Why Do Liberals Support Affirmative Action?

(I actually think this might belong in General Questions. But seeing as how it might set off a big debate, I will put it here.)

This is something that I have wondered for some time now. Why do liberals in the USA typically support affirmative action for African Americans? I actually had a unique experience when I was in the 8th grade. About half of the class was white and about half was African American, almost a perfect balance. And I know from my experiences there academic success clearly has nothing to do with race. On the contrary, the two smartest people in my class were two African American girls. So I know African Americans don’t need an extra boost to make it academically (or otherwise). So why do most liberals support affirmative action?

BTW, as I’ve already said before, I am all over the political spectrum when it comes to individual issues. So what you say might help shape my view on this subject matter.

Thank you all in advance all who reply :slight_smile:

The simple answer is that many people and businesses would hire the third smartest person in the class simply because they are white.

Were that the case, the discriminatory businesses would be outcompeted by nondiscriminatory ones that hire based solely on talent.

Eyuuuuugh… Jim, your reasoning is based on the fallacies of biased sample and hasty generalization.

With that being said, the situation isn’t at all simple. Race is often (but not always) correlated with academic success. But, of course, correlation does not imply causation. Worth noting is that in many regions of the US, race is also correlated with SES levels, which can and does have a causative effective on academic performance, especially if we take into account that schools in low SES districts are sometimes, if not often, strapped for basic supplies and at a severe disadvantage when it comes to attracting first rate teachers.
It is also true that AA programs fall into the same ideological trap that occurs whenever you treat individuals as fungible placeholders in an amorphous generalization. When a bigot tells you that blacks can’t succeed because somehow being black holds them back, that’s racism. When a multiculturalist tells you that blacks can’t succeed without their help because being black somehow holds them back, that’s progressivism.

Yes, some but not all blacks, Hispanics, Jews, or what have you, will be disadvantaged by their circumstances and/or by society’s relationship with them. But saying that a wealthy black child, whose parents can pay for every tutor under the sun, deserves more consideration for special circumstances than a poor white child whose parents can’t afford to buy him new shoes? It betrays a primacy of ideology over reality.

I have argued in the past (although perhaps not on the Dope, I’m not sure) that race-based AA may serve a purpose in some cases, but also is a patronizing policy that is based on victim-status and one which ignores individual circumstances in favor of treating people as fungible placeholders in a generalization.
Economic-based AA, on the other hand, has my full support. If educational establishments or employers truly want to engage in social engineering via admissions/hiring, then it strikes me that by aiding the most disadvantaged, gains will most likely be made based on need rather than race. And, to be frank, someone who has to hurdle crack addicts on the way to school, and still gets a 1300 on the SAT, is probably a much better investment for a college than someone whose parents drive her to school every day in a BMW and who earns a 1360 on the SAT. And the color of someone’s skin doesn’t have to enter into it.

Which is in fact the case in many instances. In other cases, the company is rewarded by customers for discriminatory practices, particularly in front line positions, menial as they may be. I see a disporportionate number of white hotel desk clerks and waiters, for example.

To be honest, I don;t understand it. i’m all over the chart and I don’t agree with AA simply because:

You have some medical entrance examination and they accept 30 people, all 30 people per chance are white. The first African American is number 82/100, number 82 now replaces number 30, I really, really don’t feel like getting number 82 to operate on me.

Of course I may be totally off base on how it works, but it was explained to me as working in some way similar to that. I think the AA thing may be in need of revision (not sure ons tatistics and such that would dictate a complete abolition though).

Not even close to true. Aside from the fact that some of the most talented people I know work for companies that struggle to survive (I haven’t yet found a strong correlation between talent on an individual level and company success. Were the IT losers in the dotcom bust the least talented?), if someone is so racist that they won’t hire a minority, why wouldn’t they also try to avoid businesses that employ minorities?

Just as a data point, this study examines the extent of affirmative action “bonuses” for various groups in admissions to elite universities . AA gives Blacks the equivalent of a 230-point bonus on the (old, 1600 max) SAT, Hispanics get 185, whites get 0, and Asians get a deduction of 50 points. (Legacies get 160 and athletes 200) They conclude that the real losers from AA are not whites but Asians - 80% of seats that Blacks and Hispanics now gain from AA are at the expense of Asian candidates, who would have been admitted to those seats if purely merit-based admissions was practiced.

Oh, of course luck plays a role on an individual level, but efficient business practices do matter over an entire market. Do you really think, for example, that the assembly line wouldn’t have caught on if Henry Ford were somehow bankrupted?


Do you really think that the world works like this? I’m guessing you’ve never received poor customer service before.

I went on a cruise a few months back. Everything was great except one thing: the nightly entertainment. The stage shows featured the worse dancers I’ve ever seen. I don’t know why, but the whole cast was comprised of tow-headed Eastern Europeans. I’m sure they were really nice folks, but dancers, they were not.

Now, I don’t can’t really believe they were the most qualified applicants. It wouldn’t be surprising to me to learn that they were hired based, in part, on their All-American looks. As the nightly entertainment shows aren’t the main reason why people go on cruises, I can’t see this hurting the cruiseline’s bottom line any.

Businesses discriminate not only because of management’s bigotry, but because the public can also be prejudiced. As long as this perception is held and fulfilled, relative talent doesn’t matter.

I’m saying that if Ford had only hired the third best possible employee for a particular spot on the assembly line, simply because the two best candidates were Jewish, Ford would not be hurt as a company financially.

By the way, as an answer to the OP, this is why I still support AA.

I wish AA were no longer necessary, and perhaps someday that will be true.

If only a particular spot were affected, then only one person would be hurt, and this whole inefficient AA machinery wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Affrimative Action (AA) was originally conceived as a way of addressing the enormous disparities between blacks and whites that came about as a result of slavery, Jim Crow and general racism that has historically afflicted the US for most of its history to one extent or another.

Typically, conservatives oppose AA on the grounds that racial parity, or something very close to it, has been attained in US society. Liberals do not tend to believe that racial parity, or anything close to it, has been achieved. We point to continuing economic problems for black people and a continuing overwhelming preponderance of white people in upper management positions (the glass ceiling). We are also deeply suspicious of the motives of the conservatives who have long been associated with racism, who are now assuring us that racism has miraculously disappeared and remedies for it are no longer needed. We tend to see this as just more covert racism. So we continue to support AA.

If Henry Ford picked the third best candidate for every single spot in his assembly line, he’d still have been profitable.

That is a good overview. Let me just add that conservatives typically champion equality of opportunity, whereas liberals look for equality of outcome. So, the way that many of these debates go is that conservatives ask for solid proof of racist hiring tendancies, whereas liberals retort that the lack of, say, income equality is proof enough that AA has to continue.

Ah hell, I forgot who athelas was. I’m wasting my time.

Sorry, I can’t let you just add that because it’s completely wrong. Liberals also champion equality of opportunity. We think the playing field has been so greatly tilted against black people that it needs to be righted to produce real equality of opportunity.

The conservative vision of “equality of opportunity” reminds me of the French saying, “The law in all its majesty forbids both the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges and beg for food in the streets.”

It is intuitive that the two tend to correlate. It is also intuitive that the absence of the second suggests an absence of the first.

There might be a brand of AA that demands equality of outcome but when most people talk about AA, they believe affirmative action is necessary to equality of opportunity. I think most of the legacy of slavery and segregation is contained in economic disparity and could be remedied by SES based affirmtive action.