"Affirmative action" involves steps being taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded. When those steps involve preferential selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity—affirmative action generates intense controversy.
In the United States, the first period of passionate debate on this issue began around 1972 and tapered off after 1980. The second period began in the 1990s leading up to the Supreme Court's decision in the summer of 2003 upholding certain kinds of affirmative action.
Justice: Does affirmative action justly compensate past wrongs?
Affirmative action justly compensates groups for past wrongs. It is important for injustices to be redressed. Slavery and institutionalized racism have not been redressed yet in America. In order for justice to be served, it is necessary for the main losers of racism in America (blacks) to be compensated for their loses. It is also appropriate that whites assume some burdens in enabling the redress of blacks, as they were the main perpetrators of the crime of slavery. Affirmative action achieves this all, sufficiently compensating blacks for past wrongs, achieving redress, and restoring justice.
No group should benefit or be punished for ancestral wrongs. Given that most people in the current generations have never been harmed individually or unequally by government (in the sense of institutionalized racism, it is impossible to compensate them for harms that never occurred to them personally. Affirmative action wrongly attempts to perform such compensation.
Diversity: Is diversity in all areas of society a valuable social good?
Greater ethnic representation at all social levels is beneficial. Proportional diversity in all levels of society is very important in establishing a health society, as it entails greater interaction and communication between these groups, and thus greater understanding and reduced conflict. It also enables the sharing of interesting cultural customs. Understanding different perspectives reduces the potential for misunderstanding, racism, and conflict among groups.
Diversity is supplimentary to goal of fairness. While diversity is a good goal, it should be understood as secondary to the more important goal of helping blacks and minorities gain footing in an environment that continues to carry the legacy of instutitional racism. Therefore, while the diversity argument adds to the case for affirmative action, it should be understood as only part of the bigger case.
The laws should be "race-blind" to counter all forms of discrimination: Affirmative action promotes prejudice by increasing the resentment of those who are the beneficiaries of affirmative action from those who have been adversely affected by the policy. Therefore, it simply shifts the prejudice from one group to another, which does not resolve the problem of racism.
Affirmative Action is wrong to consider race instead of economic or educational disadvantages. Economic or educational disadvantages do not necessarily correlate to those of a particular racial/ethnic status. There are many examples of wealthy well educated black youths that have experienced every society advantage there is. There are also examples of white youths that have lived in economic and educational squaller. If it is economic and educational disadvantages that are the problem, why not focus in affirmative action on these criteria instead of race and ethnicity.
Affirmative action lowers the perceived value of the certificates earned by blacks: Affirmative action creates the impression that black individuals required the help of affirmative action to gain placement in a top university. As such, employers and the world discount the value of a black individual earning a certain degree, relative to their pears earning the same degree. Clarence Thomas is famous for saying that his degree from Yale was worth only 15 cents due to the impression among employers that he received it only because he was black.
Affirmative action is simply discrimination by another, more positive, name. As a result, it does little to solve the underlying issues of prejudice and elitism. Instead, affirmative action simply increases tension between majority and minority groups; majority groups feel that they are the victims of discrimination. This naturally leads to increased feelings of resentment and division between the two: accepting or rejecting a person based on anything other than merit is a universally unpopular act. Affirmative action, therefore, often worsens the very problem that it is supposed to solve. (The 101 'Blair's Babes' of the 1997 general elections are a good example of this.)
In a school application, shouldn't the person who is most qualified get accepted? In a lot of cases qualified students aren't being accepted to make room for a minority student even though they may be more qualified.
Burdens: Is it OK to burden some citizens with Affirmative Action?
The rights of one group should not be sacrificed to benefit the rights of another groups: The opponents argue, since all people have equal rights, no individual's rights should be sacrificed to compensate for another person's rights being taken away.
Meritocracy: Is it OK that Affirmative Action contradicts notions of meritocracy?
Economics: Is Affirmative Action important economically?
Diversity is important to a dynamic economy.
Affirmative Action does not mean "Diversity". When most people use the word diversity, they are usually misusing the term and actually are referring to the strength of the concept of Unity or due diligence (which involves getting more than one perspective).
Racial profiling promotes mediocrity by violating the fundamental rule espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior----That people be judged on the basis of their character and not the color of their skin.
In societal terms, a person's character is measured by how moral they are and how valuable your skills are to providing goods and services to your fellow countrymen.
Departure from emphasis on character is a much larger and more fundamental concern than racist policies promulgated by a racist southern democrat which were done to get and retain votes at the expense of stifling the rising tide of black entrepreneurship in 1960s which was the real source of leverage in the Civil Rights campaign.
Affirmative action results in less qualified and effective candidates filling positions, resulting in lower economic productivity for companies and a nation:
US Law: Does US law provide for Affirmative Action?
Beginnning with President JFK's Executive Order 10925, which stated mandated, "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. Various changes to US law such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Revised Philedlphia plan have given minorities and women more opportunities than other races.
Several Supreme Court cases (Griggs v. Duke Power Comp., Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) since then have also shown that affirmative action exists and has ruled against institutions which did not give preference when they were supposed to.
The text of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 advocates a "race-blind" approach: Title VI of the Act promised that "[n]o person…shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." While it makes a couple of exceptions for employer preferences on the basis of gender, religion, and national origin, it makes not exception for race in regard to the law being "color-blind".
States: Where do the US States stand on the issue?