There is a lot of international and local debate on affirmative action. The debate is not only in the academic realms but also in practical scenarios. The proponents of affirmative action assert that some groups of people have been discriminated upon over time. As a result, there is a need to recognize existence of inequalities and accord to these groups certain privileges. On the other side of the debate, the opponents of affirmative action propound that such a move affirmation that indeed all people are not equal. This debate continues even today and will enter into future academic and practical realm. This essay seeks to investigate the pros and cons of affirmative action. The paper concludes that affirmative action is important because it is a human rights-based approach to equality.
Definitions of Affirmative Action
There is no single definition of affirmative action. Defining affirmative action must be based on historical perspectives. Moreover, various scholars have attempted to define what affirmative action is. According to Spielberger (66), definitions for affirmative action are categorized into three classes. These include legal, conceptual and operational definitions. Citing the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, the writer defines affirmative action as measures that an entity takes up to correct past injustices to a group of people. This definition also has two-fold aspects. On one side, it seeks to prevent discrimination and on the other to prevent it. This is a conceptual definition. From an operational perspective, affirmative action can be understood in terms of research or workplace implementation. In this case, it is defined as a best practice towards promoting fairness. Thirdly, from a legal perspective, courts impose affirmative action plans that need to be implemented, makes legal decisions and sets parameters upon which human beings should never be discriminated against (Spielberger 66).
In his Equality, Affirmative Action and Justice, Johan Rabe brings on board other definitions. Citing Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), Rabe (73) defines affirmative action as steps that are put in place to make sure that people are not looked down up on. It is important to note that this definition takes an equal-opportunities perspective. In expanding her definition, Rabe explains that affirmative action is not preferential treatment of a group of people. For instance, if women are given positions because culture looks down upon them, people should not look at it as special treatment but as a way of granting to women their rights.
Pros of Affirmative Action
Over the years, there has been an evolution of social life. Some practices that were traditionally practiced are slowly fading away and being replaced with new ones. With regard to gender, it is a fact that women have been historically deprived of their rights and fundamental freedoms (Wood 249). In America, the Black population has also been historically looked down up on racially. Against this background, it could be said that affirmative action is agreeable because it leads to the entrenchment of people’s rights. For instance, if few Blacks were employed in an organization, affirmative action helps in actually Blacks occupying designated positions. The same applied to women. Therefore, affirmative action is good because it promotes equity among people.
In summarizing the pros of affirmative action, Forest (49) offers three arguments. The first one is related to what is explained above. It contends that affirmative action is a compensatory way of uplifting those who have been historically downtrodden. Secondly, affirmative action should be allowed because it corrects present-day acts of gender-based discrimination and racial stigma. Thirdly, affirmative action is good because it is a redistributive mechanism of making sure that the there will be future equalities in various categories of people.
One of the most profound benefits of affirmative action is the fact that the minorities that are offered opportunities to serve are beneficial to the entire community. In addition, according to Rabe (349), affirmative action curbs both intentional and non-intentional acts of discrimination. It leads to effective utilization of the skills of those previously under-represented. Further, the appointment of minorities gives them confidence that indeed they are able to execute as much as their counterparts. Other reasons that make affirmative action agreeable are because it provides role models in communities or groups that were previously unknown or unpopular. Appointees or employees in an affirmative action plan indirectly or directly instill high esteem to those below them. As a result, it is possible to get future leader from such an action.
Rabe explores the argument further. She argues that affirmative action increases the pool of talent among the recipient community or group (Rabe 350). Indeed, affirmative action is a necessary ingredient to economic development. A country will only be developed to the extent it includes all its citizens in production. Economic participation and inclusion are therefore other advantages of affirmative action. These benefits may not necessarily be immediate but long term. There is a need to remember that affirmative action raises the consciousness of a society that was previously oppressive. It has been found out that some societies that oppress certain groups are simply ignorant. Therefore, affirmative action is a way of educating the society that their ideas are redundant and retrogressive. In other words, affirmative action is important because it leads to breaking away from unconscious discrimination. An example of such discrimination is the gender concept that comes with patriarchy.
