Shelby Steele

Shelby Steele, “Affirmative Action: The Price of Preference,” in Larry May and others, Applied Ethics: A Multicultural Approach, Prentice Hall, 2011, 5th ed., pp. 404-409.

Steele defends the thesis that affirmative action programs should support equality of opportunity, not quotas. Quotas require proportional representation. If, for example, a large factory is located in an area where 30% of the population is black, the factory owner is required to hire a workforce that is 30% black.

Steele finds that racial quotas do more harm than good to the black community. Racial quotas, he claims, stigmatize further the already stigmatized. Racial preferences also raise doubts concerning competency. Demands for competency are made in response to these doubts, and such demands are enforced by the glass ceiling in business and the revolving door in academia. In other words, a certain quota of blacks may be given initial employment but later fired from the job.

Racial preferences to achieve proportional representation, Steele argues, reinforce discrimination. For example, racial preferences favor middle class blacks and discriminate against disadvantaged blacks.

Steele claims that constitutional, not racial, rights should be enforced.
Steele’s libertarian argument may plausibly be classified as a form of strict deontologism.

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