Why Do Liberals Support Affirmative Action?

>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).

All the statistics I have seen show African Americans have less success on average in academics and in many other ways.

I don’t know that anybody needs an extra boost to make it. I think the more important question is whether it is wise to provide one.

I used to think that to award any kind of differentiating boost on the basis of race was wrong. Let’s truly be colorblind, I thought.

Then I studied my own genealogy, including the entire 385 years my white family has been here, and I happened to read “Slaves in the Family” by John Ball, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t the independent thinker or the self-made man I thought I was. I was pretty much just the obvious next step in my own family tree, and I was most substantially shaped by many recent generations of my family’s environment.

So, now, though it is hard to be certain, I believe that African Americans in the USA are in a somewhat unique predicament. Our government and society systematically disenfranchised and disabled and disadvantaged many successive generations of their family trees, including through laws and very broadly enforced customs and other means. Dan Lacy’s book The White Use of Blacks in America is a good survey of this, I think.

And I wind up thinking that what comes closest to fair and neutral treatment of its citizens by the US government would not be literal color blindness, but rather that efforts to redress this imbalance are appropriate.

This is a very thorny problem. Exactly how to balance things, and how much, is very debatable.

But I still have to go along with Jesse Jackson’s statement that to ignore race is racist.

I’m a liberal, and I think that the main idea is that African Americans need a bit of a jump start to overcome the effects of past injustices as well as to compensate for rampant discrimination against them. Also, there may be value in having the appearance of equality, for example in judgeships.

The problem is that affirmative action results in a lot of unfairness at an individual level and doesn’t seem to have fixed the problem of racism.

What if somebody had posted an anecdote about how the African Americans they knew from 8th grade were generally less smart and worse students than everyone else? What if that person concluded that there is a relationship between academic success and race? Probably you would tell them that they need broader experience to draw that kind of conclusion. Well, the same argument applies to you.

But that would be one busy muthafukka.

AA and anti-discriminatory laws are not the same thing. Are they?


There’s no such thing as race, therefore AA is based on a false premise.


Correlation does not imply causation, there is no reason to assume that equality of opportunity will lead to demographic sameness of outcome and a lack of demographic sameness of outcome does not in any way suggest inequality of opportunity unless you actually look at situations and discover what the factors are.

This is a perfect object lesson of how issues of race can turn a normal situation into an irrational and bizarre occurrence, when some folks look at it.
You see dancing (towheaded!) white people. They’re not good at it. Rather than finding out if they pay a crap wage so their employers were scraping the bottom of the barrel, or if many people don’t want to be on a cruise ship for their job and away from home so often, or even how many people actually applied for the position… the assumption lept to, with Olympic quality jumping skills, is that some sort of bias towards “All-American looks” (in a bunch of Eastern Europeans), might very well have played a role.

This is the problem with the whole ‘equality of outcome’ school of thought. Without knowing anything about the specifics of a situation, we can’t tell if there’s any reason to be perturbed about the fairness of the outcome, at all.

Yet again, without bothering to hunt down the specifics of a situation, disparity is automatically assumed to be inequality.
A good question to ask, which you seem not to have, is how many black MBA’s are there each year? How apply to MBA programs? How many get accepted? How many years has there been a substantial talent pool of blacks who got a top-flight MBA degree?
Without knowing these factors, pointing out that there is a disparity means nothing, at all. And you can assume racism until the cows come home, but assuming doesn’t make it so. It’s the same dynamic as seen in numerous “Wynms Studies” courses where the number of women serving as engineers, doctors and CEO’s is bewailed… while the people in the class are busy getting degrees in subjects that are less useful than a philosophy major.

Without knowing the actual circumstances, pointing to demographics is merely a side show.

We’re into some real Orwellian doublespeak now, when you use “equality of opportunity” to mean “discriminating for certain racial categories.” Equality of opportunity means that opportunity is equal, not weighted. If you believe in weighted opportunity, then say that, don’t pretend that you believe in equal opportunity. You can’t say that you’ll give a greater opportunity to one of two equally matched candidates, based on race, and still call that “equal”. It’s a farce.

