Affirmative Action - AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AFFIRMATIVE ACTION...

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Unformatted text preview: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AFFIRMATIVE ACTION The issue of affirmative action for Latinos is fraught with tensions. Some of these involve affirmative ac— tion in general, whereas others involve afiirmative action for Latinos in particular. Discussions of affirmative action generate debates concerning who should benefit from affirmative ac— tion, why they should benefit, and what the benefits should be. One or more of three general aims are often identified for affirmative action. First, to en— sure equal opportunity for those who, because of their gender, racial, or ethnic background in particu— lar, have not had equal access to opportunities open to members of different gender, racial, or ethnic backgrounds. Second, to make reparations for past wrongs that are the result of discrimination against groups on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity. And, third, to promote the participation of underrepre— sented gender, racial, and ethnic groups in the life of the nation. These general aims are taken to entail more spe— cific ones. Here are some examples frequently men— tioned: removal of structural obstacles in society for the development of the target groups, such as rules that exclude Afiican Americans from certain jobs merely by virtue of the fact that they are African Americans; elimination of prejudices that in certain situations can give an unfair advantage to some mem— bers of society over others, such as the belief that Latinos are procrastinators (the so—called mafiana phi— losophy), which can eliminate them from consider— ation for jobs where punctuality is of the essence; special education and training of members of target groups who have been deprived of certain. social ad— vantages because of their status, so as to prepareithem to compete effectively with other members of soci— ety, such as special efforts to provide education for women in situations in which they have been de— prived of it because of their gender; adoption of laws and regulations that ensure the just distribution of goods and services among all members of American society, such as laws that prescribe equitable salaries for women; compensation for past wrongs that re— sulted in harm to the groups against which discrimi— nation has been exercised, or that precluded these groups from having certain opportunities for advance— ment available to members of society who are not members of the groups in question, as, for example, granting land and money to Native Americans to compensate them for past abuses; and appointment of members of underrepresented gender, racial, and ethnic groups to positions of leadership in the life of the nation so that they can function as role models for other members of the group and voice the con— cerns of their groups in places where otherwise they would not be heard. A concrete goal of affirmative action programs is to lessen the discriminatory impact of race and eth— nicity in determining access to education, jobs, and other social goods. Nevertheless, because the strate— gies used to reach this goal often bring attention to race and ethnicity, many critics construe afiirmative action as an attempt to impose racial and ethnic quo— tas, to give unjustified preferential treatment to women and minorities, and to place unqualified women and minorities in positions for which qualified nonminor— ity males are available. Affirmative action is also taken by these critics as an attempt to divide groups along racial or ethnic lines, rather than to promote a view according to which humans would see one another as deserving of full rights, regardless of race or eth— nicity. Many of the criticisms leveled against affirma— tive action policies, based as they are on misunderstandings of its fundamental goals, are mis— directed. Reparations and Equal Opportunity In order to present clearly the arguments that justify affirmative action for Latinos, it is useful to contrast their case with that of African Americans. A land— mark legal case will be used to provide a context for the discussion. The Case for African Americans. The most com— monly used justification for afiirmative action for Afiican Americans is reparation for past wrongs com— mitted against the group that claims to have been systematically mistreated. The primary source of harm in the history of African Americans is slavery, for, as a result of it, they were deprived of their culture, language, religion, fi'eedom, education, dignity, and basic human rights. Moreover, a case has been made that the effects of slavery extend to all Afiican Ameri— cans to this day. Racism continues to create serious obstacles for members of the African American com— munity, because it stands in the way of equal access to social goods for members of this group. Hence aflirmative action is considered justified as a policy that grants reparations to African Americans and goes some way toward ameliorating their suffering. Afiir— mative action based on this sort of argument is an attempt to restore justice. The reparation—based or backward—looking justi— fication for affirmative action is not the only one used for Afiican Americans. Affirmative action programs are also justified on the basis of the need to establish a more just society in the future. Forward—looking justifications of affirmative action policies are gener— ally consequentialist; that is, the value of the policy is determined by calculating its future benefits. The argument grounding the forward—looking justifica— tion of affirmative action policies is that they help rid society of structural obstacles that discriminate against members of groups because they happen to belong to the groups. It is argued that these policies benefit society as a whole by contributing to a more just society. The Bakke Case. Critics of afiirmative action poli— cies claim that the costs and risks of such policies are too high and can, in the worst cases, lead to the vio— lation of basic constitutional rights. A 1977 Supreme Court case, The Regents of the University qf Calyfor- nia V. Allan Bakke, brought these issues to the public’s attention. In this landmark case Allan Bakke, a white student, charged that his constitutional rights had been violated by the University of California at Davis Medical School’s “racial set aside program,” or two—track admission policy. As a result of this ad— mission policy, 16 of 100 slots were reserved for minority students. The