Is Affirmative Action Obsolete?

The debate over affirmative action can get confusing because it quickly degenerates into complicated legal battles that most people don’t understand. In the midst of the confusion, the moral issues of this debate are the most important.

Let’s start with the most basic social fact: The United States is not a level racial playing field. Equal opportunity regardless of race has yet to be achieved in our country. We have made substantial progress, but middle-class blacks, Latinos, and Asians can still tell current stories of discrimination based solely on skin color. And for millions of people of color trapped in segregated underclass neighborhoods, hope has faded away of ever escaping poverty and violence. Most Americans, and even most white people if pressed, would probably admit that we don’t yet have a society whose rewards and benefits are "colorblind."

Affirmative action has always existed in America—for white men from affluent classes, in particular. Does anyone really want to argue that all the privileges that accrue to white people of means and their children are earned? Privilege perpetuates itself, in part by maintaining the social, economic, and political structures and habits that assist and assure its perpetuation. It is not whether anyone should get affirmative action, but rather whether anyone other than white men should get it. The question is what kind and how it will be implemented.

Diversity is not an option for America, it is our reality. The issue about diversity as we prepare to enter a new century is whether we will see it as a strength to embrace or a problem to be solved.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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