Affirmative action is regarded by many as being discriminatory and devisive. Others believe it is an effective way to redress 'unfair' biases.
Should legislators and decision makers offer a 'leg up' to those they percieve as being handicapped or would that be discriminatory?

To help get the ball rolling, and also to help define the topic I have posted the following which can be found in full at

Affirmative Action -- This term has two very different definitions! Never use this term without indicating the version you are using!

Definition 1: Race-neutral, gender-neutral assurance against actual discrimination. This is the type of Affirmative Action contemplated by President Lyndon Johnson's Executive Order 11246, in which he sought to ensure that individuals have equal opportunity WITHOUT regard to their race, sex, or ethnicity. In this 1965 Executive Order, President Johnson consistently and repeatedly used the term non-discrimination and never once mentioned racial quotas or preferences. The original, unamended version of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 similarly emphasized race-neutrality and non-discrimination.

Definition 2: Racial-preferences and gender-preferences for the correct races and genders. Under this defintion, Affirmative Action is comprised of programs and policies that grant favorable treatment on the basis of race or gender to government-defined "disadvantaged" individuals. Under this definition, racial or gender preference must be granted even when the favored / aggrieved minority or gender has no actual evidence or proof that a company, boss, individual, or government agency has discriminated against them due to their race or gender. Definition 2 is based upon the Constitutionally dubious notion of proportional representation based upon skin color or gender in all occupations and endeavors in the U.S.
1 2 3
In favor of Definition 1.
Opposed to Definition 2.

In fact, I regard the two definitions as mutually contradictory. If two people, A and B, are in competition for something, and you discriminate in favor of A (as suggested by Definition 2), then you are also inherently discriminating against B, which goes counter to Definition 1.

Definiton 2 is not even possible to implement unless you can first find nice little pidgeonholes into which to put people, and I am opposed to pidgeonholing. No such arbitrary assignment of people into labelled categories is required for Definition 1.

Do we have any takers to argue the case that affirmative action (as defined by 2) should be allowed?
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If you are better qualified for the job or education, you should get it. If the winning candidate is disproportionately from one race or another, that problem needs to be addressed long before the point where people are competing for college admission slots and jobs.

Affermative action, the way it is employed today (where it is legal), is being used as a stop-gap measure to make up for poor education in urban and underdeveloped neighborhoods and as an out for governments to dismiss education spending increases. That's my take on it.
I reckon that it's a somewhat heavy-handed attempt to deal with a particular vicious circle, whch is that many people set their sights, in terms of career and educational aspirations, according to what they can identify with. If a group has been disadvantaged and that disadvantage is now fading, many kids from that group -- who are a bit naive and have not learned all the encouraging hints you might want to give them -- will look to see what successful people from their group have actually been able to do, especially people they share some common interests with. Then they'll decide what to aim for. It's a matter of what seems realistic. If there are no university professors from this group, then they're unlikely to decide "I'm going to do that." This is not to say that an exceptional person might not decide this, or that someone may blunder into being a professor because of happy accidents and better decisions a little later. It's just that it's statistically very unlikely.

I am always amazed to go to microbiology congresses in the US, because it's nearly the same story year after year, with just the slightest degree of improvement over time: if you see African or African-American researchers present, it will turn out that most of them will actually be people who grew up IN AFRICA (especially Nigeria). They may have good university jobs in the US, but they don't come from there. Why not? Where are all the US-born African-American PhD microbiologists? In my own subfield, mycology, I can't think of a single person since O'Neal Ray Collins, world authority on the myxomycetes, retired a few years ago. Is anybody actively working to keep African-Americans out of microbiology? Maybe there is still some friction here and there -- I'm not an American and I don't know -- but there are also lots of organizations trying to promote this, including organizations within the African-American community and within the microbiology community. And they are slowly succeeding, but it is taking a long, long time. Meanwhile, whatever the barriers may be, qualified Africans from Africa seem to be able to get over or around them. (Of course, one of the things you don't always hear about Nigeria is that some people get a pretty good education there, and there is absolutely no question there that Africans can and will go to the top in every walk of life.)

The idea of affirmative action was that if we could be a bit flexible with the competition standards (which might be subtly biased anyways) and get minority group members into these good positions, this might radically cut down the time for progressive social change to take place. No one knows if such an experiment would really work, because it's only been tried in piecemeal ways, and because those kids who are making up their minds about which way to go are not impressed if someone seems to have just got put into place as a political gesture -- it may not seem like they really belong there. But I always remember when the government I used to work for (Ontario) went socialist for one term, and for a couple of years, instead of the usual student summer help -- the kids of the current employees -- we got all kids from recent Caribbean-Canadian families because of a nominally non-discriminatory student summer job program that made special efforts to catch the interest of members of particular "designated" groups. We were a lab, and some of those young people actually went on into science. Maybe they would have anyways, but a little experience doesn't hurt when you're at that age. Then the government changed again and we went back to the kids of the current employees.

Did the socialists do wrong?
Ok....just answer one thing! : why is affirmative action bad? Why is that?
I just want to know!!!
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Many people believe it perpetuates the discrimination it claims to redress, and worse - creates antagonism.
I’m with bratannia. Just one offering from me about the way affirmative action came into being. Originally, the phrase "affirmative action" did not have any specific connection with race. Its first occurrence in US statutory law goes back to the New Deal era and the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, according to which an employer found to be discriminating against union members had to reinstate the workers unjustly discharged and "take other affirmative action" to compensate them for their loss of income. However, in current affirmative action policies, the recruitment process is often entirely permeated by color-consciousness, even during the final decision stage.
Affirmative action is a useful handle for a bunch of fair-go legislation and a genre of common law cases in the US (and I suspect, throughout the Western world too).
I saw an interesting article in the popular magazine Psychology Today one time that showed that Americans of whatever race doing business-related job interviews with black candidates tended spontaneously to lower the level of their English usage, which in turn elicited similar casual/colloquial English back from the candidates. The net result was that black candidates tended to appear "blue collar," i.e., less well educated and less sophisticated than most candidates from other racial groups. This was just a social self-fulfilling prophecy effect, with the interviewers' expectations automatically leading them to predictable conclusions. The theoretical ideal for affirmative action would be to supply just exactly enough subtle positive bias in favour of discriminated-against groups to counteract the negative bias that comes automatically out of these self-fulfilling prophecy situations. This theoretical ideal is difficult to arrange in real life, of course, but the point is that you really can have positive discrimination in order to eliminate discrimination. I don't blame most people for finding this difficult to understand, because our culture is really just in the early stages of figuring out what to do with self-fulfilling prophecy problems. Some cultures even resist the idea that revenge stimulates counter-revenge, which is the easiest self-fulfilling prophecy situation to grasp. We are cave men and women when it comes to this topic.
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