The benefits of affirmative action are not just tied to the recipients. It appears that even the organization that employs formerly disadvantaged group may benefit from expertise of such people. Although most affirmative action plans do not select the most qualified, at least there is a pool of people that offers a different perspective to the solution of problems facing an organization. According to Brown (26), affirmative action introduces diversity in an organization. A wide range of people from different backgrounds is achieved. Diversity may lead to innovation, new organizational culture among other aspects. The other advantage of affirmative action is improvement of work out put. This happens especially where women are being employed as an affirmative action plan. In this case, men would tend to work more so that they are not overtaken by women. This increases productivity of a company.
Cons of Affirmative Action
Although the intention behind affirmative action is good, there are many things that make it unsatisfactory way of promoting equity. According to Wood (248), affirmative action has at least two limitations. The first one is the fact that at workplace, affirmative action policies seek to push for selection of qualified women and not just best qualified women. According to the writer, this may bring down the gains of an organization. He proposes that affirmative action should be based on merit and not convenience. The second limitation is that affirmative action is an indirect way of confirming that people are not equal. In this regard, some need to be given opportunities in a silver platter instead of fighting for them. This may promote laziness or further laxity in the disadvantaged group. In addition, the idea of affirmative action is a direct recognition that a certain group is not adequately represented. This underrepresentation is based on the possibility that the group in question is not qualified. Furthermore, the idea leads to preferential treatment of a certain group over others.
The other reason as to why people disagree with affirmative action has to do with long term implications. For instance, in places where the girl-child is highly discriminated upon, policies are put in place to promote her rights. Such policies last for long. They are also redefined from time to time. However, in the long run, the girl child is so empowered that the boy-child appears to be disempowered in the eyes of the society. The argument is that instead of bringing the claimed equality, affirmative action actually brings about inequality for the opposite group in the long run. In this case, affirmative action becomes undesired.
James J. F. Forest provides quite intensive arguments that disagree with the implementation of affirmative action. According to Forest (49), people who receive affirmative action feel a sense of incompleteness within themselves. Giving them opportunities raises their consciences in thinking that perhaps they are not the same as others. On the part of the observers, there may be a lot of stigmatization, stereotyping and labeling of such-and-such a group. The recipients may appear less worthy. Instead of promoting fairness, affirmative action creates additional division between two groups of people. There are those that have the privilege opportunities ready for them and a group of those others who are ‘not recognized’ (Forest 49). This may create divisions instead of unity. Further, affirmative action may be disliked because it violates the concept of selection on merit. This is because people who deserve the position, not who are best qualified are selected.
There have been criticisms that affirmative action plans are designed to help those who have some qualifications. According to Sterba (99), the minorities are likely to have many disadvantaged people. As a result, programs meant to increase their inclusion in the labor force participation may be redundant. If no one is qualified, affirmative action may not work. Moreover, this qualification requirement is not usually set high. But if a disadvantaged group does not even have the minimum qualifications, affirmative action may not help them at all. On this basis, affirmative action becomes useless to them.
Brown (26) explores more demerits of affirmative action and refuses the idea. As has already been shown, minorities get what they do not deserve in terms of merit. The writer also observes that affirmative action can actually bring an organization down. He contends that affirmative action should be introduced only at certain stages of organizational growth. If it is introduced at the initiation stages, the business may suffer losses. This is because of the large number of incompetent employees handling key issues. Brown (26) found out that organizations that introduced affirmative action at initial stages of product growth did not acquire competitive advantage.
The question of affirmative action has always brought about controversy. Some people agree that it is necessary while others disagree. These two sides of the divide have reasons for their stance. For instance, the proponents of affirmative action purport that certain groups of people are undermined for long. As a result, they need to be offered some positions because they are not empowered enough to occupy the positions by merit. Reasons given include the fact that affirmative action ends discrimination. It also raises the consciousness of a society towards respect of others. On the other side, the opponents propound that people should be offered positions for the sake of it. They must be qualified to get such positions. To them, affirmative action is not desired because it may give an organization false sense of human resource. By virtue of being given opportunities, the recipients of affirmative action may be further stigmatized. However, although the latter group of arguments have such claims, affirmative action is necessary. It is required for elimination of discrimination and promotion of equality.