Affirmative Action and Collective Responsibility Essay

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Affirmative Action and Collective Responsibility

It is not surprising that affirmative action is under attack: along with welfare, it benefits a section of society with very little political clout. It is a convenient place for the displaced anger of working-class white men who have seen their real wages decrease for the past thirty years. It stirs up feelings of racism that politicians are quick to publicly denounce but even quicker to exploit. There is, however, very little serious discussion about affirmative action underway; more often it is supplanted by buzzwords such as "quotas," "set-asides," and "reverse discrimination." A serious discussion of affirmative action must begin by addressing the question of collective
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Japanese-Americans interned during World War II did not deserve the meager compensation they finally received: their compensation unfairly "punishes" people alive today who were not alive when they were interned. The newly freed slaves did not deserve forty acres and a mule, since the forty acres would have come from publicly owned land and thus penalized people who were not slave owners. All of these redistributive programs are examples of societies paying for historical crimes. In no way are any of these programs different from affirmative action: each one takes money away from people alive today and uses it to compensate the victims of historical crimes or their descendants. Anyone who opposes affirmative action on the grounds that it unfairly punishes white men for something their ancestors did must also opposed Holocaust reparations on the same principle.

Compensation for historical crimes, however, is not the sole justification for affirmative action. It is also a method of countering the benefits that racism and sexism continue to provide to every white male American. The economic prosperity we enjoy, the relative peace in which we live, and the political institutions we revere were all built on the backs of slaves and housewives. There is not a moment of our lives that we do not benefit from the work of the oppressed. Affirmative action does not attempt to punish white men; it merely seeks to transfer

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