It was recently announced that:

The Trump administration is expected to tell schools not to consider race in the admissions process, discontinuing the policy former President Barack Obama adopted to promote more diversity at colleges and high schools.

Why is removing racial considerations out of the picture controversial?

  • 18
    Note that the Trump administration did not "end affirmative action" through its actions; rather, they rescinded non-binding guidelines that had previously been issued. In other words, they didn't order schools to stop considering race; instead, they stopped advising schools to consider race. Since these guidelines never had the force of law in the first place, this change is unlikely to change how colleges admit students. Jul 13, 2018 at 17:11
  • Isn't this answered by the article you linked?
    – JJJ
    Oct 27, 2019 at 15:18

6 Answers 6


The article you've linked actually describes Affirmative Action (AA) as controversial, not the ending of it. That said, it's fair to say that anything related to AA -- starting it, ending it, expanding it, shrinking it, whatever -- is controversial in the US.

The fundamental issue is that you can't favor one person without disfavoring another. A lot of Americans don't think anyone should be disfavored. A lot of Americans also think that groups who have been the victims of past discrimination, especially African-Americans, should be favored to compensate for the past. Some people probably even hold both of the above opinions, regardless of the fact that they are contradictory. But it's not possible to do both, so the whole thing is controversial no matter what.

  • 4
    They said it has long proved controversial in the US but also said "But according to a Pew Research Center study, 71% of Americans surveyed in October 2017 have a positive view of affirmative action." So their opinion could be argued either way. +1 for noting the contradictions.
    – user_42
    Jul 4, 2018 at 19:37

In short, because it contradicts identity politics view of the world that has been a culturally dominant view originated with progressives on the political left of the spectrum.

A good example of the differences in worldview that differentiate the two sides - which leads to controversy - is the following case.

Imagine a poor Asian child. From poor family. Grew up in poor neighborhood. Or may be a first generation immigrant from poor background.

Now imagine an upper middle class black child. Solid family, 3 generations of upper middle class income, not exactly 1% but better off than 80% of the rest of the kids in the country.

Affirmative action, in concept, holds that - due to the group identity of the second child, that child needs to be given preferential treatment at the expense of the first child. If the two are competing for the same admissions spot in college, and have same exact scores (or the first child's scores are even a bit higher), he will lose, and not be accepted.

He didn't do anything to deserve to lose. Objectively speaking (if you give someone 100% of the information aside from their ethnicity/race), most reasonable people would agree that the first child deserves a leg-up, and deserves the spot, especially if their admission score is a bit higher.

This is the root of the controversy.

One side sees an individual (rather than the group). The other side ignores the individual and sees the group.

  • 18
    -1 This answer is based on a poorly contrived fictitious story that a college applicant who accomplished little and one who accomplished much would achieve comparable admission consideration scores. If that is happening, the problem is with the contrived scoring system, not AA. Jul 5, 2018 at 20:42
  • 11
    @AquaticFire there may be something to the contrived story. We'll see when the court case is decided. nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/…
    – user20143
    Jul 7, 2018 at 19:51
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    @AquaticFire You seem to be attacking the answer based on a complete straw man. And even if there's something wrong with the scoring system, it hardly automatically follows that AA is justified. Jul 14, 2018 at 20:40
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    @Acccumulation On the contrary, the answer is the straw man. It contrives this story where the scoring system is clearly the problem, then tries to pit the blame solely on AA. The reality is that the AA is almost completely irrelevant to the story, which ironically demonstrates that AA isn't that big a deal despite what this answers tries to portray. From this answer, is simply does not follow that the AA is good or bad, it's barely even relevant to the story as portrayed. Jul 20, 2018 at 4:52
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    To the people critiquing this answer: although it espouses an incorrect argument (based on subbing anecdote for aggregate) it may very well be an answer to the question. If this viewpoint is widespread, that would be a great explanation for why the decision is controversial. Jan 29, 2019 at 13:09

I would describe the problem in a more mathematical way. I assume that the goal most of us can subscribe to is that of fair treatment based on performance, rather than skin color etc.

Now, imagine two runners aiming for the win. Who should be declared winner? The faster one, of course. That is the basis of the rejection of affirmative action (AA): The argument is that AA is also evaluating based on skin color, ethnicity etc., making the race unfair.

But what if, say, black people have to run with an extra burden that white people don't have? Is it still fair to strictly evaluate according to performance? That is the basis of support for AA: You have to factor in ethnicity to achieve a fair result.