Someone who was for equal opportunity would believe that anti-discrimination laws should be enforced, that any person should be free to apply for a job and that merit should win out. You don’t believe that, fine. Why try to hide it?

You’ve been engaging in some very weird groupthink in this thread, where you think you’re somehow a spokesman for “Liberals” and you can identify a “conservative version”. Partisan politics are batty.

With that being said, you’ve again engaged in Orwellian doublespeak. Yes, if everybody is equal under the law, then that means nobody can do something that everybody can’t do. Yes, if everybody has equal opportunity, that means everybody has a chance to apply for a job and either get it or not get it, based on merit. Pretending that unequal laws or unequal hiring practices are “equality” is simply disingenuous. Equality has a meaning, and it doesn’t, coincidentally, mean “not equal”.

And the Orwellian doublespeak now starts trying to eat its own tail. Not judging people based on race is racist, but judging people based on race is non-racist. So we’ve totally inverted the definition of racism: not believing that race is a determinant of someone’s abilities and not discriminating based on race, becomes discriminating based on race and believing that race is a determinant of someone’s abilities. Unless, of course, you’re using a totally new and idiosyncratic definition of “racism” that’s the exact opposite of the one we always had.

At the point where you’re using language to say that treating people as individuals is treating them as fungible components of a ‘race’, is racism? You can be pretty sure that you’re no longer using language to elucidate or describe.

I’m again struck by the focus on black Americans in this discussion. Do people realize that they are not the biggest beneficieries of AA? And Latinos, the largest ethnic group in the US, also get a big boost by AA.

I’m just wondering why the AA discussion never centers around these groups. Any one have any ideas?

To address the OP, I’ve expressed my ambivalence to AA before–which tends to shock people. I know I have benefited through the program as a double minority–and I also know that this does not bear poorly on my qualifications. AA may have helped me get into college, but it did NOT help me graduate with honors or score ridicuously high on the GRE (nor did it get me into graduate school, although it helped me get fellowship money). AA may have given my resume a boost when I was looking for my current position, but it did not give me all the answers to the challenging questions I received during the interview. And it doesn’t help me do my job either (if anything, I’m overqualified). That people might take one look at me and think otherwise makes me intensely dislike AA.

But I don’t think the program should be thrown out of the window, as I do think that qualifications are often associated with intangibles, such as socioeconomic background, gender, and yes, race. Particularly when we’re talking about the public sphere. When public servants–such as law enforcers, social workers, educators, medical practioners, and politicians–don’t reflect the population that they’re serving, you often get distrust, misunderstandings, biased treatment, and accusations thereof. How many anti-AAers would be happy enrolling their child in a school where the faculty was of a different cultural/racial background, and their child was a minority in the student body as well?

Many blame the gender gap on the absence of men in the educational setting and are using AA to change this. I think this is a good use of the program as long as it’s skewed more to recruitment and incentives (scholarships) than to preferential admissions. But even a little preferential treatment, IMHO, isn’t unethical if the goal is noble.

Just curious. Can you envision a cruiseline employing an all-black cast to do the entertainment? Instead of lithe tow-heads, they’d hire a bunch of big-booty cornroll- and loc-wearing West Africans dancers to go along with the horrible Elvis and Madonna impersonations.

Because I simply can’t. And I can’t imagine their predominately white guests (many elderly) feeling comfortable with such entertainers.

But maybe I’m just being irrational.

Well, someone has already been willing to speak for all Liberals on this matter:

That may very well be the reason why blacks are often brought in this context, and why AA is still seen as a “black program”. Nor is that view unknown in mainstream discussions.

I guess it depends on how many people who aren’t for AA are, actually, racists. Certainly, if your hypothetical example of a thought process is at all common, there are probably more than a few pro-AA folks who’d say the same sort of thing “Ugh… I don’t want to send my child to a school where those people make up the faculty and most of the student body.”

