Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1996

Center/Program

Center for Institutional and Social Change

Abstract

We are witnessing a broad-based assault on affirmative action-in the courts,' the legislatures,2 and the media.3 Opponents have defined affirmative action as a program of racial preferences that threatens fundamental American values of fairness, equality, and democratic opportunity.4 Opponents successfully depict racial preferences as extraordinary, special, and deviant-a departure from prevailing modes of selection. They also proceed on the assumption that, except for racial or gender preferences, the process of selection for employment or educational opportunity is fair, meritocratic, and functional.5 Thus, they have positioned affirmative action as unnecessary, unfair, and even un- American.6

Those of us pursuing the quest of racial and gender justice in a genuinely democratic society face a crucial challenge. How do we respond to this assault on affirmative action? How do we invite a deeper conversation and analysis of selection and admissions conventions in pursuit of fairness? Understandably, much of the response has been reactive. Supporters of affirmative action typically engage the debate on the terms defined by the assault: affirmative action must continue. It is fair. It is still needed to rectify continued exclusion and marginalization in the society.7

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