Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities on average have significantly less money and access to good jobs or education*. What is the root cause of this inequality? We can claim that there is some sort of shortcoming with these groups, that they are somehow inferior. Alternatively, we could say that there is a systematic racism which works against these groups. It is the latter that I believe, and will discuss why below.
But first, if we recognize that there is a systematic racism, unfairly constraining every member of these minority groups, we must take that into account when considering someone’s “merit” for college or employment. If we are to have a meritocracy, we must recognize hard work. What you achieve, in this view, is less important than how hard you had to work to achieve it. Where you get is less important than how far you have come.
Affirmative action programs should be designed to recognize when someone has struggled against adversity, including racism. The purpose is not to give preference to minorities, it is to treat everyone equally, by taking into account not only how much someone has achieved, and what obstacles they had to overcome to achieve it.
That, not repayment for past crimes, is my argument for affirmative action. There are, I hasten to add, other arguments. This is one I find compelling, however.
Briefly, why is it that I believe there to be racism in America today? In my limited experience, I find people are quite cognizant of racism based on physiology arguments. Claims of stupidity, laziness, thievery etc. based on biology are usually recognized for what they are: racist. What many people do not see as racist are the very same claims, based upon the culture. Thus the Wall Street Journal can claim “with 30% of Hispanics below the poverty line, it can be argued that we imported a poverty problem as well as a cultural problem” (op/ed, July 13, 1999), without a controversy. It is in these kind of claims that mainstream racism lives on.
Racism exists. If we want a meritocracy, we need to recognize this. Affirmative action programs can be used to take this into account.
*This is not the justification I find compelling for affirmative action. If you are going to point out that there are poor Whites, reread my argument. You are not following it.