Affirmative Action as a Strategy of Justice

Affirmative Action as a Strategy of Justice - Affirmative...

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Affirmative Action as a Strategy of Justice Owen M. Fiss The problem that affirmative action seeks to remedy is a structural one. For its first hundred years, this country embraced a slave system defined in racial terms; for its next hundred, the country's caste structure was maintained by a strict system of segregation known as Jim Crow. In 1954, a clarion call went out from, of all places, the Supreme Court and we began the long, painful process of structural reform. Many institutions and agencies participated in that process, fashioning and implementing a wide variety of remedies. Having its roots in the late 1960s, affirmative action emerged as one such strategy. At first, affirmative action contemplated a certain measure of color consciousness in the recruitment process. Blacks were specifically invited to apply for positions that traditionally had been reserved for whites. They were told that the doors were now open. Soon, however, the strategy took on a different and sharper meaning, that of preferential treatment. In the process of allocating scarce opportunities, blacks were to be given a "plus" in the evaluation of their candidacies in the hope that it would enable them to obtain a larger portion of these prized positions. Many justifications have been offered for this plus. Some see affirmative action as a way of diversifying life in the public square, of creating a broad variety of viewpoints in, for example, the institutions of higher learning. Under this view, affirmative action is necessary to remedy the deleterious effects of segregation that are felt by whites as well as blacks: a certain cultural isolation or insularity. Others see affirmative action as an exercise of compensatory justice. It is an effort to rectify the wrongs of the past by giving blacks an additional advantage the plus in the allocative process. I find both these justifications wanting. The diversity rationale seems shallow, for it lacks the normative pull necessary to justify the
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This note was uploaded on 03/16/2012 for the course FENS 101 taught by Professor Selçukerdem during the Fall '12 term at Sabancı University.

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Affirmative Action as a Strategy of Justice - Affirmative...

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