning is wrong because it assumes moral behavior – in this case, the promotion of racial equity – can be conveyed through racism, an admittedly immoral behavior. The problem is thus rooted in the most basic of all logical errors: a contradiction. Such a position incorrectly posits that affirmative action can somehow be moral and immoral at the same time.
The second premise deals less with formal logic than with common sense. Racial and gender diversity are not qualitative – having people of different backgrounds doesn’t automatically contribute anything special to a classroom setting, for instance. It’s what people say, think, do and accomplish – irrespective of their backgrounds – that actually enriches an education.
Yet, proponents of affirmative action maintain that minorities and women, as a result of their genetic or geographic background, have different sentiments and aptitudes. Thus, the reasoning goes, this differential thinking fosters learning because it reveals a perspective that a predominately white, male environment cannot cultivate.
Quite ironically, however, the idea that genetics somehow pre-programs an individual is the same idea white supremacists and chauvinists believe in as well: Race and gender, not volition and hard work, determine an individual’s personality and abilities.
As a woman, the very notion that I should receive special treatment because of my gender – even if it’s cast as “beneficial” – is deeply offensive, as it assumes my sex has an inability to compete with males. Frankly, this sentiment is the very root of sexism. Likewise, affirmative action’s treatment of minorities similarly infantilizes members of minority groups by assuming they can’t meet standards because of their race.
Affirmative action programs are rife with purely “practical” problems, too. It is preposterous to think that when seeking out a heart surgeon, for example, an individual would say to himself, “I know surgeon A has more experience and a higher success rate than surgeon B, but surgeon B comes from a historically disadvantaged group. I do want diversity in the operating room, after all.”
Luckily, the promise of veritable equality and fairness is no longer a pipe dream. Public opinion is gradually warming up to the drastic idea that treating people differently because they’re minorities or women is the same thing as treating people differently because they’re minorities or women.
On Nov. 7, for example, voters in Michigan effectively emasculated the preferential arm of affirmative action, enabling a possible Supreme Court battle that could decide the constitutionality of such policies.
Despite such positive reform, some diehard proponents of affirmative action will nevertheless remain impervious to the practice’s ideological true colors. And because they support racial and gender bias, they ideologically disarm themselves from making serious arguments against bias in the first place.
Rather than punish the descendents of people who may or may not have been “oppressors,” any professed advocate of equality and fairness should readily reject Young’s aforementioned quote both as it stands as well as if it were changed to read: “If two men, one white and one negro, are equally qualified for a job, hire the white.”
Victoria Bekiempis is a sophomore majoring in history and French.