Keeping the Affirmative Action Debate in Context

By Ledesma, María | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, September 18, 2008 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Keeping the Affirmative Action Debate in Context

Ledesma, María, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

With Sen. Barack Obama just one step away from the presidency of the United States, many are questioning the need for affirmative action.

We stand on the cusp of an epic moment the chance to vote into office the first Black president in the history of the United States. This historic event is set to potentially redefine and reframe the manner in which we speak about and handle, race in America. However, as we embark down this never before traveled path, it is critical that we keep in mind the historic events that have enabled someone like Sen. Barack Obama to ascend to the highest levels of politics.

Some have already begun to argue that, as evidenced by the senator's success, the time has come to dismantle affirmative action programs. Anti-affirmative action proponents further argue the fact that a Black man stands one step away from the presidency of the United States is proof enough that the time has come to end all affirmative action programs. A historical accounting will tell us otherwise. A historical accounting would posit that Sen. Obama's ascendancy into politics has been, in part, because of, not in spite of, affirmative action programs.

However, most discussions and arguments about affirmative action happen within a historical vacuum. Close analysis reveals that affirmative action has been decoupled from its historical roots, resulting in an ahistorical and acontextual framing of the policy that misinforms the general public as well as scholars and political pundits. Unfortunately, what results is a popular narrative that defines affirmative action around sound bites. This ahistorical and acontextual narrative frames the policy as nothing more than "out-dated" and "preference-laden" "quota systems." These buzz words not only sensationalize and corrupt sincere discussions around the policy, they prejudice and completely ignore the important historical events that have helped usher in social justice programs like affirmative action.

The fact is that affirmative action programs did not spring forth in a benevolent fit of innocent altruism. Rather, it is essential to recognize that the origins of affirmative action are very much intertwined with, and drawn from, a bloody, calculated and political socio-historical moment within American history. During the 1960s, as poor and working class neighborhoods erupted in the face of agony and despair, the federal government welcomed affirmative action programs as a way to placate an ever-demanding public that questioned, among other things, rampant racism, an ill-conceived war, and the bankruptcy and deindustrialization of their local communities. Ironically, some of these arguments continue to ring true.

Affirmative action, then, was conceived as much a policy of convenience, or of "interest convergence," as a policy of good faith, according to Derrick Bell, a visiting professor of law at New York University.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Keeping the Affirmative Action Debate in Context


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?