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Chapter Review: "Is Affirmative Action a Second Wrong?"

Updated on February 12, 2015
lawdoctorlee profile image

Ms.Treadwell is a licensed attorney and the author of "How Do Hurricane Katrina's Winds Blow: Racism in 21st Century New Orleans."

The chapter is also available in the 6th ed. (2006).  Gary Kessler's book is now in its 8th edition.
The chapter is also available in the 6th ed. (2006). Gary Kessler's book is now in its 8th edition.

In Is Affirmative Action a Second Wrong? (Gary E. Kessler, Voices of Wisdom: A Multicultural Philosophy Reader, 4th ed, Belmont, CA; Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001, 245-250), Kessler argues that affirmative action is not a policy of “reverse discrimination.”

Kessler, instead of beginning with examples that support his thesis, first lays out the key arguments of the critics of affirmative action. Some critics believe that the policy “excludes well-qualified white men from jobs, promotions, college admissions, graduate programs, and opportunities to enter professions based solely on their race and gender.” (245.). Other critics infer that the policy works to ‘the disadvantage of many women or members of various ethnic groups who are not favored by affirmative action” (246). He describes the final argument of critics as “two wrongs do not make a right” because a large number claim it is just as wrong to discriminate in favor of minorities, and that the same injustice is done (247).

Kessler supports his thesis in a number of ways. He finds fault with the critics’ allegations, stating they rarely have any sort of evidence to back up the claim of ‘reverse discrimination.’ Attempting to explain the purpose of affirmative action, he notes that the policy requires that “an organization examine its outreach efforts’ to ensure the advertising reaches minorities and that the job criteria are “functionally related to the ability to do the job.” He also reminds us that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines never required quotas, only goals and timetables, when under-representation of women or other classes had been demonstrated (246).

Kessler provides several examples where affirmative action has worked and is, in fact, encouraged, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Gas & Electric, and a Dow Chemical factory. He has quoted them as saying, “it’s the right thing to do and makes good business sense” (249). The businesses want to be good citizens and are committed to diversity in the workplace.

The author uses several analogies in order to make his point even clearer. He points out the hypocrisy in the theory of ‘two wrongs do not make a right.” People (professionals and laymen) use that excuse when it suits them. According to Kessler, no one has accused police of ‘reverse shooting” when they fire at a bank robber who has shot customers and no one has called firefighters who set back fires to stop the rush of a forest fire “reverse arsonists.” Indeed, his best analogy is the one about the insurance industry, where the public agrees to pool; liability and that realizing that there are those who are actually harmed by accident…need help. “Through the insurance business, society has found an acceptable way of sharing risks and responsibility; therefore, we should do no less when it comes to affirmative action policies (248).

His purpose is to dismiss the idea that affirmative action is reverse discrimination although he admits it is an imperfect system: “It is a response to deeply rooted patterns of social, political, economic, and cultural oppression” (250). The intended audience appears to be the public, but the emotional tone of the essay is most certainly directed at opponents of affirmative action.

Do you believe affirmative action programs are necessary in the 21st Century?

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Where are affirmative action programs most appropriate?

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What is affirmative action?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, affirmative action is "for federal contractors and subcontractors (which) must be taken by covered employers to recruit and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and covered veterans. Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts, and other positive steps.

Misconceptions about Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is often misunderstood. It is not about establishing quotas, which is unconstitutional (See Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978). Rather it is about increasing the encouragement of the representation of women and minority members in business, housing, and education. Difficult as it may be to accept, in America, according to state-sanctioned policy and law, women and minority groups were denied the rights of citizenship (i.e. voting rights) and opportunities to own property, receive an education, or gain employment until last third of the 20th Century. While some gains have been made in representation, there are still many examples of discrimination in these areas against these groups of citizens.

My Opinion

Affirmative action is one of the most controversial issues today. It is my opinion that the disagreement mainly comes from those who do not know the definition of the policy. I feel that Mr. Kessler should have somehow mentioned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the necessity of the affirmative action policies, which followed the statutes. Any truly effective argument, for or against affirmative action, cannot dismiss a reference to the government sanction of racism and the historical significance of discrimination in our country and the failure of businesses, organizations, and government agencies to comply with the law. That is the basis if the additional policy.

I agree with Kessler’s analogy of the insurance business. Kessler makes an excellent link with society’s willingness to pool liabilities and its realization there are many hurt people who need the help. To suggest there is no need for affirmative action policies to suggest that discrimination and racism are longer weaved within the fabric of our society, which is not the case.

