Black conservative commentary


Real Reason to Oppose Affirmative Action

by Theodore R. Essex


A New Visions Commentary paper published January 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited.

Debate over affirmative action is centered on a person's perceptions of fairness.

Those favoring it argue it is unfair to have the same requirements for select minorities as for others. Those opposed believe it's unfair that the more qualified candidate loses an opportunity to a less qualified member of a preferred group.

Their logic is simple: discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color or sex is wrong. This position has made some progress, winning several significant court battles. It's been so successful that affirmative action proponents have abandoned their traditional line of reasoning that it makes up for past discrimination. Diversity is now a goal in its own right, but only of racial or ethnic group.

There are many arguments to be made against assuming that an individual's racial or ethnic group is the definitive characteristic for them; however, there is a stronger reason to oppose this diversity argument than its assumption that race makes character.

Most research demonstrates there is little difference in intellectual potential between ethnic groups. Those who favor affirmative action believe this demonstrates that discrimination is responsible for the differences in test scores and admissions. However, immigrant families of minority status - in one generation - have placed children in the best schools without affirmative action (indeed, sometimes with it as a barrier).

By using affirmative action to promote less qualified minorities to positions their achievements do not merit, we avoid dealing with the failure of not just the students, but of the education system. Using affirmative action, rather than assisting these selected groups, allows society to continue to fail to provide a proper education.

We can continue to not provide a proper education, lower standards and lie about it. It's cheap and easy. But it makes educators and society feel better while denying minority students a truly valuable education. Society is "solving" its problem by denying certain minority students a real education, and feeling good about itself by claiming that diversity - and not education - is the goal.

This hurts minority students by teaching them that they don't have to work hard. It also breeds contempt for the system. If they fail and are passed on anyway, they are essentially taught that education and integrity don't matter. No amount of self-esteem training will change this.

We create the appearance of a balanced and racially equal society without actually doing the work to achieve a truly integrated, merit-based society. If the minority students are not given the same education and held to the same standards, they become mere actors creating feel-good Potemkin villages of diversity. Additionally, the standards of education are weakened for the entire community as well as respect for a society willing to tolerate it.

If conservatives imposed such a system on minorities, there would be an uproar. That liberals, in the name of equality, are doing it allow the victims to happily participate in being cheated.

Affirmative action may feel and look good in the short term, but it undermines the institutions and the people it was implemented to help.

If education is important, then we must address the lack of it, and bring all students up to the long acknowledged standards.

To alter the standards for one group, because it's too hard or inconvenient to actually teach them, undermines the system. It does a disservice to those individuals. For their sake and ours, affirmative action should be stopped.


(Theodore R. Essex, a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American leadership network Project 21, is a lawyer living in Alexandria, Virginia.)

Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.



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