Which is why these sorts of positions are all morally bankrupt. You take something that, were the roles reversed, almost everybody would disagree with, and then you say that the ends justify the means. What, a woman who’s struggled and studied and saved her pennies should graduate with more debt in student loans than a man, just because there are fewer men in education? Bonkers.


Edit: And it’s worth nothing, that your argument has now essentially refuted itself. If it’s okay to discriminate because of “noble” goals, then surely turning a profit, putting food on the table and being able to send your children to college would be a noble goal. So if someone thought that hiring a minority would scare away customers, they’d be perfectly justified, under your logic, to turn away any blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women, etc…

Either discrimination based on race/gender is okay, or it’s not. But if it is, you can’t hold a logically coherent position if you only justify discrimination when it seems noble to you.

Even thought there is no such thing as race, there is such a thing as discrimination based on the appearance of race, therefore AA is a fair premise.

FinnAgain, what is your first quote from?

Because there are AA programs all throughout the world–in countries where blacks don’t even live.

The civil rights movement may have been an impetus behind AA, but the reality is that it isn’t a “black” program. Again, WHITES have benefited the most from it. And second to whites in number are LATINOS. It is unfair to talk about black preferences without mentioning other groups–especially since AA does not explicitly give preferences just to one group (hence why institutions are using it to target groups who have been traditionally seen as undeserving of preferences).

When people say “race doesn’t matter”, I often do wonder if they themselves belong to a racial minority group. Because it’s easy to say it doesn’t matter when you’re surrounded by people who look like you and rarely face situations that remind you that you’re racially different.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to send my child to a school that was 100% white. Even if it was the best institution in the world, I would fear that my child would feel alienated and stigmitized, as well as experience an microcosm that is unreflective of the greater world. Does that make me racist? No. It just means that I put a premium on cultural diversity–and you’re more likely to experience that in a racially diverse setting. For the same reason, I wouldn’t want to send them to a school that’s a 100% black either.

Unless you believe all scholarships should be open to everyone (no engineering scholarships, no special financial aid packages for education majors), then you’re talking a whole bunch of melodramatic malarky here.

The one that mentions Jim Crow? That’d be Evil Captor.


Virtually my entire extended family was butchered by the Nazis. My maternal grandmother watched the Gestapo drag her brother and father from their home, and her mother hang herself several days later. In New York City, my father was severely beaten on the subway because he “looked Jewish” and denied that he had horns on his head.

Race doesn’t matter in any real way, at all.
It only matters when people are gunning for you, and we already have numerous laws on the books to deal with such situations.

Not, of course, as if it was valid to use an ad hominem fallacy whereby someone who isn’t a minority loses the right to discuss race.

You know full well that there’s a massive difference between saying that any engineering student can apply for an engineering scholarship, and only a white person can apply for this specific engineering scholarship.
You can’t honestly feeel that it’s “melodramatic malarkey” to say that education scholarships should be open to educators who need money, based on their talent and their economic need, rather than men based on the fact that they have a penis, and there are very few teachers who have penises.

There are two positions general positions: one which says that as long as discrimination is illegal, men and women will be free to choose their own career paths as they see fit.
Another says that since there aren’t X number of male teachers, without knowing whether or not there are even X number of men who’d want to be teachers, discriminating against women is fine if it’ll put some more swingin’ johnsons into our nation’s classrooms.

And before you justify discrimination (being aware that it can come and bite you in the ass later once you’ve said it’s okay), shouldn’t we at least figure out why there are disparities? If only 1/3 the number of women as men apply to MBA programs, is the answer to discriminate against men, or for women who want to be MBA’s to apply? Or even to figure that if only 1/3 the number of women as men want to be MBA’s, then that’s their choice and it’s fine, because artificially having equality of outcome when there’s no actual basis for it, is Frankenstein-level social engineering?

Um, what?

My logic doesn’t allow for this at all.

This is what my logic justifies.

I’m a principal at a troubled inner city school. I’m a white woman, born and raised in suburban wealth. My office staff is white, as are eighty percent of my teachers. Ninety-five percent of us are also women. Most of my problem students are black and Hispanic males from single-mothered homes.

