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Affirmative Action in an Equal-Rights Democracy

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The United States of America was founded on the principals of a people-run government that provides all men with equal rights. Yet, since the nation’s founding, America has struggled in making this a reality. As the founding fathers signed the Declaration and Independence, with the intention of creating a nation based on equality, the people to receive those equal rights excluded the African-American slaves working on their plantations, or the countless who had few opportunities to receive a formal education. 

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Since then, there has been a gap in Americans’ experience of equal rights. The system of American democracy was created with fundamental discrepancies between people of different races, genders, and economic and social backgrounds. Affirmative Action serves to bridge the gap and ensure that all people can experience American opportunity and rights equally. For this reason, Affirmative Action is necessary for democracy. It does not violate the principles of fairness in democracy, but give opportunity so that fairness can be achieved.

The purpose of affirmative action is to supplement for past injustices that prevented certain groups of people from experiencing equal rights. Thus, affirmative action is not an issue of equality, but of equity. Nancy Cantor, provost of University of Michigan during Grutter v. Bollinger, states, “How are we supposed to fulfil the dreams of Brown (of Brown v. Board of Education) and Bakke (of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke), to build a positive story of race in America, if we are told to ignore race - to concoct systems constructed around proxies for race such as class rank in racially segregated school districts or euphemisms such as “cultural traditions” that both avoid our past and fail to value the possibility that race can play a constructive role in our nation’s future? (page 33, paragraph 8).” Affirmitive action does not and should not employ reverse discrimination. That would only further create inequality in a system based on the principle of equal rights.

Many people take issue with the practice of Affirmative Action because they believe it favors certain races or groups, giving them undeserved and unprecedented advantage. Affirmative Action is then ineffective if in practice only serves to give handouts to minorities. Instead, Affirmative Action and to whom it applies should be based on the consideration of many factors that determine a person’s access to equal rights (social class, economic background, race, etc.). 

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, on the topic of using affirmative action in college admissions to achieve diversity on campus, quotes, “[Affirmative Action] ecompasses a far broader array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element. The determination of who qualifies for equal rights in America is not biological and neither should be the determining factors used to base the use of affirmative action (page 34, paragraph 4).” This points back directly to the purpose of affirmative action: To promote social equality through the preferential treatment of socioeconomically disadvantaged people and establish fair access to opportunities to create a democracy that is an accurate reflection of the demographics of the nation.

Arguments against affirmative action say that it destroys to idea of meritocracy and devalues hard work. Some people believe that affirmative action gives advantages to people who have not earned them. The misconception there is that those benefiting from affirmative action do not work or strive to achieve merit. But, in America’s social system, there are more challenges some groups have to face that others do not. Two people of different social groups, work diligently and equally towards a certain goal, but one get a lot farther than the other. This is not because one was a better worker or was lazy. This is because of factors neither can control but were pre-established in their society that prevent the one form progressing as much as they could. Affirmative Action works irrespective of merit because equal rights is irrespective of merit.

Another argument made against affirmative action is that it reinforces stereotypes and racism. This statement could only be true if affirmative action was based on stereotypes and racism. Affirmative Action, in theory, is supposed to be based on multiple factors that could determine a person’s experience that could give them any kind of disadvantage in their society. Affirmative Action is not free handouts to grudged minority groups. It is a strategy to counter a system that disfavors certain groups of people, creating inequality where equality should abide . Affirmative action not only has a place in America’s democratic system, but should operate simultaneously to maintain fairness. 

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