The American Civil War ended an African holocaust that had lasted almost three centuries, devastating generations of human beings. It took most of the next century for decedents of the Africans enslaved in the American States to enjoy any of the actual freedoms and rights that were supposed to have been guaranteed to them after 1865. In many respects, contemporary American culture still features residual consequences of Slavery in the everyday lives of black Americans.
Affirmative Action developed under the Civil Rights movement initiated by the Kennedy Administration in the 1960’s. Forty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court is still hearing arguments representing two diametrically opposite views of Affirmative Action, in principle, most recently, on June 23, 2003, when it reconsidered the issue in relation to its landmark ruling of 1978. (1,2)
The spectrum of political opinion on the issue stretches very wide indeed:
On one hand, there is the belief that modern day black American descendants of African slaves are due monetary compensation for the injustices inflicted on their ancestors, because much of big business in the United States was built by their sweat, not to mention their tears. This position includes the belief that the living conditions of millions of poor blacks in urban areas and the under representation of blacks in positions of influence in corporate America is (still) a direct consequence of Slavery.
1. Grutter v. Bollinger, (02-241) 288 F.3d 732, affirmed.
2. Regents of Univ. Of Cal. v. Bakke, http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct-cgi/get-us-cite?438+265″ 438 U.S. 265 (1978).
The opposite point-of-view is that Slavery ended almost a century and a half ago, and modern day white American aren’t any more responsible for the sins of their ancestors than modern day black Americans are due any moral compensation, because they already enjoy all the same rights as white Americans. Affirmative Action programs, have diluted the value of educational credentials awarded by some of the most prestigious universities, and thinned the talent pool of candidates ultimately offered corporate positions at many business institutions.
Surely, contemporary black Americans deserve the same rights as their white counterparts, and there certainly is a moral obligation to provide comparable opportunities at professional success. Perhaps nobody is harmed worse by the current incarnation of Affirmative Action legislation than the black American who is genuinely qualified to attend the best colleges and to consideration, purely on the merits, for an influential position within a corporate business institution.
Just as surely, society benefits tremendously by sponsoring public programs to assist everyone achieve his full personal, educational and professional potential, regardless of race, color, or creed. Likewise, there is immeasurable value in public policies designed to recognize human potential, especially wherever it can be encouraged, cultivated, and rewarded, despite influences to the contrary.
When considering the demographic data on poverty in the United States, it appears that the history of American Slavery contributed to at least some of the factors responsible for the socioeconomic divide between black and white Americans that still exists, particularly in the former confederate states.(3) Very often, the 3. Facts from the Census Bureau for Black History Month; United States Department of Commerce News (1996) realities of living in urban areas expose black Americans to much higher rates of poverty, infant mortality, unemployment, homelessness, and other legitimate challenges to personal, educational, and professional success than one experiences living in other communities.
The problem with many current Affirmative Action policies is that they are overbroad” in that they reward recipients merely by virtue of their race, rather than in relation to their genuinely deserving compensation for having overcome the types of hardships they were designed to compensate, in the first place. At the time of their inception, Affirmative Action programs based on race might have been justified, owing to the very close correlation between racial status and lack of educational and professional opportunities. Forty years later, racial status was no longer as closely linked to deprivation and hardship, which is, in part, testament to the successful rectification of some of the inequities they were designed to redress, originally.(4)
Nowadays, under overbroad application of Affirmative Action programs, even black Americans raised in relative affluence are often eligible for more public assistance than white Americans who overcome daunting hardships of poverty in their own quests for achieving educational and professional success.(5) It is this disparity and inequitable application of Affirmative Action resources based purely on racial criteria that inspires resentment and also devalues the impressive accomplishments of black Americans who genuinely manage to overcome bona-fide hardships on the road to (deserved) academic scholarships and professional opportunities in corporate business.
4. Facts from the Census Bureau for Black History Month; United States Department of Commerce News (1996)
5. Carter, L.H. Reason In Law (p 206)
In principle, considering the backgrounds and challenges facing black
Americans in order to reward compensation and assistance based on the merits of achievement in the face of genuine adversity makes perfect sense. Certainly, in particular cases comparing the qualifications of two very closely matched candidates for consideration, both educational and professional business communities benefit from rewarding highly qualified candidates (regardless of race) who have triumphed over adverse socioeconomic challenges. By the same token, both communities are diminished to whatever extent highly qualified candidates (of any race) are ever displaced by marginally qualified candidates merely by virtue of racial identity.
The right approach to equitably and morally compensating genuine victims of modern day vestiges of the horrors of the enslavement of black Africans in America would be designed to recognize legitimate instances of merit, accomplishment, and triumph over adversity wherever they truly exist.
It is a blindly overbroad approach focusing purely on racial identity that inspires resentment and gives rise to high profile “reverse discrimination” law suits on the part of prospective students and employees unfairly displaced by less qualified (sometimes even completely unqualified) candidates, merely by virtue of their race.(6)
The philosophical beauty of focusing on identifying genuine cases of merit wherever they may exist is that it properly allocates resources of federal and state assistance to all Americans equally, without undermining the interests of the original class of beneficiaries for whom they were developed originally.
6. Carter, L.H., Reason In Law (pp 101-3)
That the holocaust of American enslavement of black Africans gives rise to a moral obligation is uncontroverted. It is a testament to the sincerity of the modern
American system of justice that the descendants of African slaves now enjoy all the rights, freedoms, and opportunities of American citizenship, by law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expresses the principle of economic opportunity to which all
Americans are entitled by law:
No person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”(7)
The ultimate goal of Affirmative Action theory is to level the playing field, not to establish a field of opportunity that is permanently slanted, long after the underlying circumstances justifying their inception have been eliminated.
The ultimate result of failing to incorporate modern realities into Affirmative
Action theory and programs is a perpetuation of a racial divide between black and white Americans, rather than a country united, where achievement is based on merit and never blindly denied or awarded, merely by virtue of race.
Business corporations, like the federal government, have a moral obligation to recognize and reward triumph over genuinely adverse situations wherever possible.
At the same time, they must provide opportunities to qualified candidates fairly, and utterly without prejudice or blind preferences based on racial identity. A failure to ignore the latter consideration undermines the moral and philosophical concerns expressed by the former, to the detriment of business, individual rights, the achievements of highly qualified minority candidates, and American society.
7) Carter, L.H., Reason In Law (p. 101)
1. Carter, L.H. Reason In Law; 1979 (Little Brown and Co.)
2. Grutter v. Bollinger, (02-241) 288 F.3d 732, affirmed. Accessed at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-241.ZO.html
3. Regents of Univ. Of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). Accessed at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-241.ZO.html
4. United States Department of Commerce News (1996);
Facts from the Census Bureau for Black History Month Accessed at http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/blkhis1.html
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