It’s more important to accomplish goals than to abide by principles. The end justifies the means. Isn’t this historical wisdom, the foundation on which America was built, or should have been built, and anyway, people are so much smarter today, at least progressives are. Right? Wrong, at least on the idea of affirmative action, an absurdist view of justice that could make life worse for Black Americans and undercuts a precious norm of our society.
Affirmative action is the practice of giving some people opportunities and thereby denying other people opportunities based on skin color instead of merit. It’s a form of condescension, it’s more likely to damage the unqualified than help them and it can cheat those the unqualified may end up serving. It’s against the law and morally amiss, itself a form of discrimination that leads supposed beneficiaries to think their futures are wholly dependent on others rather than themselves.
It has mostly been seen in prestigious colleges and universities, but the Biden administration has dismissed a trial against one of them and progressive educators are huffing and puffing to spread it in all directions. There is an answer to any criticism of it, namely that the critic is a racist.
But the Black Americans who get the opportunities are not necessarily down-and-out, whites who lose out are not necessarily well-to-do, and, if this is your case, why not base affirmative action on poverty? Poor Black Americans are worse off although, in recent years, tens of thousands of unemployed, desperate, white working-class Americans have been killing themselves off by means of alcohol, drugs and suicide.
Even based on poverty, however, affirmative action would have its problems. Consider Asian Americans who face such discrimination although they are better educated and better off financially as a group than white Americans. Despite their out-of-reach academic qualifications, Asian Americans have seen the country’s most prestigious universities dramatically limit their numbers to the advantage of white and Black Americans.