The Issue With Affirmative Action Explained

The U.S. affirmative action issue explained in 6 minutes.
Jun 29, 2023
6 min

The Historical Context of Affirmative Action

It starts here.

1600 - 1865. A person’s ancestors (with white skin) forced another person’s ancestors (with dark skin) to work without pay, then claimed the credit for the black person’s ancestors’ work, stating that “we [white person’s ancestors] built the country”.

A police force is created to patrol slaves.

1865 - 1965. Forced labor has been legally abolished, but those forced to work received nothing. In addition, the white person’s ancestors wrote laws (e.g., Jim Crow) to send a black person’s ancestors to prison, where forced labor is constitutionally legal.

Racial segregation creates a strict divide between white people (containing wealthy slave owners) and the poor (containing black people). Black people’s efforts to rebuild on their own are terrorized by a white person’s ancestors, who have yet to pay the families affected by forced labor.

Police are used to find former slaves “breaking the law” and subject them to forced labor again.

1965 - 2000. A white person’s ancestors engage in discriminatory practices across every field of business and restrict resources (e.g., redlining) to black people*. 

*A person born in 1965 is 58 years old today.

Also 1965 - 2000. Overpolicing of the black population increases the amount of forced labor and pushes other narratives about black people.

The United States is #1 for the total number of people incarcerated, with more than 2 million prisoners nationwide (source).

Also 1965 - 2000. Travel across an ocean is expensive, but many “upper-class” asians manage to come to this country with “nothing”. So white people claim that the success disparity between black people and asian people is due to culture since these immigrants were able to succeed with “nothing”.

Some asians deny the intensity of discriminatory practices against black people and play into the “model minority myth”.

2000 - 2023+. A young white person inherits (stolen) resources from their ancestors, then claims they are “more qualified” than minorities raised without handouts. In addition, they claim that black people are no longer discriminated against — despite statistics showing otherwise — because “slavery occurred 400 years ago”.

Also 2000 - 2023+. In 2016, 40% of the country voted for a political party (MAGA) that promised to bring America to its post-WWII (1950s) environment . So 4 in 10 people systematically advocate for an environment discriminating against minorities.

Let’s put the significance of this ratio in perspective using an example involving employment.

An interview loop with ten people has a 1 in 167 chance of not containing an interviewer that systematically advocates against minorities. This ratio assumes that people in the 60% who vote left won’t advocate against minorities (but that isn’t always the case).

So chances are less than 1 in 167 to find an interview loop containing ten people where one person doesn’t advocate against minorities. This circumstance makes it harder for qualified minorities to succeed.

Here’s how.

Suppose that an interview loop involves ten interviewers. When a person in the majority faces this interview loop, their success depends solely on their performance. But when a minority faces this interview loop (with the same skill level as the person in the majority), their success depends solely on their performance once every 167 interview loops.

So what does that look like? 

Suppose that you are a minority applying for jobs.

  • When the recruiter dislikes minorities, they can say you aren’t qualified for the role (even when you are).
  • When a technical interviewer dislikes minorities, they can give harder interviews to them (or leave out context to questions that require them).
  • When a shadow dislikes minorities, they can record comments about your performance in a penalizing manner.
  • When a behavioral interviewer dislikes minorities, they can claim that there isn’t a cultural fit.
  • When a single member of a hiring committee dislikes minorities, they can argue for a candidate “everyone will support” over one that they find “red flags” with.

So if you ever wonder why — for example — black software engineers are statistically underrepresented in the U.S. workforce, there’s more than a single answer.

One solution to a single answer has been to implement affirmative action to ensure equal employment opportunities for college applicants.

So how did that turn out?

The Issue With Affirmative Action

The issue with affirmative action is that the people against it are inconsistent in their views. This inconsistency shifts them from a position that questions the effectiveness of affirmative action to a position that argues in bad faith against black people.

Here is a typical conversation about affirmative action on Social Media. 