policy was intended to pro— mote more minority student presence in the medical school and ultimately in the medical community. After Bakke was rejected from the medical school, he argued that the rejection was based on the fact that he was white, for the medical school admitted that it could not prove that he would have been rejected if one of the slots reserved for minority stu— dents had been open to him. Bakke won his case and the medical school was forced to admit him. Critics of affirmative action hailed this as a great victory, for they had long held that afiirmative ac— tion policies were based on principles that violated constitutional rights. Yet important voices disagree with this reading of the case. Professor of law and writer Ronald Dworkin, for example, has presented strong arguments to show that Bakke’s constitutional rights were not violated when he was rejected from the medical school. Supporters of affirmative action AFFIRMATIVE ACTION argue that diversity is a compelling state interest and that policies that are shaped to help promote diver— sity in certain professional fields are justified. In large part, a just society is attained through the public laws (often in the form of constitutional rights) that protect the citizenry. As Supreme Court deci— sions herald new interpretations of such laws, an examination of these decisions illuminates the ebb and flow of social progress. Although the Bale/<26 de— cision recognized that diversity is a compelling state interest, it also rejected quotas and for this reason it is considered by many as having set up hurdles for affirmative action programs. Whereas the Civil Rights Act of 1965 opened the gates of opportunity to stu— dents of color, the Bakke decision is sometimes cited as a precedent for prohibiting any affirmative action admission policies at universities. Recently, advocate organizations representing both the African Ameri— can and the Latino population penned their support of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirma- tive action admission policy, as it came under attack in Gmtter v. Bollinger (2003). Like Bakke, Bollinger is a decision of a deeply divided Court, although also like Bakke, it continues to assert that diversity is a compelling state interest and that some forms of race—conscious afiimrative action policies are permis— sible under the law. While certain affirmative action policies, especial— ly in the context of university admissions, serve both the Afiican American and Latino communities, there are special challenges facing the case for afiirmative action on behalf of Latinos. The Case for Latinos The argument based on reparation and equal oppor— tunity mentioned earlier does not seem to work for Latinos for at least three reasons: first, not all—not even most~—Latinos have suffered discrimination; sec— ond, the degree of discrimination and abuse that some Latinos have experienced has never reached the levels suffered by Afiican Americans; and third, it is difiicult to prove that the reason some Latinos have been subjected to discrimination in the United States is because they are Latinos. Latinos have not suffered the same kind of abuse that African Americans have been subjected to. Lati- nos were not brought into this country against their will to do slave work for others. Widespread pov— erty and political instability in many of the countries of Latin America drives certain individuals to come iii"? 36 37 it??? AFFIRMATIVE ACTION to the United States in search of better economic or political conditions, and although this is a sociopoliti— cal issue that needs to be addressed by politicians both in the United States and in Latin America, it is a quite different problem than the one posed by the forceful export of groups of people to work as slaves. Moreover, in the United States most Latinos are not deprived of their culture, language, religion, free— dom, basic human rights, education, or dignity. In contrast to Afiican Americans, there is nothing, or not much, that must be given back to Latinos as a group because nothing has been taken away from them as a group. And there has been no harm done to Latinos as a whole that cries out for reparation. Yet matters are not quite so simple. There have been serious wrongs committed against certain Latino groups, such as Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans. The conquest of 45 percent of the Mexican territory during the last century, the subsequent an— nexation of the territory, and the imposition of American culture, political structure, and law on the inhabitants of the territory can certainly be consid— ered a wrong. Prior to the conquest, members of this group were living in the country of their choice, speaking their own language, and creating their own culture. Yet, as a result of American military con— quest, they found themselves in a different country, under a different government and different laws, and they were forced to adopt a different culture, which was imposed on them. One could make a case for the justification of affirmative action for Mexican Americans who were harmed by American territo— rial expansion, and this case would be similar in key ways to the justification of affirmative action policies for African Americans. The case of Hernandez v. Texas (1954), which challenged the systematic exclu— sion of persons of Mexican origin from jury duty in about 70 Texas counties, provided precedent for pro— tecting Mexican Americans from class discrimination, identifying them as “other whites.” It was not until Cisneros v. Corpus Christi (1970), which extended the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to Mexican Americans, that the group of Mexican Americans was recognized as a separate mi— nority group (rather than as “other whites”) that had been unconstitutionally subjected to discrimination on the basis of their race. The case of Puerto Ricans is somewhat similar. After the United States won the Spanish~American War of 1898, changes were introduced in Puerto Rico that were unwelcome by its people and ad— versely affected the population of the island. One of these was the attempt to impose English as the offi— cial language. This was damaging to Puerto Rican society and culture; many members of the popula— tion lost some of the language proficiency they had in Spanish without the adequate gain in English flu— ency required for integration into American society. The consequences are still evident today among some Puerto Ricans: confinement to ghettos, undereduca— tion, social alienation, and so on. Here again, we have the basis of a justification