Racial inequality in America and why Affirmative Action is no longer a solution

Affirmative Action was an attempt to push back on racial inequality, so why more than fifty years after its introduction has America not learned that ‘Black Lives Matter’?

'U.S Flag' by Ian Ransley / CC
Ian Ransley / CC

We need look no further than the events in Dallas just a couple of weeks ago to see that race is still a major issue in America. Racial tensions did not end with the freeing of the slaves in 1863 or the abandonment of Jim Crow laws in the 1960s, in fact in 2016 it could be argued racial tensions are as high as they have ever been in the USA. Affirmative Action was an attempt to push back on racial inequality, so why more than fifty years after its introduction has America not learned that ‘Black Lives Matter’?

It seems almost incomprehensible that the self-proclaimed ‘beacon of democracy’, ‘land of the free’ is also home to one of the most racially divided cultures in the West. The number of Americans who describe race as a “big problem” has doubled from just 5 years ago, and 65% think racial tensions have increased in the last decade, so why exactly is race still such a big deal in America?

Much of the stigma around race comes from recent events involving deaths of innocent African Americans at the hands of white police officers. 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead in 2012, as was Michael Brown (18) in 2014 which subsequently sparked the Ferguson riots. The point about racial division is no clearer, however, than in the tragic shooting of 9 African Americans at a church in Charleston by Dylann Roof, a young white male who later admitted the shooting was intended to spark a race war. It is no wonder in the wake of such social upheaval that racial tensions are rising and American society is dividing. With all of this in mind we must consider the policy of Affirmative Action; the foremost ‘solution’ to the racial inequality in America and why it has failed to achieve much of what it set out to do.

Affirmative Action was set up by the Kennedy Administration in 1961 in an attempt to establish equality in employment and education opportunities for African Americans after a history of oppression in US society. It is based on the principle that minority applicants for jobs or college places should be given preferential treatment over their white counterparts. It quickly took hold in all public institutions in America and became an established practise after the 1978 ‘Bakke v University of California’ Supreme Court ruling stating its constitutional legitimacy. The Supreme Court have continued to rule in defence of Affirmative Action all the way up to 2013. There is no doubt that Affirmative Action has made inroads into education and particularly public-sector employment, however, the levelling of the playing field in these areas has not translated into racial equality in US society at large. As race-related death buy accutane 10mg online tolls continue to rise and social equality amongst white and black Americans is still so far away it becomes clear that Affirmative Action must be phased out and new reforms put in its place.

The claims against Affirmative Action are threefold; firstly and most simply, this policy which is in place to prevent discrimination based on race does, itself, discriminate based on race. Reverse discrimination or ‘positive discrimination’ is discrimination nonetheless and is an unfair practice. To disadvantage a racial group in order to advantage another is to simply reverse the wrongs of the past by implementing a further wrong in the present.

Secondly, Affirmative Action is condescending to minority groups. The idea that African Americans would not achieve what they have done without preferential treatment is patronising and an indirect form of racism. US culture is built upon the ‘American Dream’; the idea that each individual can achieve anything regardless of social class or circumstances of birth, yet Affirmative Action is suggesting that the American Dream does not apply to African Americans, or perhaps it does but only with the help of white America. US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas famously said his Yale Law degree is worth “just 15 cents” because he was given his place through the Affirmative Action policy, which he believes undermines his achievement.

Finally, and most importantly, Affirmative Action is used because American society is still divided over race, but having a federal policy which itself is based on race discrimination only further entrenches this into US culture. Hair colour or eye colour have no impact on a person’s ability to perform a task or job and of course, skin colour is no different, yet Affirmative Action suggests skin colour should be considered when hiring/firing which is the opposite message to the one needed. Barack Obama has publicly opposed Affirmative Action as President, his argument being that the ‘white steelworker’s son needs preferential treatment over the black neurosurgeon’s son’, a movement towards a reformed policy of ‘poverty not pigment’; preferential treatment given to all of those who need it, regardless of race or ethnic background.

The conservative right is calling for racial reforms to be abandoned in the light of Affirmative Action’s failure to solve much of the inequality issue, whilst the liberal left is calling for Affirmative Action to become more expansive and aggressive, but neither of these are solutions. The problem stems from an inherently racist police force with access to firearms and a racially biassed justice system, both of which need reforming. Nothing will change while American society is still divided along racial lines. Removing and replacing race-based policies like Affirmative Action is the first step to real progressive change in America and it can’t come soon enough.

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Lewis Spencer-Witcomb 1 Article
Lewis is currently studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Manchester. As well as his academic interests in these subjects and the relations between them he is also a keen sports fan, following his local teams in football and rugby league.

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