6. When Equal Is Not the Same [chapter]

2018 Equality under the Constitution  
When Equal Is Not the Same "Reverse discrimination," "affirmative action," "preferential hir ing," "preferential admissions"-all of these phrases somehow belong to the 1970s. They predated that decade-"affirmative action," for example, appears in the Civil Rights Act of 1964-but it was then that the terms came into everyday use, as the policies they describe became matters of public concern. The terms are not always inter changeable. "Reverse discrimination" bears a negative connotation that
more » ... not yet attached to "affirmative action," which may be one reason why the latter phrase is more common in academic settings. But all of these policies have one thing in common: they favor mem bers of groups that have previously been the objects of prejudice and invidious discrimination. The factor that differentiates these groups from the "majority" is usually race or ethnicity, and, less often, sex. There is no strong societal agreement that such compensatory dis crimination is ever justified. Even people who generally support it dis pute such matters as what agencies may impose it, under what circum stances, and by what means, just as they dispute whether or not particular groups qualify for such treatment. But there is threshold agreement about what the terms mean and just whom we are discuss ing. That such agreement exists is a revealing fact about American society. Speaking of "reverse" discrimination can be meaningful only when "direct" discrimination has existed, only because "American so ciety is currently a racially conscious society; this is the inevitable and evident consequence of a history of slavery, repression, and preju dice." 1
doi:10.7591/9781501722745-007 fatcat:beigncyvczhltirrcekllaykii