(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The publication of Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby in 1991 announced the arrival of Stephen Carter as a key figure in a new generation of African American intellectuals. In this book, as in his other publications, Carter uses the example of his life to reflect upon the contradictions inherent in preferential college admission and hiring policies. These contradictions, according to Carter, have allowed him and other middle-class black professionals to enter prestigious universities and assume significant professional positions but they have also branded the recipients of these opportunities as inferior. In reflecting on the privileges he has received as an affirmative action baby—at the expense of others whose skin color and socioeconomic status do not provide them with those benefits—he contemplates not only his own life experience but also affirmative action in general.

Critical of affirmative action policies, Carter nevertheless acknowledges that his admission to Yale law school was the result of affirmative action policies. Thus he states that he embraces the term “affirmative action babies,” recognizing that it describes him and also provides him the opportunity to examine affirmative action from his experience as a direct beneficiary of its policies. His examination leads him to conclude that only middle-class blacks have benefited from affirmative action and that the ideal situation would be for affirmative action to be eliminated...

(The entire section is 465 words.)