I’m looking for a vice principal.

I get two applications.

One applicant graduated magna cum laude from Swarthmore, in childhood education. She’s got a masters from Stanford in mathematics and another in school administration, and has eleven years of classroom experience and five years as a vice-principal in a high-performing elementary school. She won an NSF grant one year to sponsor a school wide mathematics fair. Her references are steller and she’s praised for being a high-achiever, hard worker, and independent thinker. When she comes in for the interview, her dimunitive size shocks me. She’s only five-foot one. She’s more soft-spoken than I thought she would be, but she gives all the right answers to my questions. Very eloquent, put together, and impressive all around–those are my assessments.

The other applicant graduated from Morehouse College, in physical education. He has a masters from Georgia State in school administration and has fifteen years of classroom experience, and one year as a vice-principal in a medium-performing urban middle school. His references are steller, and he’s praised for being well-liked by the students, for being a tough but fair disciplinarian, for inspiring his students to do well in school, and for being a team player among the faculty. His fomer supervisor tells me he was instrumental in improving the school’s basketball and track programs. The candidate towers over me when he enters my office–he’s built like a linebacker. He’s visibly nervous and stammers a little when I ask the first few questions, but he soon relaxes and even tells a few jokes. His answers aren’t all perfect, but right before the interview is over, he tells me a story about how he was inspired to teach by a grammar school principal who woudn’t tolerate self-defeating behavior. I think about the story long after the interview. Approachable, solid, inspiring–those are my assessments of him.

Just looking at numbers, the first candidate comes out on top. Her grades are better, her schools are superior. She has more experience in leadership and seems like a better educator. But the second candidate’s no slouch. He’s got people skills and a demonstrated ability to reach kids. He’s also a great disciplinarian–something I need more than a math teacher. Things that are also in his favor are his gender and his race. The absence of black males in my faculty roster lies in stark contrast to their abundance in my detention hall. When I picture the first candidate holding court in front of that crew every day, I see someone who may eventually burn out. But my second candidate seems like he might be up to the challenge. I start thinking maybe the second candidate will be able to inspire some of those boys in the same way he was inspired.

See how I weighed by the tangible (grades, schooling, accomplishments) with the intangible qualities? And see how the “noble goal” went beyond my individual needs, but to the needs of the community that I serve?

I don’t think anyone who’s in favor of AA would propose hiring the second candidate over the first in every and all circumstances. And if they are, then they’re bone-headed ignoramouses. But it would be just as wrong to say that merits can always be measured and quantified, and that the “best” person for the job is always the one who wins out on paper. I think AA just allows people consider more factors when evaluating candidates. When doing so can be linked to benefits in the community, I think it’s justified.

This doesn’t make sense to me. That’s like saying crime doesn’t matter because we have laws on the books to deal with it.

No one loses the right to discuss race. But if someone’s going to say “race doesn’t matter” or “race doesn’t exist”, I’d like to know what they’re basing that claim on. If it’s based on a life spent as a member of the majority, as a person who’s never stuck out like a sore thumb or have had to worry about being the victim of prejudice, then that goes to explains why “race doesn’t matter” is their point of view. Of COURSE it wouldn’t matter to them. They have a totally different experience than someone who is a racial minority–whether they be white or black or whatever.

It’s not an ad hominem fallacy. It’s a statement of truth.

I went to an engineering school. I received (without applying) a scholarship by the school devoted to increasing women in engineering. The school at the time had a male-to-female ratio of 3:1. (I’m sure some of those guys were happy the school was trying to bring in more girls.)

As the scholarship was established by an specific endowment for that explicit purpose, there was no money being taken away from guys. No guys were starving just because a handful of students got an extra thousand dollars tacked onto their financial aide package. Having a scholarship targeted to a specific demographic is no more fundamentally unfair than having a scholarship targeted to the children of firefighters or 911 victims. Or to education/engineering majors. Why do such things exist? Because the founders believe that there’s some benefit to helping these people succeed.