But how large does this factor have to be? It is difficult to measure the effects, and even more difficult to evaluate them quantitatively. How large must a correct factor be?

To make things even more complicated, groups are not homogeneous. Not every black sprinter is burdened, and some white sprinters are burdened heavily. Even if you can show a difference in mean values, that often bears not much relevance to an individual person.

Thus there are two typical approaches in politics: ignore the problem with the individual differences, and ignore the problem with the group differences. Both have weaknesses, both are easily attackable by the other side, and so anything will be controversial with regards to this issue. But the underlying problem is that until now no one has found a correct way to factor in the different preconditions of individuals in order to be really able to guarantee a fair treatment based solely on performance.


Why is removing racial considerations out of the picture controversial?

It's not, or rather it wouldn't be if that that's what were in fact being done. The problem is that institutional racism doesn't magically disappear just because the government ignores it.

Suppose you're driving a car that had a recent fender-bender, and the frame is now just a little bent. There's no body shop nearby, but it's still drive-able, except that when the steering wheel is put dead center, the car veers right. So to avoid driving into the curb, (or ongoing traffic in England), one must steer just a little to the left to keep the car going straight. (Or else find a large rotary or roundabout to circle endlessly.)

So to alleviate the dangerous bias in the (National) frame, (i.e. institutional racism), you add a little bias while steering, (i.e. affirmative action), and now the car can drive to the body shop (Are we there yet? No...).

The main controversy is that people who either prefer institutional racism, or don't even know it's there, are afraid that steering just a little left will head into traffic, (since they think the frame is perfect), or maybe lead to high body shop bills they don't want to pay.

User42 comments that the above implies there are no downsides. There certainly can be:

  • A principal danger is the same flaw built into the oldest known (and usually most racist) system of affirmative action, namely Royalty. Sometimes there's no Royal person available even remotely fit to rule, but some fool or rascal must be crowned, and a nation suffers the consequence.

    As long as the locale of a given application of Affirmative Action has a reasonably large populace of good enough candidates to draw from, it should function as planned. But for locales that do not, a blindly administered policy might advance a very incompetent candidate to the head of the queue.

  • Affirmative Action would seem to be most needed wherever institutional racism is at its worst, but implementing it at such places puts any candidate in the perilous position of being a pioneer in hostile territory with a target on their back, where unfriendly colleagues and peers pray, (and even scheme), for these pioneers to fail. If failure by covert injury ever occurs, then follows a campaign of added gloating and insult to justify the fall of their erstwhile uppity Icarus.

    Under such pressures some candidates may deform themselves, and work to become so much like their unfriendly peers as to please them in all ways. In which case the newly deformed pioneer is adopted, and then becomes a menace to any unfortunate 2nd wave of pioneers.

  • 26
    -1 for asserting an unproven statement that institutional racism actually exists. Ironically, if you were careful enough to note that it's a belief held by specific political side instead of undeniable fact, it'd be a not-bad answer (answer form the point of view of that one side, so not great, but still not bad).
    – user4012
    Jul 4, 2018 at 23:47
  • 14
    The real problem here is that "institutional racism" is simply a hypothesis that seeks to explain observations. There are other hypotheses that seem to have at least as much supporting evidence.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 5, 2018 at 5:05
  • 13
    @agc: No, hypotheses are merely ideas that MIGHT explain observations. To choose between two or more competing hypotheses, you need more data, which you obtain from experiments. So in this case your hypothesis is essentially "racism". You test that hypothesis for about half a century by applying AA, and you discover that there has been no significant change. Do you, if scientifically-minded, continue to assert that the hypothesis is true, or do you look at alternatives?
    – jamesqf
    Jul 5, 2018 at 17:37
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    @agc: Once again, you are asserting the hypothesis of "institutional racism" as fact. I fail to see exactly how the success of a mixed-race person from an upper middle class (parents with graduate degrees, prosperous if not wealthy grandparents, attended elite private school, &c) is the result of affirmative action, rather than e.g. changing attitudes in society (which IMHO are held back by AA).
    – jamesqf
    Jul 6, 2018 at 5:22
  • 8
    that user4012 doesn't believe in institutional racism has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it actually exists.
    – user1530
    Jul 9, 2018 at 17:46

Controversy cannot be avoided within the realm of politics, so-called "affirmative action" is no exception.

