The Question of Affirmative Action: Michael Sandel Interviews Glenn Loury

Michael Sandel and Glenn Loury in Quillette:

MICHAEL SANDEL: I wonder if I could begin with a provocative quotation from a lecture you’ve given. You’ve said that affirmative action is not about equality, it’s about “covering ass.” What did you mean by that and what do you think generally about the ethics of affirmative action?

GLENN LOURY: I was drawing the listener’s attention to the difference between the institutional interest in having a diverse profile of participants and the interests, as I understand them, of the population which may be the beneficiary of this largesse. My point was: if you want genuine equality, this is distinct from titular equality. If you want substantive equality, this is distinct from optics equality. If you want equality of respect, of honor, of standing, of dignity, of achievement, of mastery, then you may want to think carefully about implementing systems of selection that prefer a population on a racial basis. Such a system may be inconsistent over the longer term in achieving what I call genuine equality; real equality; substantive equality; equality of standing, dignity, achievement, honor, and respect.

I set this within a historical context in which African Americans—beginning from exclusion, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, widespread discrimination—are actually diminished in terms of the development of our competitive and productive capacities.

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