Cry about it if you want, but the unfairness of life isn’t limited to AA programs.

Race as a social construct certainly exist.


As a direct answer to the OP, it’s not just liberals that support it. Republicans Arlen Specter, Christine Todd Whitman, and William Weld, among many others, support affirmative action.

To further help the OP in understanding, here is a good reference to various issues, including explaining exactly what affirmative action entails, which, based on some of the responses against it here, isn’t really well known.

And still no cite that AA primarily benefits whites.

  1. It is okay to discriminate for someone and against someone else if it serves a ‘noble’ goal.
  2. Feeding your family and putting your children through college is a noble goal.
  3. Thus, it is okay to discriminate against minorities if a business owner thinks he’ll make more money because his clients like white people more.

That is exactly what your logic yields. That you don’t support is shows something about whether your logic is reason or rationalization. As does your comment about not wanting a school that wasn’t an accurate “microcosm”. You don’t actually want a microcosm either, of course. You don’t want to make sure that some of the children are living below the poverty line, or that some are on the edge of starvation, or that some girls have undergone genital mutilation, that some are property in human trafficking schemes, let alone that crimes like murder, robbery and rape are accurate represented in the school on a per capita basis, let alone the fact that most people in the world don’t speak English, so most people in the class shouldn’t, either. Do you?
Your concern that a school isn’t an accurate ‘microcosm’ is just sophistry, right? Especially since it’s a very, very rare place where there is actual demographics that mirror the statistics of the population at large. In point of fact, non-homogeneously mixed groups are the macrocosm which a microcosm would actually mirror. The “microcosm” nature of a setting isn’t your actual concern, having the ‘correct’ percent of groups, however they’re actually going to be defined, is.

Much like your talk about the desirability of a “microcosm”, your claim that discrimination is okay is a malleable, mutable and self serving bit of rationalization rather than a consistent, coherent or cogent principle.

As for your examples:

None of this is contradictory. Merit involves more than just numbers. Obviously, how someone can do their job is part of merit.

Which has nothing, whatever, to do with job performance.
And yet again, your logic explicitly justifies bigotry and racism. If I had a school where the majority of students in detention were white, should I discriminate against hiring a black man? Your logic says ‘yes’.

Nor have you given any actual reason why a qualified white teacher couldn’t do the job with a group of black students in detention. You’ve suggested lots of possibilities (again, generalities over actual instances) and actual included the possibility of hysterical and false claims of bias in the calculus. This, I would note, again shows malleable logic… as black students who might not feel comfortable with a white teacher would be cause to discriminate against white teachers, but a business man whose clients would feel uncomfortable with a black receptionist is a racist if he discriminates against black applicants. What, we should bend to racism when it comes from black kids in detention, but not white customers?

You did no such thing.
You weighed job-performance related matters as job-performance related matters, and then gave extra points to someone because he happened to be the same race as students in detention.

Moreover, your example would have worked the same exact way had we taken out the totally irrelevant issues of race and gender. A candidate who can’t instill discipline can’t instill discipline even if she tans in the shade and has a vagina. A teacher who can, can whether or not he’s dark as tar and hung like a Clydesdale.

A No True Scotsman fallacy with a side order of collectivism thrown in for good measure. It’s not a noble goal for someone to want to put their children through college and give their family a nice life, but giving those things to others instead is a virtue. It’s not a virtue if you enjoy it, but it is when others do.

Like I showed above, your logic is rationalization and not reasoning. You have to play fast and loose with what “noble” means, and have to apply a personal, subjective and idiosyncratic definition in order for your train of logic not to derail like a spastic bullet train.

Nobody said it did. Charisma, for instance, is mighty hard to show on a transcript.

