Two Views of Affirmative Action
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…." Even before it became a nation, America was heralded as a land of equality. Thomas Jefferson's statement begs more than a few questions, one of which is: "How can we ensure equality to everyone?" Beginning in the late 1960s, the federal government provided an answer to this question in the form of affirmative action. In recent years, many people have called this policy into question. Interestingly, affirmative action is sometimes attacked by the people it helps, and defended by those it hurts. In particular, two recent essays demonstrate that people's race does not necessarily determine their beliefs on the issue of affirmative action. "Why I Believe in Affirmative Action" is by Paul R. Spickard, a white man who is defending affirmative action, while "A Negative Vote on Affirmative Action" is by Shelby Steele, an African-American who is attacking the program. When the two essays are considered as responses to each other, Steele's logical explanations of the effects and implications of affirmative action expose the flaws in Spickard's ethical arguments supporting it.
Both authors structure their arguments to appeal to their respective audiences. Since Spickard's essay is written for Christianity Today, he makes a lot of ethical appeals that a Christian audience could easily relate to. Steele, on the other hand, is writing for The New York Times Magazine, so he relies on logic that would appeal to a more general audience. Spickard begins his ethical appeal by establishing his credibility through focusing on his support of affirmative action even though he has been denied employment because of the program. He says, "I am willing to take second best if overall fairness is achieved," and backs up his position by referring to Philippians 2:3-6, which instructs Christians to look out for the welfare of others before their own. He is, in effect, saying that his position must be right because he supports affirmative action out of the goodness of his heart, rather than because he benefits from it.
In contrast to Spickard, Steele begins with the opposite scenario, stating how he could really be helped by affirmative action through financial aid for his children's college education. However, he says that he does not want the assistance of affirmative action, because he believes the help should go to those who are truly at a disadvantage, not to those whose only "disadvantage" is the color of their skin. To him, it simply makes no sense for African-American students who are "well removed from the kind of deprivation that would qualify [them] as 'disadvantaged'" to receive scholarship and grant money when that assistance is denied to poor white students.
Next, Spickard claims that affirmative action is a way to help make life fair for minorities. He states that "America's initial push for equal opportunity resulted in very little progress,"...