Racial discrimination has long been a problem in social history. The discrimination of ethnic minorities has been a controversial issue, existent in society, and workplaces for many years. The implementation of ethnic monitoring and positive discrimination in employment has increased the number of ethnic employees and gone a long way to mend the bridge of inequality which has burdened society for a long time.
Another method introduced to try and counter the racial inequality in employment is that of Affirmative Action. Affirmative action calls for minorities and women to be given special consideration in employment, education and contracting decisions, to increase their number in the workplace.
Affirmative action is a controversial issue which has been debated by many. In this essay I am going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action and what affect it has on society. I will also debate whether I think affirmative action is a fair method to implement in organisations, and also whether it can be considered to be fair from a philosophical perspective.
Affirmative action was defined as an attempt to enlarge opportunity for everyone, it was designed to redress the imbalances caused by long-standing discrimination. Defenders of affirmative action argue that granting modest advantages to minorities and women is more than fair, given hundreds of years of discrimination that benefited whites and men. This implies that as blacks have previously suffered from detrimental racist discrimination and wrongdoings, including slavery and not having the right to vote, they now deserve extra benefits to compensate. This is known as “reverse racism”. It argues that as whites once set themselves apart from blacks and claimed privileges for themselves while denying them to others, now, on the basis of race, blacks are able to claim special status and reserving for themselves privileges they deny to others.
The question then arises: Do two wrongs make a right? This is what affirmative action is condoning. It says that we are allowed to overlook suitable white candidates if a black candidate is available. This means that even if the white candidate were a better choice and more qualified for the job, the black person would be hired because of the past injustices his race has suffered. People say affirmative action is acceptable because it cures past discrimination (Keyes 1996). However, discrimination was not acceptable when blacks were the ones discriminated against, therefore it’s not ok when whites are discriminated against (DeWit 1996).
The answer is that two wrongs do not make a right – affirmative action does not make discrimination acceptable, just because it is now against whites instead of blacks.
It has been said that job discrimination is grounded in prejudice and exclusion, whereas affirmative action is an effort to overcome prejudicial treatment through inclusion. The most effective way to cure society of exclusionary practices is to make special efforts at inclusion, this is what affirmative action does. We can explain the theory behind affirmative action with this example; the logic of affirmative action is no different than the logic of treating a nutritional deficiency with vitamin supplements. For a healthy person, high doses of vitamin supplements may be unnecessary or even harmful, but for a person whose system is out of balance, supplements are an efficient way to restore the body’s balance.
The equal opportunities law was introduced into society due to the discrimination ethnic minorities had received in history. The policies were implemented to counter racial discrimination and bias. Thus, the equal opportunities law was not created to treat different races differently, its purpose was to treat all people as equals. Affirmative action, however, does not adhere to this principal as by dismissing perfectly capable white candidates for a role in order to employ a less qualified black person, we are not treating everyone as equals. (Hacker 1990).
A major disadvantage of affirmative action in the workplace is the affect it has on the organisation and its employees. Affirmative action can be very detrimental to the organisation as hiring an under qualified worker puts others at risk if he or she doesn’t have enough experience. It is also financially dangerous and a company should not pay inexperienced people to do work they’re not qualified for.
Affirmative action will only work short term because if you hire a minority who is under qualified they will eventually lose their job. Another problem arises as organisations can only hire so many people, and this may result in too many under qualified people working for you and will eventually have to abandon affirmative action all together.
Affirmative action means that employees who benefit from it bear the mark of not being the best pick, but only the best pick from a limited group (DeWit 1996) It would be better for an employees self-esteem if they knew they got a job because they were the best person for the job, not because they were black and under-represented.
It is also possible that because of affirmative action, racism within an organisation will increase. If a company hires a black person who is not as good as another white candidate, employees will begin to resent him/her. If they gained their job based on their skin colour, rather than because they were the most qualified, they may become disliked and resented because of their skin colour. This could also lead to lack of respect for a black boss which would be detrimental to the organisation and the happiness of employees.
One of the arguments for affirmative action is that blacks should be compensated for injustices done to their ancestors by white people. This idea contradicts the human right of individuality. It implies that if a white persons ancestor showed racist behaviour, they will be discriminated against because of this. The reality of this is completely unfair, why should one person be punished for something they had no control over, and similarly why should black people receive preferential treatment for behaviour they have not suffered from. That is to say, a black man will be treated in a better way than a white man, as his grandfather was the victim of slavery. The implementation of this is unrealistic and immoral, especially as we should aim to promote equality among all. As discussed above this kind of preferential treatment will only cause resentment and ultimately the resentment of the black man, purely for being black.
The real factor in affirmative action, is that are blacks getting their jobs because they are qualified and able, or because they are black? If the decisive factor is their skin colour and not their ability to work, then affirmative action is a flawed method. Businesses will only ever survive and be profitable if they employ the most suitable and qualified candidate for the job. For this to happen and for the organisation to ensure they have hired the best person for the job, recruitment methods must be colour-blind. This means the people in charge of recruitment should assess each application based on its merits and qualifications, not on the ethnic background of the applicant.
Discrimination can only be rooted out by enforcing strictly anti-discrimination rules, without engaging in reverse discrimination which would alienate good white male candidates for employment and promotion who, after all, are not to be blamed by past injustices.
From a philosophical point of view affirmative action does not comply with deontological theory, which states that it is our duty to do what is right whatever its consequences, and what is right consists in treating all human beings with respect and due consideration for their rights and liberties. This shows us that racial discrimination goes against these deontological beliefs. However, as deontology shows us that racism is wrong, as it does not treat all human beings with respect, does this mean affirmative action is the right way to go? In my opinion, affirmative action is not a solution to the deontological problem of racism. That is because affirmative action does not treat all human beings with respect and due consideration. Affirmative action disregards the consideration of the white men applying for the jobs, as its aim is to employ black people.
From a utilitarian point of view, affirmative action has some key flaws. Utilitarianism says in effect that the rightness of an action (or practical policy) consists in its tendency to produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people than any alternative. Affirmative action would therefore only work if the people within a company were for the idea. Taking a more likely situation, based on historical facts, there are more likely to be a greater number of white males in an organisation. If this is the case and one of them is overlooked for promotion because of a less qualified black man, as the company is employing affirmative action, this goes against utilitarianism ideologies of promoting the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
In conclusion, I do not agree with affirmative action, the unfair treatment of ethnic minorities has been a harsh reality on society for a long time and it needs to be addressed. However, the method of affirmative action, which goes out of its way to hire a black man, purely because he is black, leads us to the same racial inequality that was a problem when blacks were not hired, for being black.
Although the idea of affirmative action was implemented to give black people better opportunities it is still a form of discrimination. When an employer hires someone because he or she is a minority, even if someone else if more qualified to do the job, it is discrimination. Just because it is reverse discrimination, when whites are discriminated against and minorities are being discriminated for, doesn’t make it right. “Affirmative action legalizes discrimination”. (Steele 1990)
The efforts of affirmative action are no different from the policies that created the disadvantages in the first place, although the idea is trying to redress the balance of inequality, I feel it is causing more harm than good in the work place.
It is undemocratic to give one class of citizen’s advantages at the expense of other citizens; the truly democratic way is to have a level playing field to which everyone has access and where everyone has a fair and equal chance to succeed purely on the basis of his or her merit.
Hard work and merit, not race or religion or gender or birthright, should determine who prospers and who does not.