Affirmative action is a policy or a program promoting the representation in social institutions of groups of people who have been traditionally and systematically discriminated against.
As people of faith who strive to cultivate the Beloved Community, our General Synod supports affirmative action, because our nation cannot be completely free without all people’s sharing the same rights and equal access to opportunities for advancement and equitable treatment. It is about more than diversity, for it is in fact a moral obligation to racial equity.
Why is it an issue of faith?
All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The history and legacy of discrimination in our social institutions denies honor to God. We are called to do justice, love kindness and work humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We are called to repentance and reconciliation by remedying the destructive impacts of systematic and compounded discriminations accumulated across generations.
Aren’t we “post-racial” yet?
The term “post-racial” may be used by individuals to express their sincere intention and desire that there is no more racism in our society. However, it does not describe the reality of racial disparities found in education, employment, housing, health and so on. It does not speak to the destructive impact of institutional rules, policies and structures that appear on the surface to be race-neutral in discrete entities (e.g. schools, districts). Structural racism is the cumulative effect of racial inequity in multiple institutions over time, and that is what Affirmative Action seeks to remedy.
UCC Social Policy Statements
The UCC historic policy based for Affirmative Action can be found in the General Synod resolutions regarding racial justice in 1971; racial and economic justice, women in church and society in 1975, implementation in the UCC, the church and persons with handicaps in 1979. The commitment to Affirmative Action in Church and Society was reaffirmed in 1981, and in 1995 in light of Supreme Court decisions.
1. Doesn’t affirmative action reward unmotivated people to get ahead in life?
Affirmative action only provides equal access and the fair chance to achieve success for underrepresented groups. It cannot guarantee that they will succeed, only that they are given the same opportunities that the White majority has. In reality, many underrepresented people can testify that they have to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
2. Doesn’t affirmative action justify the hiring or admission of under-qualified candidates?
Among qualified candidates, school should be allowed to choose based on their institutional goal of increasing diversity. At a deeper level, the history and legacy of systematic discrimination means that our society is not purely based on individual merit. People of color, women and the disabled have been put in positions by institutions that have not allowed them to maximize their full potential, and it would be unfair to judge people solely by their individual qualifications.
3. Doesn’t affirmative action punish Whites today for what happened hundreds of years ago?
While Whites today and virtually all of their ancestors never owned slaves, they benefit directly and indirectly from systematic racial discrimination. They have less competition for school admission, jobs and government programs, which helped propelled many Whites and their descendants into the middle and upper classes.
Many non-Whites and their descendants were and still are systematically left behind and denied the same basic educational, economic, and other opportunities. The wide gap created by a racialized system which promoted the dominant culture, mostly White male, for several hundred years unfortunately would take time to be closed adequately, so that eventually all candidates can be judged soley on their individual merit.