The Dilemma of Affirmative Action

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According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Affirmative action means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and culture 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(Fullinwinder,2009). With this being said, incorporation of ethics plays a crucial role in ensuring achievement of a fair and just community where everyone is perceived as equals which is the intended goal of affirmative action, unfortunately, this was not always the case.

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In the 17th century slavery became a widespread practice that viewed African American as a means of cheap labor and property that were inferior to whites. During this time, many injustices were carried out that precluded African Americans from learning to read, marriage, voting and many other basic liberties. Slavery formally ended in 1865 but many of the discriminatory practices did not. Prior to the implementation of affirmative action, most minorities struggled a great deal to secure quality education, high profile employment and many other beneficial opportunities which were reserved for whites. I believe, based on consequential and justice theory, affirmative action desires to right the wrongs and achieve equality in a community through diversity/inclusion, bridging economical gaps and compensatory justice. However, these policies are faced with much opposition, for example in USA there is a huge faction against these policies posing the ethical dilemma if it’s right to divert discrimination from the minorities to the qualified majorities (Burns and Jan).

In terms of ethics, opponents argue the laws stipulated in the affirmative action policies as prejudicial since they imply improving minorities lifestyles at the expense of others and citing affirmative action to be unethical due to reverse racism. Opponents question the advantages versus the disadvantages accrued from affirmative action. They firmly believe that the policies discriminate against the highly qualified majority group against a certain position set aside in order to meet the race quota as stipulated in the affirmative action policies. Opponents also argue that achievement of minority students is also received with paranoia in places of employment since the hiring authority of the organizations tend to wonder whether the students were qualified to join the schools, or they were just favored by the affirmative action policies. They go on to say that minorites could have truly acquired their success, but the employers might perceive them as beneficiaries of creating diversity in the society and probably not give them the job opportunity. On the other hand, if they were favored by the aspect of affirmative action, they might not be productive as expected (Kanooni). George Sher, a moral and political philosopher, believes that affirmative action simply devalues accomplishments of persons chosen depending on their social group instead of reflection of their qualifications. Minorities tend to separate themselves from this accusation by asserting that they industriously work to acquire those positions (Crosby et al.).

Proponents like myself of affirmative action stand strong and perceive it as a necessary tool to combat discriminations and past Jim Crow laws that caused the gap between minorities and whites in our country. The primary rational behind affirmative action’s formation was to counter act preceding discriminatory traits, which included slavery and violation of women’s rights, an impact that can still be seen in current times. The inequality was prevalent in factors such as education, incapacity to vote, discrimination from white collar jobs, meager pay and lack of skills amongst others that hindered growth through generations.

The implementation of affirmative action aids in bridging the gap that discrimination caused in areas such as employment/pay and accessibility to proper education. This means that all persons regardless of their race and background would have admittance to prospects usually reserved for whites and not those of the “inferior races. Ethically upright parameters call for equality of all despite their skin color, culture or background. It appears that “reserves discrimination/racism refers to any mechanism that fails to acknowledge white privilege and adheres to any type of color- conscious practices that ensure diversity and inclusion. The sheer idea of reverse racism is irrational since that would mean that the minority would have the ability to oppress the majority without being the majority in a “democratic country. This view point also unintentionally validates the concept of white privilege that has been advantageous to white men throughout our country’s history and fuels the sense of entitlement without acknowledging previous unfair considerations.

An applauded example of how affirmative action can influence diversity is the career advancement of General Colin Powell. In this instance, the Army Secretary of President Carter, Clifford Alexander, was presented with a list of white men to be promoted to Brigadier General. Alexander being the first black person to hold that level cabinet position, embraced diversity. Instead of approving the listed persons, he sent it back for review and inclusion of the blacks to ensure equality and inclusion (Kanooni). After the list was returned to him with Colin Powell included, the Secretary appointed him as the Brigadier General and he performed magnificently not only in the military but also in the regime. In this context, affirmative action played a crucial role in propelling appointment of a suitable and effective leader who would have been discriminated against if the list was not sent back for review. Nonetheless, there was still a group of the population that disagreed with selection of Powell depicting the aspect of age discrimination. They cited that Powell’s age was not consistent with those qualified for endorsement. Staying true to inclusion, the Secretary moved forward with selecting well qualified Powell.

