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Kennedy Speaks on Affirmative Action

Randall M. Kennedy, Harvard Professor in Law, endorsed racial affirmative action while simultaneously discussing and challenging other standpoints at this week’s All-School Meeting. Kennedy focused on opposing arguments to affirmative action, especially the idea of class-based action in place of anything race-based. Kennedy also spoke about the merits of racial affirmative action and how it positively affects minorities throughout the country. “I did want to… put out there for other people’s consideration, a range of the most important subjects that anyone would have to grapple with to really reach a considered view of this vexed subject,” said Kennedy. He also discussed his personal support of the movement and explored possible alternatives to racial affirmative action that could better serve underprivileged minorities. “I was certainly attempting to set forth my idea, but I was also attempting to illustrate some of the complexity of the subject. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me,” said Kennedy. “Yes I support racial affirmative action. Racial affirmative action has done much good for the country,” he continued. “Affirmative action is a policy that is imminently justifiable and that has a variety of important and good goals. I think affirmative action has made us a more open, inclusive and just society,” he added. Kennedy divided affirmative action into two different forms, hard and soft. In softer cases, a college might use race as a tie-breaker of sorts, and select an ethnic minority student over an equally qualified non-minority applicant. Hard affirmative action includes reserving spaces exclusively for ethnic minorities or selecting minorities over non-minority candidates who have better credentials. When asked about ways to provide assistance to minorities that might be preferable to racial affirmative action, Kennedy responded that a number of different options existed, but proceeded to explain the difficulties in implementing them. “Affirmative action is not the only way of seeking to accomplish the [assistance] that I just articulated. Another way of proceeding is to inhibit invidious racial discriminations through means like civil rights laws,” said Kennedy. Kennedy noted the U.S. government’s 1988 national apology to Japanese Americans who suffered living in internment camps during World War 2 and the reparations they gave to affected persons. He mentioned that, although he was born after the internment camps ended, he was taxed all the same for the reparations. Kennedy applauded this as successful civil action and said that he, as a beneficiary of this society, deserved to be taxed. “Racial discrimination cries out for judiciary action,” he said. Kennedy mentioned that injustices carry continue on to present, as can be seen between gaps in education levels between black and white Americans of the same income level. “Affirmative action helps to mitigate present and future effects of historic injustice,” he said. He said that groups opposed to racial affirmative action believe that the policy erodes best efforts, lowers the efficiency of meritocracies. Kennedy explained that three distinct ideologies utilize this argument. He also mentioned each of them and presented his responses to the Andover community. The first ideology argues for a change in the policy without any regard to questions of class injustice or depravation. “Only when racial affirmative action is mentioned do they become attentive to racial affirmative action in the U.S.,” said Kennedy. The second ideology disapproves of racial affirmative action on political grounds because it states that it diminishes benefits to all low and middle-class Americans. Kennedy described a third ideology that rejects affirmative action as “a matter of moral and constitutional imperative.” “There is nothing wrong with the making of racial distinctions on behalf of marginalized racial groups, so long as this is done for reasonable purposes and without any aim to subordinate those who are preferred,” he continued. “I would be willing to switch to class-based affirmative action right now, depending on your definition of class and the resources that you would be willing to throw at inequality,” he added. “My fear is that the pot of resources, which will probably be all too limited, will be sucked up in a way that benefits some people, predominantly white, poor people while black people will be left out in the cold,” he continued. “I got involved because one of my subjects is race-related law and this is obviously a very contentious issue within race-related law,” said Kennedy.