Tag Archives: affirmative action

(N.B.C.) “Reverse” Discrimination: Morally Justifiable?

By Rosie Mulray

It seems that we, as a society, are embracing invidious discrimination in the form of Reverse Discrimination. This is a good thing according to a lot of people, but is it really morally justifiable to agree with reverse discrimination, or to take part in it?

Any of the PHIL1008 students worth their salt should be able to tell you a thing or two about discrimination. Firstly, that discrimination can sometimes be perfectly acceptable, just so long as the characteristics you are discriminating against (or for) are relevant to the issue at hand.

For example, choosing to add sugar to your brownie mix instead of salt is not to say that salt is inferior, but that sugar will taste better in the brownie mix than the salt. The taste of each is the relevant characteristic and this is the factor used to discriminate.

Similarly, sports events are separated by sex because the physical limits of each sex are undeniably different, and so it would be unfair to have a woman or women competing against a man or men. Here the discrimination has a justification, a legitimate reason why we should discriminate in this case, making it completely acceptable. (An interesting anomaly here is separating the men and the women in sports like lawn bowls… it seems to me that there is no relevant difference affecting the ability of a man vs. a woman, assuming here that men and women have the same ability to be accurate with a lawn-bowling-ball. Then again, I’m no expert in lawn bowls…). This is particularly applicable to professional sportspeople. If men and women competed together, women would have a very hard time getting employed.

According to Michael Levin, “Any time you make a moral distinction based on a morally irrelevant grounds, you discriminate invidiously”, meaning if you have no morally justifiable reason for your discrimination, you’re discriminating invidiously, or being offensive (I’ll assume here that that is bad/intolerable). Assuming that Levin knows what he’s talking about, the two previous examples are in the clear, they aren’t invidious as they both have a moral justification.

If we now turn to “reverse” discrimination and examine what it’s actually doing, it becomes obvious that its name is misleading. Reverse Discrimination is not aiming to do the reverse of discriminating, it’s actually increasing the incidence of discrimination. And not just discrimination, but invidious discrimination.

Take Affirmative Action as an example. I’m not quite sure of the legal status of Affirmative Action, but I assume that under its application, employers will be required, by law, to employ a certain percentage of women in each rung of the corporation’s ladder. This means that women have been invidiously discriminated FOR, because they have been chosen over men based on a morally irrelevant characteristic, that is, their ability to fulfil the parameters of their employment. Even if there were 3 men who would make better employees than a woman, the men would be disregarded only because they are men. This hardly seems morally justifiable.

Therefore, by definition, reverse discrimination has no moral justification.

Those who argue for Affirmative Action and reverse discrimination in general make that point that its point is to counteract the discrimination of the past. i.e. fighting fire with fire. That’s just the same as hitting someone only because they hit you first. And, as Plato says in the Crito, injury as injury is wrong – regardless of how the action may be described. To truly reverse discrimination, it only seems logical that it should be removed altogether, not encouraged, and certainly not morally tolerated.