Examining the actual language at the question it is necessary to state the fact that the United States is a racist organization. Why would someone label the U.S. as a racist organization the reader might ask. The answer is that the U.S. government officially promulgates the political construct of "race". Though as the AAA thoroughly vetted above, "race" is entirely a legal fiction, with only a single party benefiting from the fraud: the so-called "white race", the ruling political class in the U.S.

Quoting the language used at the linked news article

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions revoked 24 guidance documents on Tuesday, many involving race in schools and affirmative action recommendations.

The construct of "race" was invented specifically by white supremacists for the political advantage of the invented "white race".

AAA (American Anthropological Association) Statement on Race

How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The "racial" worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent. Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called "racial" groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.

Thus, any policy decision based on "race", whether that fictitious "race" be Negro, Black, Asian, Some Other Race (an official "race" in the United States), the ethnicity Hispanic, or White, is a racist policy by its very definition.

From one Negro/Black/African in America perspective, there is nothing that the United States can "Order" or "scrap" as to a policy regarding "race" that can or will ever benefit Negros/Blacks/Africans in America other than reparations, whether in the form of land or direct payment for at least two hundred years of hard labor as prisoners of war within the concentration camps (states) of the British Colonies, United States, and Confederate States of America. This perspective holds true that the U.S. is inherently a white supremacist organization, incapable of change to an organization which does not make each and every decision with the primary interest being the political advantage of the so-called "white race". Negro/Black/African in America were never intended to be and are not currently U.S. citizens, notwithstanding the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

From another Negro/Black/African in America perspective, the United States is a neutral organization, capable of being influenced by Negro/Black/African individuals from within and without. The Federal Government is capable of protecting the rights of individuals and groups, given adequate pressure and an appeal to the conscience, religious sympathies and liberal and conservative members of the ruling political class (the "white race").

Thus, even within a single affected class, so-called Negro/Black/African in America, there is sharp division as to ideas of the capacity of the U.S. to actually either not be a white supremacist organization after being founded as such; or whether continued lawsuits, protests, and "integration" into as members or lobbying the political system for redress of grievances of inequality can be a productive path to "justice" and "equality", two of the supposed pursued hallmarks of the U.S. society via political negotiation.

For the former view, so-called "affirmative action" in college admissions is utterly worthless. Negro/Black/African in America educated themselves even while being formal prisoners of war forced to a life of hard labor in concentration camps (states) prior to the conclusion of the American Civil War (1865). Thus, Negro/Black/African in America do not want or need any handouts from the U.S. Government. If the U.S. is to do anything as to redress the descendants of prisoners of war, the U.S. should forthwith set aside land for said descendants of Negro/Black/African in America who were forced under arms to hard labor for life in the Several States; reparations via dollars, provided appropriate accrued interest, would amount to trillions. A politically pessimistic view which does not even address the atrocities performed by the U.S. upon Chinese and Native Americans in the U.S.

For the latter view, the concepts of the Founding Fathers are what must be considered, as the term "race", "white", "negro", "asian", and "some other race" do not appear in the U.S. Constitution.

For Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity also known as the Boulé, who adopt a Greek identity in colleges rather than an African one, neither so-called "affirmative action" nor the former nor latter worldview of Negro/Black/African in America is important, as they had no issue being invited to colleges in the first instance, with guarantees of careers in politics, industry, education and business after completing college, and fundamentally view themselves as Greeks, suckling at the teat of western academia and civilization as "council of nobles advising a king", where the same principles can be found historically among a group of Melkite Coptic Egyptians who, for political power over their own people within the context of the Greek invaders of Ancient Egypt (that is Alexander of Macedonia (332 B.C.E.) where that date is the origin of western civilization though western academia generally recognizes circa 600 C.E. as the beginning of so-called "western civilization") agreed to create the amalgamated creature Serapis for the express purpose of "integration" into the Ancient Egyptian Temple Societies (school systems), whom had rejected the notion of accepting an invading Greek as a deity within their Temple Societies. Serapis later became "Jesus the Christ" after many more years of controversy, see The Historical Origins of Christianity by Walter Williams.. Thus, some Blacks suckled at the teats of western civilization 2,000 years ago, some do so today, some reject the very idea of wanting or needing any "admission" into western civilizations' institutions of higher learning, where such an admission would be to enter the house of the invader. Africans have been educating themselves thousands of years before 332 B.C.E. and do so today, without any reliance on favors from governments, ruling political classes, or asking anyone for anything.

From the view of the Negro/Black/African in America, depending on their worldview, so-called "affirmative action" could be a positive policy which assists in "integrating" into the ruling class society, or "the white race"; an irrelevant scheme which has absolutely no effect on whether Negro/Black/African families in American to even allow their children to attend western academic based schools, or if so, to not rely on them being anything but racist in nature; or, a means to recruit members into the secret societies of Blacks who adopt Greek culture, and who, if their handlers tell them to, shall suppress any non-Greek Negro/Black/Africans in America, for the same reasons the single group of Melkite Coptic Egyptians did 2,000 years ago: individual political kickbacks.

The question asks why there is controversy surrounding so-called affirmative action. The answer is that there is at least two-thousand years of controversy as to the education of a conquered people. In Ancient Egypt there was controversy over the closing of Temples by Ptolemy (western civilization), later a single Temple sought political power by creating the fiction Serapis which became Jesus the Christ. In the current political reality, the policy to "scrap" so-called "affirmative" action is controversial because institutional education is one element of political power, that is, institutions survive generations. The ruling class, for thousands of years, has sought to control the information consumed by the non-ruling classes, and decide when to and not to accept some limited few into their lower ranks.

Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.

There was no harmful impact on Negro children being educated by Negro teachers, as old Negro/Black/African people have relayed that that is the best education that they ever received. Black history from a black perspective; not beginning in 332 B.C.E., where Ancient Egypt has a Temple School System that was at least 5,000 years old before the invasion of Alexander of Macedonia. The harmful impact was Negro/Black/African were to be taught western history by non-Negro/Black/African teachers, thus co-opting and controlling their intellect. That is fine with the Boule, who seek to increase their ranks of so-called Black Greeks at colleges, perhaps fine with Negro/Black/Africans in American who believe that the U.S. Constitution in and of itself is a noble document, not just a piece of paper; not fine with Negro/Black/Africans in America who take issue with the fraudulent means by which so-called "science" came to that conclusion; e.g., by excluding and presenting misleading evidence at Court. Negro/Black/Africans in America who were taught by the same did fine without "admission" into "white" colleges, as they do today; for the latter, the U.S. can keep its political trick of "affirmative action".

If the goal of the U.S. Government is to truly bring about Justice and Equality, a start would be to eliminate "race" altogether from any and all federal laws and regulations; including "Negro", "Black", "White", "Some Other Race", "Asian" the ethnicity "Hispanic" or "Latino", etc. Those terms are purely political constructs invented for the express purpose of division, oppression and inequality. There is no political benefit or advantage for any individual to self-identify with a "race" other than to self-identify with the so-called "white race", which is currently the ruling political class in the United States.

  • 1
    This is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging answer.
    – agc
    Jul 14, 2018 at 4:53

There seems to be a widespread misconception that affirmative action creates unfairness. By "favouring" some people others are disadvantaged, sometimes called "reverse racism".

This is a misunderstanding because it's not what affirmative action does. Affirmative action seeks to correct for a disadvantage someone has by raising them to a more level position with everyone else. Others only lose out to the extent that their unearned advantage is reduced or nullified.

Quite why these misconceptions have become common I won't speculate too much on, beyond stating that people opposed to helping groups subject to systemic bias to use find it an easy one to use.

  • 22
    -1 If two people apply for one position and you favor one, you automatically disfavor the other. Your reason for this discrimination might be noble, but has nothing to do with the facts that you are not giving both a fair chance.
    – janh
    Jul 5, 2018 at 21:21
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user1530
    Jul 11, 2018 at 17:47
  • 8
    @user "Affirmative action seeks to correct for a disadvantage someone has by raising them to a more level position with everyone else." Except is doesn't look at what disadvantage a person has, it tries to correct for the statistical averages over groups. Jul 14, 2018 at 20:50
  • @Accumulation you are the second person to fail to understand what I think it's a fairly clear, simple point. Would it help if I added some explanation of the structural issues that are being addressed? Or perhaps you could explain how an individual would be disadvantaged in a non-structural way, and how you could determine that on an individual basis.
    – user
    Jul 15, 2018 at 22:01
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    @user The argument Accumulation seems to make is that while race correlates with income and income correlates with access to education in the US, there are outliers. Not every person of color is poor and not everyone who is poor is forced to to send their children to a bad school. Those few outliers benefit from affirmative action although they don't face any disadvantages. A good answer to this question should address this common counter-argument.
    – Philipp
    Jul 16, 2018 at 10:32

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