A Thought On Affirmative Action

Many against affirmative action have referred to it as “reverse discrimination.” Those backing affirmative action have, interestingly, countered that the Civil Rights Act only prohibits "discrimination against" a race or sex, not “discrimination in favor of.” So if I start an “affiliation to dish out assets to white men with brown beards,” can I argue that I am “discriminating in favor of whites” without “discriminating against” other races? (An "affirmative action" with no "negative reaction," it is so called.) What would you make of an “affirmative action” scholarship fund that requires a person to be white to receive funds? Is that “discrimination in favor of” somebody? Yes. But I think it’s still discrimination against (those not favored). In reality, I think that if you tried making “affirmative action” policies that favor whites only, nobody would back up these constitutional arguments in favor of affirmative action in defense of “white only” programs. But if our thinking is not racist, then it should treat affirmative action in favor of non-white races in the same way.

Thus I am afraid that I must regard “affirmative action” as misguided in its intent. That is, I believe that true affirmative action is going to be reverse discrimination against the majority race, at least if doing the same actions in favor of the majority race would be classified as discrimination against the minority race.

If you truly want to avoid discrimination on the basis of skin color (and I do), then the law should simply be that no policy should place any relevance on that skin color, unless there is a bona fide good reason for there to be such a discrimination. (For instance, if you want to hold auditions for an actor to play Bill Cosby’s son on The Cosby Show, it is legitimate that black actors would be favored for that particular role.)

The true problem of racist thinking is that it generally distracts us from more relevant criteria. If you look at a woman and say, “Well, she’s Irish; she need not apply,” without regard to her truly relevant qualifications, you use criteria that are truly irrelevant criteria, and unduly limit your own opportunities, as well as the opportunities of the discrimination victim.

For instance, suppose that some guy named Jim wants you to set up a fund to support black children’s tuition payments. “Why?” you ask Jim. Jim replies, “Because black children underprivileged.” You then cleverly notice that, as stated, his idea undeniably discriminates on race, and that seems needless. The truly relevant criteria, according to Jim’s argument, is the applicants’ lack of economic privilege. Thus, you would, as a matter of common sense, reply, “Well why don’t you set up a fund for all underprivileged children, regardless of their race?”

Suppose that Jim further rejoined, “Okay, but now the reason I want to support a scholarship fund for underprivileged black children only is that a lot of black children grow up listening to ‘that awful violent gangster rap,’ in a gangster culture, and we should help them out.” You would then just counter that the problem he wishes to remedy is not race, but “lack of privilege” and “exposure to gangster rap” (something which is not, as a rule, even if in practice, limited to black children). But if Jim denies your attempts to replace his race-based criteria with equally effective colorblind criteria, and he persists that he absolutely must use race as a criterion, then you would rightly call his ideas irrational, and racist. You can then politely inform him that you fear that his thinking is fixedly racist and that you do not support it.

In short, use of bona fide criteria which so happen to disproportionately favor the members of one race or sex by accident, are fine so long as you would rationally come up with the same set of criteria without thinking about race. This is valid except where race truly is a bona fide relevant criterion, such as when you must cast the family members for a sitcom, and you wouldn’t hire a Chinese child to play the role of the son of a white mother and a black father, because such a casting scheme would prevent the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Even then, though, we could merely state our rule in the books as, “We, as a matter of policy, will only audition characters in such a way as is logically necessary to make the show successful. (Beyond that, there will be no unnecessary race distinctions.) On the whole of it, and upon examination, most existing race-based barriers, either imposed by the law of the land or the law on the books, are truly irrelevant to rational and equitable goals. Race should be used as a criterion for decision-making only when it is truly rational. Where it might be rational to do so, such as in racial profiling, or screening for scholarship candidates who may have been disadvantaged socioeconomically, we will leave as an open question for the time being.