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A Critical Look at Affirmative Action Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Martin Tairo, Kenya Apr 5, 2005
Human Rights   Opinions
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Since the ‘birth’ of affirmative action it has remained an extremely controversial issue. It is generally accepted that affirmative action is morally right, as it is empowering those who were previously disadvantaged. Inequality, form a functionalist perspective, is rather inevitable, as we are not all suited to the same things, and never will be. If one man puts far more effort and time into his job, surely he deserves more rewards than someone who applies himself less. The functionalist approach believes that inequality is necessary, unless abused. The conflict perspective believes that various elements of society have created these inequalities due to greed amongst various ‘dominant’ groups. These debates remain inconclusive as each opposing view is so vastly different from the next.

The functionalist perception of both inequality and affirmative action are seen in the context of society as a single body. In order for this body to function and develop successfully, every aspect needs to remain strong at all times. In order for a particular aspect of society to remain strong, it needs to be controlled by a group of very capable and talented people. These people, ideally, should specialise in their specific stream of work, according to their individual talents. As every person is different, we will all undoubtedly perform at various levels of effort, thus requiring various amounts of reward and prestige. The functionalist approach to inequality therefore believes that inequality is inevitable and even necessary for society’s existence.

The functionalist approach towards affirmative action and inequality believes that they are valuable to society, but can also become detrimental to society’s well being if they cause harmful side-effects. These “harmful side-effects” are not specified, but one can assume that the functionalists are referring to economic problems, rather than humanitarian ones. Inequality and affirmative action are described as potentially being both “pathological” and “problematic” depending on whether they detract from society’s well being or perform inadequately.

Opponents to affirmative action claim that it would lead to the employing of inadequate people, who would decrease efficiency in the workplace. This would lead to a “lower overall productivity,” and this would be damaging to society’s economic well-being. These opponents also worry that by requiring a certain percentage of minority workers, a company would be disregarding those who are more qualified. These opponents are presumably implying that these “more qualified” people are white.

Davis and Moore’s (1945) functionalist theory states, “In any society certain positions or activities are more important to the general welfare of others…many of these also require greater skill, ability, or diligence than the average member of society has.” Davis and Moore also state that by enticing certain elite individuals with rewards they will become motivated to perfect their skills and “take up those essential but more demanding tasks.” Functionalists, as previously mentioned, do not believe that every form of inequality necessarily productive for society. If social inequality prevents certain (‘highly qualified’) people from being able to become successful, then it is deemed as dysfunctional. Functionalists see meritocracy as the ideal social system as it allows the ‘best’ and most talented people to excel in their chosen careers, regardless of race or gender.

As opposed to the functionalist picture of society, where all components seek an overall successful performance, the conflict perspective observes society as a constant clash between various elements for status, authority, financial resources and material produce. This perspective believes that certain individuals or groups obtain a great deal of power in certain areas of society, and subsequently utilize that power to award themselves more privileges than the average individual. These privileges include political rights, material rewards and a higher status. Even those groups described as “disadvantaged” compete amongst themselves for recognition and power within society. This results in a completely fractured society, where small elements have no consideration for society as a whole, but attempt to better themselves for personal gain.

In regards to racial inequality, James Blackwell’s idea (1990) suggests that in order for a society to achieve racial equality, it would have to change the “power relations” among various groups. In the context of contemporary America, for instance, the dominant group (whites) has remained powerful predominantly due to inequality. Inequality has prevented other minority groups from reaching their full potential and obtaining a higher level of power. The dominant group has thereby primarily served its own needs, and it continues to do so as it restricts the power of weaker minorities. “Gate keeping” ensures that the authoritative standard is always monitored, preventing a substantial number of minority groups from taking over from the dominant one.

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Writer Profile
Martin Tairo

As a very creative Architecture student at the University of Nairobi, i have had lots of interests in many forms of arts. These include performing arts, writing and drawing.

I have written many articles on issues ranging from humour, politics, religion and even the most controversial topics like human rights and abortion.

Affirmative Action is such an ambiguity
Antony Felix O. O. Simbowo | May 4th, 2005
To a rural, uneducated Africa or Third World woman for that matter, affirmative action would be such an ambiguity. Try explaining it to her. The best you can do is to walk the talk. Look at your parliamentary representation, your family policy dialogues, your country's policy dialogues..Dont abuse your wife, sister, mother, aunt, niece... Be happy when your boss is a woman...They understand nurture, a critical if not cornerstone of management.. Know that women are just human beings like men...They feel pain, bleed, hunger, cry....just like you

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