Understanding Affirmative Action: Politics, Discrimination, and the Search for Justice

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After forty years, the debate still continues and the issues are as complex as ever. While most Americans are familiar with the term, they may not fully understand what affirmative action is and why it has become such a divisive issue. With this concise and up-to-date introduction, J. Edward Kellough brings together historical, philosophical, and legal analyses to fully inform participants and observers of this debate. This approach is an effective way of neutralizing the contentiousness inherent in the arguments and sets the stage for a more careful consideration in the chapters that follow.

These chapters are organized chronologically. Chapter 5 concentrates on early considerations in policy, statutory, and legal development, while Chapter 6 focuses on more recent developments — Of interest to most readers of this journal, he provides a substantial focus on recent U. Supreme Court decisions affecting higher education as explored in the suit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action in admissions. The basis of Chapter 7 is a summary of the evidentiary base for claims about the effectiveness of affirmative action in employment and higher education.

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It will be particularly useful for those interested in conducting additional affirmative action research. Kellough effectively outlines future work in this area before offering a final chapter that is Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.

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Introduction Alternative views of equality and justice undergird much of the controversy over affirmative action Rosenfeld ; Premdas Affirmative action policies are often proposed as a temporary preparatory measure necessary to establish a level playing field for the enactment of fair competition in the long term. In practice, these temporal limits are often breached as programs expand and beneficiaries increase.

As one scholar remarked in relation to the Indian case: Reservations were supposed to be temporary measures devised primarily to ensure equality of opportunity. Gupta Aimed in part at eliminating divisive communal politics and sectional alienation, affirmative action policies seek in part to promote societal unity by rectifying historical discriminatory wrongs and lessening inequality. Despite many valid criticisms against these preferential programs, they have in most cases substantially succeeded in creating a new middle class among the erstwhile oppressed and disadvantaged and in bestowing on them symbolic gratification, recognition, and dignity.

Patterson Overall, as an experiment in institutional reform, affirmative action policies and programs have left in their wake among the states that have adopted them a mixed record pointing to setbacks and achievements, successful changes in institutions and practices toward promoting equality, winners and losers, contested economic gains and losses, as well as unanticipated problems and solutions Sowell ; Gomez and Premdas She goes on to say: For the merit principle to apply, it must be possible to identify, measure, compare, and rank individual performance of job-related tasks using criteria that are normatively and culturally neutral.

This has not always been the case. At least in two major cases, affirmative action was designed to benefit a white group with deliberate intent to further marginalize a black community. In his major work on how affirmative action benefitted whites at the expense of blacks, Ira Katznelson referring to bias against blacks from the s to s under Social Security and the GI Bill that excluded African-Americans summarized the impact of such policies thus: But most blacks were left out.

In the contemporary era after the fall of the apartheid South African regime and the emergence of more equitable racial practices in the USA, the issue of eligibility has turned in favor of nonwhite communities. In most cases, it seems rather obvious which groups are eligible as beneficiaries of affirmative action programs.

In case after case, these groups are conspicuous publicly marked off by some diacritica such as color, phenotype, abject condition, lowly occupations, resident in marginal neighborhoods, etc. Over time, the eligible groups become enlarged, and often their composition bears little resemblance from the original set of so conspicuous beneficiaries. Hence, as an example, added to the list of eligible groups in the USA are nonwhite recent immigrants of all hues and complexions bearing no history of discrimination and disadvantage in American history.

Quickly, competition among the old and new claimants turn bitter as the struggle degenerates into complex and finer distinctions of who are truly eligible for affirmative action benefits. Who is indigenous?

Civil Rights in the United States

How long does it require to become indigenous if ever? What about mixed marriages and their progenies? Who is really Black? Does brown mixed race count? Who is a low caste?

Can caste be acquired for the purpose of getting access to affirmative action benefits? Should recent arrivals be eligible or should they be descended from old native born citizens? In this regard, the debate and disputes turn their focus on the deserving candidates for remedial benefits. Should groups regardless of the internal differences in terms of economic need and endowment all be equally eligible? This issue evokes the old arguments mounted by opponents of affirmative action who hold that affirmative action and compensatory justice should not be allocated to groups but to individuals Glazer Similarly, it evokes arguments about the merit of class- and needs- based eligibility rules as against broad group-assigned benefits.

Affirmative Action (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

When women are thrown into the mix and they have been among the conspicuous disadvantaged, the same issues arise regarding eligibility based on need versus group membership. Women add an entirely new dimension to eligibility questions mainly because they are at least half of the population, and they display a wider array of internal differences in the distribution of wealth and well-being. Should only Black or indigenous or lower caste women be made beneficiaries regardless whether they are relatively well of or not?

Should affirmative action be genderized so that there is a separate category for men and women? Anderson TH The pursuit of fairness: a history of affirmative action. Campbell T Justice. Macmillan, London Google Scholar. Cohen C The corruption that is group preference. Cohen C, Sterba J Affirmative action and racial preferences: a debate.

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Gomez T, Premdas R eds Introduction: affirmative action, horizontal inequality and equitable development, in Gomez and Premdas, op. Google Scholar. Beacon Press, Boston Google Scholar. Gupta D Recasting reservations in the language of rights. In: Mahajan G ed Democracy, difference, and social justice. Oxford, Mumbai,Ibid. Katznelson I When affirmative action was white: an untold history of racial inequality in the twentieth century America.

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