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Ethics of Affirmative Action: Evaluating Arguments Against

Affirmative Action is a moral and political question which seems to divide Americans more than it unites them. On the one side are those who regard it as a type of program designed to rectify racism and reverse the effects of both past and present discrimination; on the other side are those who simply see it as another form of discrimination, giving one group extra advantages based upon nothing but their skin color.

Is Racial Discrimination Always Wrong? Affirmative Action v Terrorism
The general social, political, and religious attitude towards racial discrimination in America is that it is essentially and necessarily wrong. Given that racial discrimination has traditionally been the product of racist animus, this is an understandable conclusion - but is it possible to discriminate without animus and for justified, reasonable goals? Yes, probably.

What is Affirmative Action?
At its most basic, Affirmative Action is any attempt to work proactively in order to achieve greater diversity in a workplace or school (whether for race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) rather than simply ceasing to actively discriminate. Thus, just about anything beyond the simple absence of discrimination might qualify as a form of Affirmative Action.

Isn't Racial Discrimination Illegal?
A common and straightforward objection to Affirmative Action is to simply observe that racial discrimination is illegal - therefore, few if any people continue to discriminate when it comes to hiring or admissions. So, if people refrain from discriminating, there really isn't any need for Affirmative Action programs to increase the minority representation, is there?

Are Racial Disparity & Discrimination Still a Problem?
Even if the legal prohibitions against racial discrimination don't prevent it entirely, surely there have been enough gains in racial equality over the past decades that there isn't any more unjustified disparity between races or genders - or at least, that is what some people argue. If disparity and discrimination are no longer a problem, then Affirmative Action programs are no longer needed.

Affirmative Action is just a Quota System
Opponents to Affirmative Action programs have made their message popular enough that today the very idea of "quotas" or a "quota system" has become highly objectionable to many Americans. Those who continue to support Affirmative Actions often rush to assure others that they do not also support "quotas." But what's so wrong with quotas anyway?

Affirmative Action & Ethics: Affirmative Action is Inefficient
It's not uncommon to find someone arguing that Affirmative Action is an "inefficient" program and therefore should be scrapped. This is normally combined with the argument that the only genuinely "efficient" method of hiring workers or admitting students is by merit and that this is what should be used in place of Affirmative Action.

Affirmative Action is Reverse Discrimination
Some critics of affirmative actions programs argue that they are a form of racial discrimination and, as such, is presumably unjust, immoral, and illegal on its face. Indeed, it is commonly argued that people who support affirmative action as a means of rectifying past discrimination are being inconsistent and hypocritical because they are using an evil to make up for an evil.

Affirmative Action & Qualifications
One objection to affirmative action programs is the idea that only "qualifications" should decide admission to college. Presumably, what is meant here is academic qualifications - and thus this argument takes the position that admission to college essentially becomes a sort of "reward" for those with a strong enough record of past academic performance. Is this a valid argument?

Affirmative Action Encourages Prejudice
It is not uncommon to hear people objecting to affirmative action programs by alleging that they actually cause prejudice and hence further discrimination. According to this argument, when affirmative action programs are in place there will always be a stigma attached to minorities who are presumed to have benefited from those programs.

Judging Individuals vs. Judging Groups
A common argument is that people should be judged as individuals rather than as members of a group, especially racial groups. People using this argument will generally concede that past racism continues to affect the social and economic status of minorities, resulting in worse academic performance which should be taken into account in a fair and just system.

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