Egalitarianism has cultivated a general consensus against discrimination. Yet people seem to turn a blind eye when it’s done in the name of good will.
Where morality is concerned, altruism is arguably the pinnacle of righteousness. It is inseparable from creeds of different religions and brotherhoods. Secular ethics emphasised on the sanctity of selflessness. Ingrained in the moral code of equality, altruism ushered affirmative action into US politics in 1961 when John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925. Having set precedence for employment patterns, affirmative action diffused across workplaces into college admissions and other forms of recruitment.
Perhaps because its inauguration was swiftly followed by revamps in social structures based on race and gender, affirmative action has been placed on a pedestal for decades. Its moral philosophy of helping the needy is intuitively compelling to the public, and useful to rebut its sceptics. But herein lies the problem. Outside the political office, the liberal crusade for justice and empowerment has structured the narrative of affirmative action being the panacea society so desperately needs to remedy the plague of discrimination. With the overwhelming moral high ground, it’s easy to overlook the ramifications affirmative action brings about.
In principle, affirmative action is a hypocrisy. It is a form of reverse discrimination that mandates favouritism in the name of equality. Unlike matter and antimatter, discrimination cannot be cancelled out by its reverse, despite the convenient phrasing. Instead of alleviating the tension between communities, affirmative action exacerbates them. Knowing minorities are favoured in government policies doesn’t purge prejudices; it only sustains the fallacy that they are liabilities that freeload from the contributions of other members of society. This further inflates the bigots’ ego, yet it is no longer just self-indulgent supremacy. Instead, it nuances into self-preservation against the nefarious policies the government has sanctioned against them.
Advocates often brag affirmative action for allowing room for diversity to flourish across various settings. Case studies like the works of Allmendinger and Hackman on symphony orchestras are often cited to prove efficiency and creativity comes hand in hand with heterogeneity. Simply put, diversity is healthy for the growth of communities. And since if left on its own, implicit bias in workplaces and campuses will mould a homogenous environment, affirmative action is hence necessary to break the glass ceiling that’s holding minorities back. Scholarly evidence, however, misinterprets the nature of diversity required. In Fisher v. University of Texas, the university claimed to enforce diversity of races in the campus. The diversity needed, rather, is a variety in terms of expertise, knowledge and experience. It’s the skill set crucial to a team’s functionality that needs diversity, not superficial traits like skin colour or nationality.
To make matters worse, affirmative action impedes efficiency. Despite what liberal rhetoric has to say about equal capabilities, we cannot ignore the discrepancies in qualifications from person to person. While they may not be innate, most of them are accounted for by the plethora of cultures we live in. In a competitive environment, it’d naturally be in the best interest of firms to hire candidates with the highest degree of calibre. Superseding that with gender or race inevitably engenders lower efficiency in employees. Human resources departments often staff workplaces with a balance in race, gender and ethnicity only to vindicate themselves from derogatory shaming. Productivity should never be bartered for political correctness.
Despite being inconsistent in principle and counterproductive, diehard apologists may still opt for “ends justify means” arguments. Are the victims of oppression not deserving of closure, even if it comes at the expense of others? In the end of the day, can affirmative action redeem itself by serving the needy? While persecution should never be trivialised or condoned even, it does not warrant poetic justice. Granting the privilege of preferential treatment doesn’t mitigate the ordeal marginalised cohorts have suffered from, and affirmative action will only steer them further from the closure they need.
Admitting applicants who otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut into selective institutions can have malignant effects, as proven in the case of Kashawn Campbell. His bright, straight-A’s academic record punctuated abruptly. His grade-average point nose-dived to a risky 1.7, and he barely passed introductory courses. He is not alone. Contrary to expectations, the mismatch theory tells us that many victims of affirmative action are the recipients. Ill-prepared students when confronted with academic rigor, are evicted from their comfort zone. Their inadequacy translates into failure, and with the same outcome reinforced overtime it forges the false belief that they are not made for academics altogether. This psychological product is called learned helplessness. Pushing them into an environment where they’re bound to fall behind their peers does more to discourage than stimulate them to work harder, as evidenced by the dropout rates of beneficiaries.
However, it would be unfair to surmise that all disadvantaged groups are made up of people with lesser talents. A significant portion of outstanding prowess in society belongs to minorities, and we have to acknowledge that. Given the fact that affirmative action is widely implemented in the status quo, the question then becomes: how does affirmative action affect these individuals? It is patronising and puts them in an inescapable bind. Their qualifications no longer matter, because whatever successes they’ve accomplished will not be attributed to their efforts. This propagates misconceptions of a certain race or gender being weaker than another, relying on external intervention to succeed. Determined to prove their worth, allegedly weaker cliques instead fall prey to the phenomenon of stereotype threat, where the fear of confirming negative stereotypes deteriorates performance, hence affirming those stereotypes.
A little kindness goes a long way, but the atrocities committed in its name go a lot further. Our forefathers envisioned affirmative action to be the vanguard of equal opportunities. Sadly, equality today has become about equal representation and outcomes, and affirmative action is nothing more than a manifestation of left-wing ethnicism.