No, that’s another rationalization. How do you determine who the “community” is, or which among them gets to decide what they think is best? If a community is 51% white bigots, and 49% minorities, can the 51% decide it’s best for the community to institute Jim Crow laws? What if 90% of the community are white non-bigots and 10% are minorities. Is something that benefits the 10% but not the 90% for the benefit of the community? Or is something that benefits 90% but doesn’t benefit, or even harms the 10%? Who decides where the community ends or begins? Is it drawn by county line? City line? School district lines? What if there is gerrymandering going on? How do the divisions within a “community” get drawn? Does a wealthy black family who are opposed to AA count in a tally of those who it is “good for” along with a non-wealthy black family? Does someone fresh off a plane from Kenya count the same as someone whose ancestors were slaves in the US? How about poor people? Are all poor people, regardless of race, a “group”? Or just the poor people with the [del]right[/del] [del]wrong[/del] selected for color of skin?
Who gets to decide? You? The minority? The majority?

Never mind, of course, that “communities” are generalizations that don’t actually exist. You can not touch a community. You cannot taste, see, hear, smell or actually interact with it. There are just people, people whose individual needs you are quite happy to scrap, without a second thought, if it helps “the community”, whatever and whoever that is, exactly.

That’s actually highly elucidative. You are unable to differentiate race, which is an intrinsic variable, from crime, which is an external variable. Race. Does. Not. Matter. You are smart or stupid regardless of what color skin you have. You are an honest man or a thief no matter where your grandparents came from. It doesn’t actually matter.

That someone people act as if it does doesn’t mean that it actually does. We can always feel free to invent new bigotries and prejudices, that doesn’t mean they have any actual objective validity. Hating red haired people doesn’t mean that having red hair actually matters, merely that some people act as if it did.

  1. A denial of racism. One’s individual merits are set by one’s individual abilities, not the color of their skin.
  2. Race doesn’t exist. Biologically, it is as meaningful as phrenology. That we have a socially constructed category that people worship as if it was real doesn’t mean jack shit. Angels aren’t real, either.

That’s like saying that when someone creates a job and is a bigot, planning on only hiring white people, that they’re not taking a job away from blacks.
Again, malleable logic designed to rationalize a position.

Again, you logic is fundamentally racist/sexist/bigoted. Giving a scholarship to people whose parents have died actually tells us something about them, that’s an operational definition. You know, for a fact that everybody whose parents have died has had to deal with the loss of their parents. And that operational definition cannot be modified by sexism, racism, or bigotry. A Jew, woman, a black man whose parents died all have dead parents.
All you know about someone who is a minority, is that they happen to be labeled as part of that minority. Period. Acting as if you know a damn thing about someone because of their ‘group’ is just a racist when a multiculturalism does it as when a Klanner does it, even if the multi does it for “noble” purposes. ’

Judging based on race is racism.
Even though some people ardently want to redefine racism to mean not judging based on race.

When you get to the point in your argument that you actually claim that giving engineering scholarships to engineering students is the same as supporting chauvinism, or showing favoritism to minorities? Again, rationalization, not reason.

Appeal to authority and tu quoque fallacies, respectively.
But at least you’ve come to the point where you explicitly admit you support an unfair policy.

I think it is widely accepted that Women are the largest beneficiaries of AA.

Well Damuri, welcome to the Dope. You’re new here, but you should know that we are (mostly) rational, and above all, skeptical folks who love epistemology, proof, refutation, and proper methodology.

There’s a reason that “Cite?” is the unofficial battle cry of the boards.
Simply because something is “widely accepted” means, well, nothing. Other than that lots of people think something.

With that being said, even if the largest number of those who benefit from AA are women, that still doesn’t tell us all that much. Groups are notoriously finicky beasts, and their construction often random and/or haphazard.
If, for instance, gender is the preferred selection criteria in most AA hires, that still doesn’t tell us if it’s white women, black women, Asian women or Navajo women. Women are no more a unified, fungible group than Hispanics or Jews are. And even if white women are the largest beneficiaries of AA, it is still horribly sloppy language that would say, then, that “whites” are. If a policy benefits 51% of a ‘group’ and disadvantages the remaining 49%, it’s beyond odd to talk as if it provides a benefit for the group-as-a-whole