The Dollars & Sense of Pragmatism in Affirmative Action

On October 17th, 1979, I was born. At this time, did I have any value that was transferred over from my parents and ancestors? At one point in time my family was used as a pawn by the King of England to steal land from the Irish and force out the Catholics. Should I, on an individual level, be cognizant of this former transgression and atone for it? Could I so easily apply for a job or college with 500 years of my family history sprawled out in a timeline of positive and negative utility- rendering any action I have done in my life as having little value, relatively speaking?   Would this be fair? Maybe this would level the playing field and negate the good & bad luck of circumstance of birth. Maybe people who are wealthy now, will be revealed by the unlawful means they came upon their wealth, or conversely, the altruistic means. It would reveal the history that lies beneath the color of our skin. To the admission board, I am merely a Caucasian male.   I am not the descendants of poor English farmers who were given free land in Ireland, then a mere decades later were pushed out of Ireland for being sick, only to be rejected at Ellis Island.   I am not categorically opposed to the notion of affirmative action, philosophically speaking, but I think it is rather abstract and superficial to utilize race and gender as the metric.   I will contend to argue that switching to a method that is based on socio-economic factors will be prudential and equitable.

Affirmative action in its status quo looks at race and gender. But, what does this mean?   We are the sum of our parts and the product of our ancestry and the victim or benefactor of circumstance of birth, but I believe it is disingenuous to assume this story can only be told by the color of our skin and gender. My fathers family, after getting free land in Ireland became assimilated with the Irish culture and then became victims of the oppressive king of England. This past is not so apparent in my skin color or my gender.   Conversely, there were also free African Americans who owned slaves for economic reasons as early as 1790 (Franklin, 1942). Capitalism thrives on the notion of slave wage and for this to function, historically speaking in the United States, gender and race oppression have been employed as a means to this end (Berberoglu, 2014). If gender and race oppression are tools to advance economic oppression, then it could be argued that the majority of people who have gender/race oppression in their history also have poverty in their history. For this I posit, having affirmative action based on a pragmatic metric, such as socio-economics, would be prudential and more accurate for attesting to an explicit result of past oppression as opposed to implicit assumptions of oppression based on skin color and gender. Or as the Peruvian born and Harlem raised lyricist Felipe Andres Coronel wrote, “I have more in common with most working and middle-class white people than I do with most rich Black and Latino people. As much as racism bleeds America, we need to understand that classism is the real issue.” (Coronel, 2001).

The strongest counter argument was made by Michael Sandel, and it is the notion of promoting diversity (Sandel, 2009), which is an idealistic virtue, worthy of examination. Changing affirmative action to a socio-economic based system would also create more diversity as the two races groups that have been the recipients of the most amount of injustice in the United States, African Americans and Native Americans have a 250% higher rate of poverty than white Americans (Macartney, Bishaw, & Fontenot, 2013). So even if the sole motivating factor is socio-economic, the net results will increase diversity by nature, as race/gender oppression and economic oppression are affixed in social practice. Moreover, this could also contribute to an increase in social mobility and lead to a decrease, in time, to economic disparity. From this I believe it is reasonable, pragmatic and just to change affirmative action to a system based on economics.


  1. Berberoglu, B. (2014) Class, Race and Gender: The Triangle of Oppression. Race, Sex & Class, 2, 69-77
  2. Coronel, F. A. (2001). Poverty of Philosophy. Revolutionary, Volume 1. New York . City. Viper Records.
  3. Franklin, J. H. (1942). The free Negro in the economic life of ante-bellum North Carolina. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.
  4. 4. Macartney, S., Bishaw, A., & Fontenot, K. (2012) Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007–2011. US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau .
  5.  Sandel, M. J. (2009). Justice: what’s the right thing to do?. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


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