What's the difference between affirmative action and racism?

  • Affirmative action is the policy of favoring certain groups of people over others. In the US, this is generally implemented by basis of race.

    How is this not the exact definition of institutionalized racism?

    affirmative action only negatively effects white males. And, as we all know, it is perfectly okay to discriminate against this group of people solely because of the success of their inherent ancestral 'privilege', skin color, sex, religion, and gender.

    I'm genuinely curious how you people convince yourselves that racial discrimination isn't racism.

    @Falcon: Affirmative Action has different definitions. In the US Legal system, it's about treating minorities equally, _nobody_ gets favoritism (The media often implies otherwise, but it's inaccurate). "Some policies adopted as affirmative action, such as racial quotas or gender quotas... has been ruled unconstitutional" (because they favor minorities) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirmative_action_in_the_United_States

    (1) Affirmative action can favor groups based on criteria other than race. (2) Affirmative action is intended to improve society as a whole, by achieving a balanced distribution of groups (races, genders, etc.) in positions of power (political, economic, etc.), rather than merely give privilege to some groups (in contrast to racism). Whether it is successful is open to arguments, but *even if* it fails we can readily distinguish between the two, just as we do so between 'the number of planets in the solar system' and 'the number of coins my pocket.' The two terms have different intensions.

    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a loaded question only here for arguing.

    @Falcon From your comments here and under some of the answers, I get the feeling you already have a strong opinion on this. If that's the case, then I'd strongly advice you to assemble your thoughts in a proper answer (answering your own question is perfectly fine). Comments serve a very specific purpose, and since this question has generated _a lot_ of them, a cleanup is imminent.

    @JaeHeonLee - "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". Both Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, mao and Ku Klux Klan had good intentionstoo. If I have good intentionsthat result in me doing "X" against you, that in no way shape or form differs from me having bad intentions and doing exact same "X" to you. It's just an excuse for bad action - and ALL bad actors always have excuses.

    @DVK The two terms have different *intensions*, although I suppose people have had different *intentions*, too. Whether affirmative action will do good for society is irrelevant to whether it is equal in meaning to racism.

    @Jae Heon Lee Only if you accept the attempt to redefine racism. There's absolutely no reason why racism requires this extra requirement but sexism doesn't.

    Unfortunately, this whole thing generated an inordinate amount of flags. I give up, I'm sorry, but I have much better things to do with my time than cleaning up this mess.

    Affirmative action seems inheritently racist to me since it assumes the minority is incapable of achieving parity without being treated differently.

    Words: "*favoring certain*" -- AA isn't a *favor*, it's the nation's own acknowledged debt or moral obligation to itself, for its general improvement from prior and ongoing errors and misdeeds. Victims & survivors are not interest groups -- a survivor approaches a norm from below, an interest group has all that and competes for still more.

    Voting to close. The question is loaded. AA isn't favouring certain groups over others, that's a definition used only by opponents of it.

    @user While I personally don't see it a favouring certain groups, google's definition is "action favouring those who tend to suffer from discrimination" so I find it hard to criticise a person based only on using those terms.

    Words part 2: *"over others"*: the preposition *over* wrongly implies an attempt to go above a norm, rather than meet a norm. It's rather like confusing a *refund* (say for an prior overcharge), with some sort of a random prize winning (which rewards the recipient for being lucky).

  • Racism is more inclined to be harmful to members of a particular race for the specific purpose of harming members of that race. Additionally (and this is the important part), racism requires a belief that 'others' are somehow less than you and 'your kind'.

    Affirmative Action, as the name implies, has a completely different goal: to take action to boost members of a specific minority (sometimes at the expense of those in the majority).

    You can make the argument (as many have) that affirmative action constitutes reverse discrimination, but without a clear belief that members of a specific race are inferior you cannot claim that affirmative action is racism as that belief is the core underpinning of what actually constitutes racism.

    In this sense, racism can be said to cause discrimination (more specifically racial discrimination). But you don't have to be racist to discriminate, and not all racists actually do discriminate. Being racist is adhering to a passive belief system whereas discrimination requires an action to be taken.


    I think @Dave Kaye got it right in the comments, and 'boost' is probably not the best word to use to describe affirmative action. It forces institutions that adhere to it to also consider the role of minority races. From the Education Trust's 2015 "Funding Gaps" report on state funding on schools:

    Nationally, districts serving the most students of color receive about $2,000, or 15 percent, less per student than districts serving the fewest students of color.