of affirmative action aimed at making restitution and granting reparation for past harms inflicted on the group as a whole, as well as opening the doors to equal opportunity in society. In short, there are cases of Latino groups that ap— pear to justify affirmative action in terms of repara— tions and equal opportunity. Nonetheless, one cannot apply the argument for aflirmative action based on reparation to the group of Latinos as a whole, for many Latino groups have not suffered what Mexi— can Americans and Puerto Ricans have sriEered. And although racism may be the cause of discrimination against certain subgroups within the Latino commu— nity, it is certainly not as pervasive in the treatment of Latinos as it is in the treatment of African Ameri— cans. Many Latinos do not look very different from Americans of Mediterranean ancestry, so it is more difficult to discriminate against them. Still, this does not mean that affirmative action for Latinos is not needed. As long as there are some acts of discrimina— tion against Latinos, insofar as they are Latinos, then a case can be made for rectifying the situation that leads to these acts. Who Counts as Latino? Any affirmative action policy for Latinos presupposes the identity of the group. But this poses a vexing problem: who counts as a Latino? Latinos do not appear to share any properties in common: Linguis— tic, racial, religious, political, territorial, cultural, eco— nomic, educational, class, and genetic criteria fail to identify Latinos in all places and times because not all Latinos speak the same language, are of the same race, hold the same religious beliefs, belong to the same polity, live in the same territory, display the same cultural traits, enjoy the same economic status, have the same degree of education, share the same social class, or come from the same genetic line. It is not just that there does not seem to be an “essence” to Latinos, as some refer to it, but that there are not even identification criteria that can be used for all times and places to establish who is a Latino. And if there is no clear way to distinguish Latinos from nonm Latinos, then affirmative action for them makes no sense. Some argue, however, that there is a way to speak of the group of Latinos that avoids the problem of the “essence” of the Latino and of coming up with a definitive list of properties that would enable us to know with certainty who is Latino and who is not. Even if Latinos have no essence and share no com— mon properties at all times and places that can serve to distinguish them, they can be considered to be united by a historical web of relations that separates them from other groups in the way that a particular family is separated from other families. Furthermore, in the case of Latinos in the United States, there are at least two additional reasons that facilitate an an— swer to the question of who counts as Latino: first, Latinos are treated as a homogenous group by Euro— pean Americans and Afiican Americans; and second, even though Latinos do not in fact constitute a ho— mogenous group, they are easily contrasted with European Americans and Afiican Americans because they do not share many of the features commonly associated with these other groups. In conclusion, whereas Latinos have, as a whole, suffered less discrimination than African Americans, certain Latino individuals and groups have encoun— tered discrimination, so that a call for affirmative action policies based on equal opportunity and repa— ration can be supported for them. Yet perhaps the strongest case to be made on behalf of afiirmative action for Latinos is found elsewhere: participation in the life of the nation. Participation In a democratic society justice requires that every mature member of the society be given the opportu— nity to participate in the political and cultural life of the nation and that every reasonable effort be made to facilitate and encourage such participation. If some members of society are not given such opportunities and no reasonable efforts are made to facilitate and encourage participation of certain gender, racial, and ethnic groups, then the situation needs correction. And this is the case for Latinos. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION Statistics confirm that there are fewer Latinos in government and that fewer Latinos vote than the numbers would warrant. Moreover, stereotypes abound regarding Latino culture, most of a decid— edly picturesque bent, drawn from images of salsa music, and plenty of siestas and fiestas; Ricky Ricardo losing his temper is the hot—blooded Latino par ex— cellence; and Jennifer Lopez personifies the sultry Latina. These caricatures, however, ignore Latino sci— entists, philosophers, and journalists, among many others. Indeed, Latinos contribute to all aspects of American culture, but many of their contributions are overlooked or dismissed. In an inclusive society, each member of every group should be welcome to participate in the political and cultural life of the na— tion as he or she sees fit, so long as there is no harm done to others or the nation itself, and there should be space for that participation. Affirmative action for Latinos, according to this argument then, is justified as a way of ensuring that American society is open to their participation in the life of the nation. RELATED ARTICLES Bilingual Education; Civil Rights; Discrimination; Educa— tion, Higher; Supreme Court, United States. FURTHER READING Cohen, Marshall, et al., eds. Equality and Preferential Treat- ment. Princeton, NJ; Princeton Univ. Press, 1977. Curry, George, ed. The Afiirmatine Action Debate. Reading, Mass: Addison—Wesley, 1997. Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefanie, eds. The Latino/a Condition: A Critical Reader. New York: N.Y. Univ. Press, 1998. Dworkin, Ronald. A Matter of Principle. Cambridge, Mass; Harvard Univ. Press, 1985. Flores, William, and Rina Benmayor, eds. Latino Cultural Citizenship: Claiming Identity, Space, and Rights. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997. Gracia, Jorge J. E. Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000. Gracia, Jorge J. E., and Pablo de Greiff, eds. Hispanics/ Latinos in the United States: Ethnicity, Race, and Rights. New York: Routledge, 2000. Kymlicka, Will, and Ian Shapiro, eds. Ethnicity and Group Rig/Its. New York: N.Y. Univ. Press, 1997. Kymlicka, Will, ed. The Rights of A/Iinon'ty Cultures. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995. JORGE]. E. GRACIA ELIZABETH MILLAN—ZALBERT £53? 38 39 9%} ...
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