In the book “Honest Work”, several authors deal with Fairness and Justice at work… and it made me thinking about Affirmative Action at work but also in other fields. I wanted to go a little bit further and wonder if this kind of practice is ethical and fair.
Affirmative Action refers to policies that take factors including color, religion,sex, national origin… into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination. The President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first to pronounce this expression in public and it was above all about the consideration of black people.
Today, Affirmative Action has evolved and these practices are applied in a lot ofcountries such as in Europe, where it is called “Positive Discrimination” or “quota”, but also in Brazil with the President Lula Da Silva or in India... It concerns some very different areas such as Politics, Education or Employment where some categories of people are underrepresented. However, these practices are sometimes forbidden in some countries such as in the United Kingdom.
So we can wonderif Affirmative Action, also called “positive discrimination” in some countries, is really ethical and the best way to fight against discrimination.
First of all, we will speak about the positive aspects of the practices of Affirmative Action by taking several examples of different fields. Then, we will see the negative points.
I. The purposes of Affirmative Action are ethical andpraiseworthy
Affirmative action has emerged that aims to correct the injustices of the past with reverse discrimination. In fact, it is an absolute necessity because schools, government agencies, businesses and our societies are built on a history and values which do not treat all people as equals. (If we have a glance at the unemployment statistics or at the employment figures, we will inevitably seethat a lot of minorities are really underrepresented in many fields such as school or politics…)
As a result, in a general sense, affirmative action has a noble tradition to assist and empower these disadvantaged groups - immigrants, children, the underprivileged, women, Blacks, young workers - to participate more equally in society with those not so disadvantaged. It helps previously or actuallypersecuted minorities to have access to school, and work and as a consequence to the democracy and lead to a better equality between human beings.
There are a lot of ways to promote these disadvantaged people: scholarships, rules of admission, evaluation, promotions, quotas… in both the private and public spheres of the nation. For example, the French Minister of Education decided very recentlyto force the most prestigious preparatory schools to recruit a certain percentage of students born into minorities. The aim is to promote this underrepresented and discriminated people and to give them the means to succeed at school and to have access to the best jobs in their future. In that way, we clearly see that Purposes of Affirmative Action are ethical. People are chosen according to theirqualifications AND according to their nationality, gender… It forces people to live with diversity and in a couple of years, most of the minority people will be well integrated and will participate actively and fairly to our democracies.
Even if most of Affirmative Action’s purposes are ethical, it would be useful to examine the Affirmative Action practices themselves to see if it is reallyethical and useful for our democracies.
II. Affirmative Action practices always lead to inequality situations
Lisa Newton, professor of philosophy and director of the program in Applied Ethics at Fairfield University, well-known as a Jesuit university which tries to teach his students ethical and religious values and a sense of social responsibility, considers Affirmative Action as a form of...