    This is from 2015. Obviously the effects of slavery and segregation have not just up and gone away just because people want them to. Does giving a white student an extra $2,000/year funding on average who does marginally better than a similar black student on some metric give him the right to attend Harvard? Or should the admissions board also consider that the actual make-up of their student body is just as an important of a consideration?

    When it comes down to it, who gets in is up to the board and if Harvard chooses that they want to apply Affirmative Action to ensure that their student body is diverse, then that is not systematically discriminating against all members of a single group and therefore, by definition, it is not racism.

    Which, by the way, is what the question asked.

    Update #2

    I have no doubt that this not only accurately reflects me, but those who have disagreed with me in the comments. Nevertheless, I will attempt once more to assuade those who disagree that Affirmative Action in the abstract is most definitely not racism. Note that the rest of this answer is going to mostly cover case law in the United States, and as such is really only applicable there. Also a side-note before I proceed- I am not a constitutional law professor, but I do feel that I could be relied on to play one on TV.

    Had the question asked, "Is Affirmative Action discriminatory?" I think some of the commenters would be correct to answer Yes, in some cases it definitely can be with the caveat being that it depends on how it is applied. In the US, one of the earlier standards many point to is Bakke v University of California (1976) which found that a student applying for medical school was unduly discriminated against on the basis of race. However, when argued in California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk wrote for the majority opinion:

    We also observe preliminarily that although it is clear that the special admission program classifies applicants by race, this fact alone does not render it unconstitutional. Classification by race has been upheld in a number of cases in which the purpose of the classification was to benefit rather than to disable minority groups.

    The issue at hand in Bakke was that the admissions requirements for minorities had been lowered and dramatically (this is the logical fallacy that most who are against AA make; that all Affirmative Action programs do this). The California court found that, had the university's special admissions program not been in place, Bakke would not have been admitted anyway. He had a 3.51 GPA, yet some of the applicants admitted through the university's special admissions program had GPAs as low as 2.11. When Bakke made it before the Supreme Court, it ruled that simple quota systems to maintain diversity were unconstitutional but only in the context of public universities and other government institutions. Later the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial quotas for private employers in United Steelworkers v Weber (1979). According to Justice Lewis Powell, who delivered what can only loosely be called the "majority" opinion in Bakke, Affirmative Action programs should be regarded under a burden of "strict scrutiny", writing:

    By hitching the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause to these transitory considerations, we would be holding, as a constitutional principle, that judicial scrutiny of classifications touching on racial and ethnic background may vary with the ebb and flow of political forces. Disparate constitutional tolerance of such classifications well may serve to exacerbate racial and ethnic antagonisms, rather than alleviate them. Also, the mutability of a constitutional principle, based upon shifting political and social judgments, undermines the chances for consistent application of the Constitution from one generation to the next, a critical feature of its coherent interpretation. In expounding the Constitution, the Court's role is to discern principles sufficiently absolute to give them roots throughout the community and continuity over significant periods of time, and to lift them above the level of the pragmatic political judgments of a particular time and place.

    I say loosely above because his opinion was one of six. Almost no one on the court agreed completely with anyone else.

    Another case brought up is Hopwood v. Texas (1996), with US District Judge Sam Sparks ruling (from Wikipedia):

    It was "regrettable that affirmative action programs are still needed in our society", they were still "a necessity" until society could overcome its legacy of institutional racism.

    Further, NYU Law Review states (emphasis mine):

    Indeed, the district court explicitly declined the plaintiffs' invitation to declare race conscious affirmative action programs unconstitutional per se. Nevertheless, the district court struck down the bifurcated admissions process used by the Law School on the ground that it was not narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of past discrimination because it "fail[ed] to afford each individual applicant a comparison with the entire pool of applicants, not just those of the applicant's own race.'

    The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed this decision, with Circuit Judge Jerry Smith writing for the majority:

    The University of Texas School of Law may not use race as a factor in deciding which applicants to admit in order to achieve a diverse student body, to combat the perceived effects of a hostile environment at the law school, to alleviate the law school's poor reputation in the minority community, or to eliminate any present effects of past discrimination by actors other than the law school

    The University appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and was denied a hearing on the basis of certiorari, rather than any actual merit. The reasoning being that the University itself was no longer defending it's admissions process and instead was only seeking the court to reaffirm the use of race-based selection criteria. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained that the Court deals with judgements only and does not rule on opinions.

