Crimson opinion writer

Shreyvardhan Sharma

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The Morality and Legality of Affirmative Action

And yet, for all of diversity’s extraordinary benefits, affirmative action should fundamentally be about remediation, and not diversity. One might argue that group-rights-based remedial affirmative action policies penalize an innocent white applicant for harms committed in the past, or even that such policies might benefit a Black applicant no longer facing grievous discrimination, and as such are inconsistent with individual-rights jurisprudence. It is clear, however, that group harms were committed solely on the basis of race, and a group rights approach to remedy those should not be inconceivable.

Individual v. Group Rights: The Legal History of Race-Conscious Admissions

In the context of affirmative action, this means that proponents of individual rights consider it morally unacceptable to disadvantage white students solely because they do not belong to a minority group. A race-conscious affirmative action policy necessarily penalizes individual white students, even if the individuals themselves were innocent of discrimination. Similarly, members of minority races benefit solely on account of their membership in a disadvantaged group, and not on any case-by-case consideration of individual merit or harm suffered. By compensating people for discrimination suffered by a group they belong to, race-conscious policies embrace a distinctly group rights approach.

Affirmative Action: Where Did It Begin?

Scholars have long debated how a just affirmative action program should treat historically disadvantaged groups. Some advocate expanding opportunity for such groups while avoiding explicit distinctions along racial lines. Others emphasize the need for preferential policies in order to counter decades of systemic racism and ensure adequate representation.

The Age of ‘Go Back to Where You Came From’

It is no longer enough to simply condemn bigotry. As instances of hateful rhetoric and harmful actions increase in frequency  — and risk being normalised  — there is an urgent need for a change in approach.