With the emphasis of social economy at the end of 20th century and the beginning of 21st century, the rhetoric of human rights and of equality between gender, races, ethnicities, etc., has entered into a new dimension. Activist groups supporting the equal rights and benefits for the vulnerable groups (people belonging to different races, ethnicities, religion, sexualities, people with physical or psychical disabilities or women) have supported this rhetoric through peaceful or violent manifestations. Their requirements have been integrated in programmatic documents and in some countries, like United States, such requirements have been implemented under the form of affirmative action. Affirmative action implies offering increased benefits to disadvantaged groups, in the detriment of the rest of the population, which is considered a positive form of discrimination, hence a taboo subject.
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The introduction of the concept of affirmative action dates back from 1961, when President Kennedy announced it as a solution for washing off the discrimination that affected vulnerable groups, despite the existent civil rights laws and constitutional liberties (Bruner & Rowen, “ Affirmative Action History”). The implementation of affirmative action was applied under President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sought to generate equal opportunities for everybody in employment and career development, academic pursuits, or social welfare (OECD, “ A Brief History”). Nevertheless, although the ideology of affirmative action was based on a solid principle of social justice and equity, it soon developed into a reversed discrimination. As Brunner and Rowen (“ Affirmative Action History”) tell, during the seventies this policy advantaged the less qualified minority, discriminating the white majority, so that Allan Bakke, a white male was rejected two consecutive years by a medical school, which accepted less qualified minority instead.
The 21st century advances the affirmative action within academic institutions, corporate enterprises or social bodies, co-existing with discriminative practices, often in the same societies. While educational institutions advance open positions for minority and disadvantaged groups, as a solution for encouraging them to pursuit the same academic goals with the white majority, organization include affirmative action practices as corporate strategies for promoting the equal employment benefit (Bruner & Rowen, “ Affirmative Action History”). For organizations, affirmative action represents a competitive strategy of attracting diverse workforce, which to contribute to their business performances plans because of a varied and rich diversity of thought accumulated from employees belonging to different cultures. However, the affirmative action practices have often raised serious questions about fairness and equity, considering the fact that under these practices the representatives of the disadvantaged groups were preferred to the white majority. These practices re-opened the concerns that the white males were discriminated and they were treated unfair as a result of the affirmative action laws that encouraged equality. However, under President Clinton a reform of the affirmative action laws was implemented, as a reaction to the Supreme Court allegations for racial discrimination of the white majority (“ Taboo” 1995). Nevertheless, within various institutions, affirmative action practices are still incorporated, generating tensions and a taboo subject.
Affirmative action is indeed a taboo subject in the contemporary society, wherein discrimination upon the vulnerable groups still prevails. With the silent or expressed embracing of affirmative action within various social institutions (schools, universities, firms, etc.), the social discourse advances two sides of the discrimination. While the white majority continues to silently discriminate against minorities, the supporters of affirmative action program discriminates against the white majority, protecting and favoring the disfavored groups. The point is that either way, discrimination exists. Affirmative action seems to act as a social counter-attack weapon, which fights with similar strategies as its opponent – the discrimination. While for centuries the vulnerable groups have been discriminated and were deprived by their rights, liberties or equal opportunities, nowadays, under affirmative action policy, they have the chance to possess all the rights, benefits and equal opportunities that they lacked so far. This is the case of Wygant (1986), wherein as a result of a restructuration process Black employees maintained their jobs, while the white seniority was laid off (Brunner & Rowen, “ Affirmative Action History”). As Brunner and Rowen (“ Affirmative Action History”) further indicate, it would be difficult even for conservatives to identify a better solution for answering to the implementation of the strict quota system in Paradise (1987), wherein the Alabama Department of Public Safety applied discriminative practices, refusing to promote any Black employee above the entry level. However, by taking more than equality, more than their rights and by assuming the advantages over the white majority (which in some cases might be more entitled to specific opportunities), the representatives of the disadvantaged groups are deepening the discriminative practices.
While I understand that the affirmative action represents the disadvantaged groups’ way of saying “ payback time”, I believe that the practices that support this policy only deepen the social injustices, generating increased tensions between the white majority and the vulnerable minority groups. These tensions favor the expansion of discrimination within the social structures of nowadays living.
On the other hand, affirmative action can be seen as a strategy to balance the discrimination upon the vulnerable minorities. Instead of existing solely policies that favor the white majority, there are policies that also favor the disadvantaged groups over the white majority. As Skrentny (78) observes, the affirmative action is seen as the government’s solution for managing the crisis of Blacks’ and other minority groups’ discrimination. The affirmative action practices are seen also as strategies of encouraging the vulnerable groups to participate more in society, becoming citizens with full rights. The practices that support the affirmative action policy are meant to sustain the social economy rhetoric of developing inclusive institutions, benefic for the minority groups, for people who have been disadvantaged socially.
Although this might seem as a fair solution for solving the social inequities, it is nevertheless a negative solution. In other words is like fighting fire with fire. As Brunner and Rowen (“ Affirmative Action History”, para 7) indicate, “ Black-and-White polemics turn gray”, as society answers to discriminative practices with discriminative practices. On a short term, this solution might generate more opportunities for the disadvantaged groups, but on a long term, it can produce serious responses from the white majority’s side. Just as the minority groups have often rose up for their rights, sometimes through violent outbursts, the emphasis of affirmative action might produce the same behavior among the white majority. This is why I am against the affirmative action practice, although I do recognize the fact that at some level, the practices that support this policy are justified by secular injustices.
Whether practiced or not in various social institutions, affirmative action remains a taboo subject, because its practice is similar to admitting discriminative behavior and it can have serious repercussions. Such repercussions imply judicial actions. The case of Bakke or the Adarand Construction Inc. v. Pena, with the latest being clearly denounced as affirmative action, indicate the seriousness of the practices that used racial quotas, preferring the unqualified or less qualified representatives of minority groups over the qualified white majority (“ Taboo” 1995).
The purpose of non-discriminative actions should be to promote equality and fair opportunities. Offering more rights to any group of people as compared to the other groups implies discriminative practices. Whether it is called discrimination or affirmative action, if the result is advancing a less qualified person within a position (academic, organizational or political) in the detriment of another, more qualified person, the result is the same – discrimination (Cahn 174). The subject of affirmative action is often avoided because it can lead to racial discussions or to discriminative accusations. However, the irony is that affirmative action practices that encourage more than equality, but higher opportunities for the disadvantaged groups in the detriment of the majority is discrimination. Not admitting this fact is solely social hypocrisy.
The rise of the polemic regarding equal civil rights for people, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation, physical or psychical disabilities, has led to the introduction of the affirmative action. In theory, the practices sustaining this policy should have generated equal opportunities for everybody, but instead it generated more opportunities for the vulnerable groups, which led to new social inequalities. Affirmative action is a taboo subject, because it was meant to fight the discrimination and it only increased it, by generating new discriminative practices for fighting the classical discrimination. I disapprove with the practices of the affirmative action, which advance biased behavior, not with its principles, which praise the principle of equality.
Brunner, Borgna & Rowen, Beth. Affirmative Action History. Available at http://www. infoplease. com/spot/affirmative1. html, accessed 15 June, 2014. 2007. Web.
Cahn, Steven, M. The Affirmative Action Debate. New York: Routledge. 1995. Print.
OECD (Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity) A Brief History of Affirmative Action. Available at www. oeod. uci. edu/aa. html, accessed 15 June, 2014. N. d. Web.
Skrentny, John David. The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.
Taboo. The Journal of Culture and Education. Vol. 7, no. 1. 2003. Print.