I believe the introduction and implementation of affirmative action in countries such as USA is ethically responsible given the history that impacts current times. Unlike true discrimination, affirmative action aims at striking a balance between people of all races and gender. The program clearly dictates that a person should acquire employment based on their merits rather than just their race. Introduction of equal opportunities to all is a moral act which to some extents leads to improved performance thereby boosting a country’s economic performance (Burns and Jan). Prior to the introduction of affirmative action, white men perpetually bore advantages over the minorities in the community. According to Burns on his discussion regarding job discrimination, it was evidently clear that the African-American men were looked down upon over their white counterparts whenever they applied for entry level jobs in Washington D.C and Chicago. He further explained that the duo factions despite having the same qualifications, the white man would always acquire the position while the black man was left out. In accordance to the ethical standards of many workplaces globally, the act of discrimination based on skin tone is deemed unethical and most times illegal (Burns and Jan).

To be fair, I would note that a large percentage of population against reinforcement of affirmative action questioning its ethical grounds are minorities. This faction of minorities is created out of belief or fear that their successes will be attributed to affirmative action. This way of thinking would speak to the ideas of white opponents in belief that racism and discrimination no longer exist, and they would not be overlooked based on their race but considered based on their merit alone. Unfortunately, the minority opponent’s way of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth.

In a skewed perception, minority and white opponents equate affirmative action as discriminating against highly qualified whites due to employers sitting asides positions for minorities in order to meet the race quota as stipulated in the affirmative action policies. According to Stacy Jones’ article on, “White Men Account for 72% of Corporate Leadership at 16 Fortune 500 Companies. The companies in the study amounted to around 800,000 employees where men of all races amounted to 80% of the workforce of all levels. This not only shows the disparaging gap with minority men but also the impact of intersectionality minority women experience from belonging to more than one oppressed or marginalized group. This brings me to this question, if this is what the numbers look like with affirmative action, what would it be without it? This also discounts the claim that minorities are taking jobs away from whites or causing any type of disparity relating to race.

Even in support of affirmative action, I acknowledge there could be difficulties however that is not always the experience and without the aid that it lends, we may find ourselves segregated and limited as we were in previous times. Tom Jacobs wrote an article on Pacific Standard Magazine website entitled “SLAVERY’S LEGACY: RACE-BASED ECONOMIC INEQUALITY highlighting the findings of 2 European researchers, “Graziella Bertocchi of the University of Modena in Italy and Arcangelo Dimico of Queen’s University Belfast, that showed a direct correlation of economic inequalities stemming from slavery to present time. This was concluded after examining heavily slave populated counties and how the same areas now show effects of discriminative polices negatively impacting schools/education quality and property values The researchers were able to show how home values were not fairly assessed which limited resources to the school system and educational resources which affected the quality of education African Americans received.

Taking the previous article in consideration, I support affirmative action being a small example of compensatory justice since the waters of injustice run deep. Systemic oppressions like the ones previously mentioned and others like homeownership or the justice system are several instances of systemic oppressions. The compensatory justice of affirmative action attempts to level the playing field for all, but as long as people deny racism and discrimination exist will be as long as it is necessary for affirmative action to be in place. To be honest, I feel that affirmative action is only a drop a bucket of what is owed to minorities. As long has the systemic oppressions exist, we will never be to see our full potential and be equal to our white peers. It is not the answer to all the problems in our country regarding racism but definitely a building block awaiting additional tiers.

The introduction and implementation of affirmative action poses a great dilemma on whether it’s advantageous or disadvantageous in a society. The implementation of affirmative action was faced with distinct reactions. Some people embraced and believed that it was an ethical policy to merge the gap between the minority and the majority in the society through empowering the minority and introducing equality. However, the rest of the demography was against it attributing aspect of reverse discrimination and injustice to it. As discussed in the paper, the opponents strongly rebuke and accuse it for being the major cause of reverse discrimination. They deem it as a factor that accelerates discrimination rather than terminating it as intended. In addition, the opponents believe that affirmative action should be scrapped leaving them in a dilemma of when and how this can be achieved. On the other hand, the proponents like myself believe that affirmative action plays a crucial role in ensuring that the minorities and women have equal opportunities of education, employment and other factors to their white male counterparts (Kanooni). I believe that it is ethically upright to present equal chances to all members of a society which allows fair competition and acquisition of opportunities. Fairness and equality among all members of a society without considering their race, age or gender should be attainable, however this has not been possible in current times which dictates the need for programs like affirmative action.

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The Dilemma of Affirmative Action. (2019, Jul 31). Retrieved from