    The next case, and the one that upheld the standard to use as it had been applied in Bakke in order to determine if any given Affirmative Action program constitutes discrimination is Grutter v Bolinger (2003). This case was heard by the United States Supreme Court and was again a student who was denied admission, this time to University of Michigan Law School. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority (emphasis mine):

    The Law School's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body is not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.

    Enrolling a "critical mass" of minority students simply to assure some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin would be patently unconstitutional. But the Law School defines its critical mass concept by reference to the substantial, important, and laudable educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce, including cross-racial understanding and the breaking down of racial stereotypes. The Law School's claim is further bolstered by numerous expert studies and reports showing that such diversity promotes learning outcomes and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce, for society, and for the legal profession.

    With all of this evidence, and how divided the early decisions have been in U.S. Courts, the answer to the question, "Does Affirmative Action discriminate on the basis of race" is undoubtedly it depends, and it depends completely on how it is instituted and applied. But many of the courts' decisions have upheld the notion that the state does in fact have a compelling interest in promoting diversity and selection criteria that can include consideration of an individual's race, which is not unconstitutional.

    But that wasn't the question asked.

    The loaded quesiton above, as worded, I still fully believe deserves a strong and emphatic No. Affirmative Action does not equal Racism. If you want to disagree with the answer to a question that asks specifically about definitions and challenge a standard and accepted definition of racism without providing one that refutes the notion that racism is a belief, then that simply makes your argument specious at best.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    This answer is very popular but is based on false premise and full of logical fallacies.

    Some: (1) Racism and discrimination in South Africa was by a minority against the majority. So should promoting whites in South Africa be considered affirmative action since they are the minority?

    (2) Non-whites are slated to become the majority? Do you acknowledge that AA will become racism at that point? (if not, you have no choice but concede that the artificial basis of "it's not racism because it benefits the minority at the expense of majority" is false), which your answer is largely based on.

    Being in the _majority_ does not tell you how many individuals there are. You are in the majority when you have the majority of _power_.

    "is more inclined to be deleterious to members of a specific race for the specific purpose of harming members of that race" - that is 100% in the eye of the beholder. If you think that being excluded from college merely based on race isn't "harm", you are making up meaning of the word "harm". If you insist that racism is ONLY when harm to the race is the purpose, them much of what people like you call "racism" isn't racism as it's driven my "good intensions", not harm (as a random example, much racism is driven by well-intentioned BS that Kipling called "white man's burden")

    @DVK I answered the question as it was asked. If you would like to ask _a different question_, then I urge you to do so.

    @watcher - now you're word playing. Majority has very very specific meaning. And "power" is a nebulous thing. Poor white people don't have power. Treating them like a generic "white" because someone else "white" "has power" is the very definition of racism

    @watcher - you answered with word play, incorrect definitions and logical fallacies. You answer is politically correct but factually incorrect.

    then feel free to write up a correct answer as you see it. as @Yannis commented above and as you should probably know, comments are not the place for this discussion.

    I don't think racism necessarily involves believing a race is inferior than you. Hell, if that was the case, you could never prove it in court -- you can't prove what people think.

    @Mehrdad Racism is typically not illegal for that very reason.

    @Rusty: Are you making a distinction between racism and racial discrimination? Because I wasn't... it's pretty easy to see that the OP wants to know why racial discrimination is illegal (in public accommodations, yada yada) whereas affirmative action isn't. I don't think there was any intended difference in meaning between the words used.

    @Mehrdad Yes. And it's an important distinction in the context of your comment. I.e., racial discrimination is an action; racism is a belief.

    @Rusty: OK well in that case I think the answers are answering a different question than the one that was intended to be asked...

    @Rusty That sounds more like racists redefining racism so that they're no longer racist.

    However, affirmative action hurts minorities—the "forgotten minorities"—you know, the East Asians, the Southeast Asians, the Indians, the Eastern Europeans, the Middle Easterners, the Native Americans, all those people America tends to leave out in its black-and-white (and sometimes Latino too, on a good day) view of race. Is affirmative action not discriminatory toward these races?

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM