In practice, affirmative action is consonant to the concept of equal treatment. The whole point of equality is to give everyone an equal opportunity to excel and not try to equalize outcomes.
Equality means, every athlete, starts the race from the same spot – the result would most certainly be that some will get to the finish line before the others.
The only way to equalize the outcome is to either discriminate on the fast runners or give preferential treatment to the slow runners.
One of the most prominent examples of affirmative action is in the Nigerian educational system. Given the prominence of Islam, people in northern Nigeria are less inclined to take education seriously as those in the South.
To equalize the number of people who make it into Unity Schools in Northern and Southern Nigeria, cut-off scores for those in the North are almost three times lower than those in the South.
That means, under a meritocratic system, expectations are that the number of those admitted into schools from the South will far outweigh those from the North. In the bid to equalize outcomes, the government is willing to sacrifice merit, educational quality, and discriminate heavily against those in the South.
In the advent of civil rights, many Ivy League schools started to see the admittance of black students for the first time. A chemistry teacher was asked his opinion on blacks in Ivy league schools, and he said, “I will just give them As and Bs. To hell with them”.
This is a teacher, who even though seems uncomfortable with the idea of black students joining Ivy League schools, plans on giving them only As and Bs. Many of those black students were admitted into these schools on subsidized scores, and this chemistry teacher understanding the implications of low expectations decided to continue with this practice, which he rightly understands to be disadvantageous to the black students.
Grading in schools is designed to give students an honest appraisal of what they know, by highlighting their failures, you optimize a student’s interest in areas that need improvement.
By merely giving unmerited high grades to a student, you fail in the fundamental need for grading, and the result is a student who will end up not knowing what they are supposed to know in their given area of study.
Such low quality of educational grasp translates to lower marketability in the employment market.
So, this teacher understands that there is a great disservice done to students who are given grades they have not in any way earned or lowering standards for certain students and not the other. Even though this practice to the simple-minded may look like a favor to the black students, one can see how it is intended to disadvantage them.
Today in politics, the same cynical measures are still significantly present, though most times intended as a useful measure for equality, it is greatly counter-productive, especially on enterprises like education and skill-driven vocations driven chiefly by competence.
Replacing merit with grace is often disadvantageous to those it is meant to help. The only right way for real progress to be made is by ensuring everyone is given an equal opportunity to excel; the result should reflect individual competence and not authority oversight.
By diluting merit, you remove the incentive that necessitates excellence. It doesn’t matter if the quota system is adopted as a punitive measure against a group seen as privileged, or employed as a sinister ploy to disadvantage the targeted group, just as the chemistry teacher planned on doing, by masking his full intent in the guise of granting favors to an ‘underprivileged’ group – the results, almost certainly remains the same.
Give everyone an equal opportunity and let progress be organic. Any attempt to control result can only be made through discrimination against the prosperous or advantaged group, and preferential, hence, unequal treatment to the disadvantaged – In this way, you significantly reduce their potentiality to grow truly.