It is unfortunate that a policy as important as affirmative action is being shoved aside due to lack of understanding; and the rhetoric that surrounds it further weakens its importance. Kessler’s essay “Is Affirmative Action a Second Wrong” should be an assigned reading. It is an excellent discussion topic for students in Introduction to Philosophy and those in any program, which emphasizes multiculturalism.

By Liza Lugo, J.D.

Copyright © 2012, Revised 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Ms. Lugo retains exclusive copyright and publishing rights to all of her articles and photos by her located on Hub Pages. Portions of articles or entire content of any of these articles may not be used without the author's express written consent. Persons plagiarizing or using content without authorization may be subject to legal action. The articles by Ms. Lugo regarding legal issues are purely academic in nature and do not constitute legal advice. For advice on legal matters, consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

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See Also: Affirmative Action Now: A Guide for Students, Families, and Counselors

See Liza Lugo's chapter "Affirmative Action: Is It Really Necessary in the 21st Century" in Controversies in Affirmative Action


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    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 3 years ago from New York, NY

      Big Daddy Oreo, thanks for taking the time to read this hub and for commenting. I hope that people will understand that affirmative action is not about skin color; in fact, skin color is not even mentioned in official affirmative action policies. Affirmative action is designed to include people who have been historically excluded in employment or educational programs. That can be based on ethnicity, gender, religion, or other factor. The purpose of affirmative action is to " review the qualifications of all applicants and employees to ensure qualified individuals are treated in a nondiscriminatory manner when hiring, promotion, transfer, and termination actions occur." The Department of Labor provides a sample of an affirmative action program at the following URL:

      Hope the new year brings you many wonderful things.

    • profile image

      big daddy oreo 3 years ago

      I remember there was a movie where a white guy got a tan and passed for black so he could get into college.

      There is no law that says the white man can not change his skin color. White people can also have children with other races if they want affirmative action to work in their favor.

      Obama If I ever had a son I would want his skin to be black just like yours.

    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 3 years ago from New York, NY

      PeytonFarquhar - simply put, I prefer to be seen by a physician who graduated from medical school and is licensed to practice.

    • PeytonFarquhar profile image

      PeytonFarquhar 3 years ago from So Cal

      Affirmative Action has not been necessary in the US since Obama was elected president. Further, not all white people are millionaires who grow up with college educated parents and a private school education or any other fairly tales repeated by the mainstream media and AA proponents. Affirmative Action is simply reverse racism enshrined in law. It gives jobs and college admissions to people not because they are qualified, but simply for not having white skin. And that does the entire country a disservice, particularly in the medical field. Which would you rather have - the physician who is qualified because of what s/he knows or the physician who only got into medical school because he wasn't white?

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      geminitrudy 5 years ago

      I appreciate your assessment of Mr. Kessler's book on affirmative action. It was brief and concise. I always thought I understood this subject but your article clarified some aspects that I wasn't aware I was woefully misunderstanding. I will refer this article to anyone I know who wishes to be better informed on affirmative action.

    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 6 years ago from New York, NY

      Hi Everyone! I need your vote!!

      Guess what? My Hub "Top 10 Ways to Get a Raise from your Employer" has been selected among 6 candidates for this week's HubNuggets contest on HubPages!

      The criteria for selection as a HubNugget is entirely dependent on votes, so please vote for this Hub before Wednesday, February 15, 2012!

      Click on the HubNuggets at Vote Now tab at the top, right below the title.

      Thanks so much for your support and following of my written works.

      Liza Lugo, J.D. aka lawdoctorlee

    • profile image

      R. J. Lefebvre 6 years ago


      I'm looking forward to read more of your hubs. I wrote two hubs about our politics: Every Vote Counts & Who is in charge, if your tied up no problem.


    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 6 years ago from New York, NY

      Ronnie, thanks for following, reading, and commenting on my Hub. I agree, discrimination makes no sense to me either. I believe it may just be projection of self-hatred. After all, it's just a way to make oneself feel superior to another...and if you have to do that by making laws, well, that's just insanity to me.

      If you share this view of affirmative action, you may want to read my other Hub "Affirmative Action: Is it Necessary in the 21st Century." I'm also working in collaboration on an anthology of the issue, which will be entitled "Affirmative Action: Contemporary Perspectives." It's due to be published in 2013.

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      R. J. Lefebvre 6 years ago


      Your hub matches my perceptions of affirmative action. Discrimination of anyone because of differences in race, culture, intelligence, etc. makes no sense to me. If the discriminators take a good look in the mirror, their distorted mental appearance is the root of personal disdain.