The Affirmative Action Hire Fallacy

I’ve been involved in a discussion on LinkedIn having to do with California’s rejection of Proposition 16, which allows colleges and universities to take minorities into account in admissions, and about which I’ve already posted. A lot of people there like the decision because they either believe in Merit or because minorities hate the stigma of being assumed to be Affirmative Action Hires. As I’ve addressed in another post, the choice is not between Merit and Affirmative Action in college admissions because there is a ton of de facto affirmative action for White male students that isn’t acknowledged. The only real choice is who benefits from non-merit-based assistance, and admissions is further complicated by unequal access to a decent high school education.

But the discussion has taken a turn to Affirmative Action in the workplace. How it goes is that people say they know minority hires who are sick of being treated like they’re “Affirmative Action hires,” hired because of their race (race is usually the germane factor here) rather than because of their qualifications and that it follows that these hires can be assumed by their peers to be underqualified.

The assumption being made here, and it’s a surprisingly common one, is that in the workplace the choice is between Merit hiring and Affirmative Action hiring. The narrative here is that if these minorities weren’t hired while Affirmative Action was in place, they’d be more respected because their peers would assume they were hired on merit.

In what universe does bigotry only apply to underqualified candidates?

The problem is that qualified minority – and female – candidates are also Affirmative Action hires; in fact, I’d say they’re the overwhelming majority of Affirmative Action hires. A lot of these ostensible minority employees who resent being considered Affirmative Action hires would be free of that kind of resentment without Affirmative Action; however, a lot of them would also be free of employment in spite of their qualifications.

Why do these people think that Affirmative Action was instituted? To make sure the unqualified were hired?

This whole framing of the argument as Affirmative Action vs. Merit is complete crap. The argument is really Bigotry vs. Merit. Affirmative Action was instituted specifically to reduce Bigotry’s role in the equation. And, while we’re at it, let’s address another point about Affirmative Action:

Reverse Discrimination is WAY less of a problem than real discrimination. Setting them up as equivalent and somehow symmetrical is yet another fallacy in this argument.

If I were to have this discussion with conservatives I know through business, what they would tell me is that we’re now post-bigotry. If we took Affirmative Action out of the equation now, we’d get merit.

And yet we’re just coming out of an election where a man whose primary appeal is that he stands for the acceptability of resentment against minorities – and women – got the second highest number of popular votes of any Presidential candidate in American history in spite of being personally responsible for roughly 200,000 American deaths based entirely on his ego, in spite of failing to react to bounties put on American military personnel by the Russian government, and in spite of spouting obviously outrageous lies on an hourly basis to the point where Twitter is now putting warning messages on every one of his tweets (it’s about time – Twitter developed such guts once he’s now known not to be the President-Elect).

I wouldn’t bet the farm on our being post-bigotry.