Headline. “Asian students with a 25% chance of admission to Harvard would have chances increase to 36% if they were White, 75% if they were Hispanic, and 95% if they were Black.”

Social Media Commenters. This practice is “racist” because black people have an “easier” chance of getting in. So affirmative action should be abolished.

This argument is the most visible on social media because it’s easy to digest. In contrast, the history of affirmative action is too long for the attention span of a social media user to handle, so it doesn’t get mentioned.

Actual Admission Statistics (Class of 2026U.S 2022 Census). For a college like Harvard (listed in the story with the referenced headline above):

  • 12.6% of students are hispanic or latino origin (which may be of any race in the U.S).
  • Up to 53.2% white students in a population with 58.9% solely white people.
  • 27.9% asian students in a population with 6.3% asian people.
  • 15.2% black students in a population with 13.6% black people.
  • 2.9% native american students in a population with 1.3% native american people.
  • 0.8% native hawaiian students in a population with 0.3% native hawaiian students.

In terms of representation, asians are represented over 4 times as much as their actual demographic.

Using the logic from the social media commenters above would mean that asians — an over-represented group — aren’t discriminated against, right? Wrong.”

The idea behind the “discrimination of asians and white people” in college admissions is the assumption that an asian or white applicant must be “more qualified” to be accepted. However, the actual affirmative action process is much more complicated and more likely to compare people of the same race and financial class.

Regardless, this idea sparks heated debates (involving the historical context of affirmative action) on why certain groups are “more qualified” than others.

The truth is that affirmative action benefits white women the most (source). Furthermore, a white legacy applicant is five times more likely to be admitted to Harvard than a non-legacy white applicant: This study found that “roughly 75% of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as typical white applicants.”

So 43% of white admits are legacy applicants, and 75% would have been rejected if they were white: Where's the outrage over that?

Inconsistent Views Against Affirmative Action

I’m not writing this article to argue that affirmative action is the solution to discriminatory damages: The solution seems obvious to me. 

Instead, I will demonstrate how the inconsistent views of people against affirmative action create bad faith positions against other minorities.

People against affirmative action argue that the practice is “unfair” to specific demographics. When “these people” have an issue with affirmative action due to “unfairness”:

  • Why don’t they have an issue with legacy admits?
  • Where is their advocacy for historical justice in addressing the economic disparity between wealthy white people and black people (whose ancestors’ wealth was stolen)?
  • Where is the advocacy for historical justice in addressing the discriminatory practices and actions that affect the “unqualified”?
  • Why do these people stop pushing for “fairness” after a pipeline for those without opportunity has been destroyed?

The truth is that “these people” care less about what is “fair” and more about preventing equal opportunities for minorities. So when you uphold the current system, which enforces negative discrimination based on race, don’t be surprised when you are called a... racist.

To be clear:

  • A 1 in 167 chance (or any other non-1:1 ratio) for your job interview to depend solely on your performance does not present an equal opportunity.
  • Comparing a rich student (and the benefit riches bring) to a poor student does not present an equal opportunity.
  • Comparing the performance of a light skin student to a dark skin student in a country whose inhabitants have illusory negative beliefs about dark skin students does not present an equal opportunity.

But let me push this point even further.

When “these people” have an issue with “fairness”, why are they so inconsistent as to provide unfair advantages to themselves?

  • The inheritance tax is not 100%.
  • Children aren’t provided equitable resources from birth.
  • Studies prove bias against people for factors out of their control that “these people” don’t care about (unless it affects them).

That’s because the person against affirmative action acts in “bad faith”: To them, the problem is not that affirmative action is ineffective but rather that affirmative action — which creates an even playing field — ruins their sense of superiority.

And in the worst cases, the problem is not that affirmative action is ineffective but that it helps the people “beneath” them.

So when “these people” make statements like:

It’s clear that their issues with affirmative action are less about achieving equal opportunity and more about enriching themselves at the expense of others.

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