How might affirmative action negatively affect people it is supposed to help? How are those policies potentially harmful?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I believe that affirmative policies can and do sometimes cause harm to those whom they are intended to favor.  Back in 2003, a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Michigan sued the university (Grutter v. Bolliger) because 

". . . she investigated [her rejection] and found out that African Americans and ethnic minorities who had lower overall admissions scores were admitted. Grutter sued, saying she was a victim of illegal discrimination" (see link below for source).

The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the University of Michigan but noted in its ruling that the university's system of automatically awarding 20 admissions points to "underrepresented minorities" was not in keeping with the intention of affirmative action.

While the case above demonstrates how a white woman believes she was hindered because of affirmative action, it also caused some minorities to question their qualifications.  Were they accepted into a law program simply because of their race, or were they as qualified as their classmates? Affirmative action can take away one's sense of self-pride and accomplishment by causing self doubt.  For example, I have afriend who teaches honors/AP English students at a very diverse high school.  Several months ago when she was announcing scholarship information to her students, she mentioned a scholarship for African-Americans which was connected to their SAT scores.  One of her African-American students asked her why it was exclusive and said that it made her feel like she wasn't smart enough to qualify for all the other scholarships and that one had to be created just for her ethnicity.  When her classmates began to think about what she had said, they, too, became angry--the minorities because it seemed to imply that they were somehow inferior scholastically and the white students because they felt discriminated against.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It also neglects some of the reasons why people felt Affirmative Action was needed in the first place.  So in other words, we can ignore racism and discrimination, because we have a policy that reacts to it, that attempts to counter its influence.  In fact, the policy itself may even cause more racism, as people who perhaps aren't racist are passed over for jobs, scholarships, promotions, etc. begin to develop bitterness based on racial preference and reverse discrimination.

At the same time, it opens doors that were never opened before, and were not likely to be opened.  Minority admissions to colleges rose, became more reflective of our population demographics, and there was more of a minority voice in government and business.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Lots of people say affirmative action can hurt those it is supposed to help.  Here are two main ways:

  • First, it can get them into colleges or jobs that they are not really qualified for.  When the minorities or women are put in these situations, they will tend to fail (the argument goes).  When this happens, it will only make them feel worse about themselves.
  • Second, affirmative action sends the message that minorities and women are not good enough to succeed on their own.  This will erode their confidence and make them less capable than they should have been.

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