Affirmative action is one of the most divisive issues in the United States today.' Proponents of affirmative action argue that the United States has not come far enough in leveling the playing field. They argue that affirmative action programs are needed as much today-if not more-than when the balancing policies initially took effect. Opponents of affirmative action argue that race-based decision-making is undemocratic and discriminates against the majoritarian members in United States society. As we prepare to exit the twentieth century, we are confronted with the need to resolve the affirmative action dilemma. Do we eliminate affirmative-action programs altogether and institute purely color-blind policies? Is a middle-ground possible, or do we simply start anew? As the second millennium approaches, W.E.B. DuBois's observation that the twentieth century must confront the problem of the color-line becomes even more apparent. As we come to the close of this century we must ask ourselves, in light of the continued problems brought on by race, if problems of the persisting color-line can be addressed with affirmative action policies-policies that are designed to eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. If we ask the question today, with an honest outlook for tomorrow, our response has to be in the affirmative.' A negative response is simply a lie.' The answer is yes." We know that "faces remain at the bottom of the well," and we recognize the color of those faces. If the answer should be in the affirmative, then why does a debate exist over the continuation of affirmative action programs? The only debate that should exist is how to make affirmative action programs work for the "faces at the bottom of the well." The self-named "victims" of affirmative action programs are not faces at the bottom of the well. These self-named victims, the white members of the majority, are screaming for an end to openly sanctioned affirmative action programs because they believe such programs result in discrimination against the white majority. What they really mean is that there should be no more attempts at leveling the playing field for the faces at the bottom of the well." They do not mean discontinuing the good old boy affirmative action club; they know their club will continue as long as the color-line remains problematic in United States society. There has always been and will always be a need for affirmative action in United States society. There will always be informal policies where members of United States society will be hired without regard to their merit, will be admitted into schools even though they fall below the admission criteria, and who will be granted loans even though they come within the no loan risk zone. Formal affirmative action policies simply tell members of the majority that they have to hire, admit, and loan to minorities. What discrimination claim do the self-named victims make? The victims want color-based affirmative action programs to become nonexistent because affirmative action programs: (a) will never overcome the color problem in the United States; or (b) they, the victims, do not need them; or (c) the faces at the bottom of the well are no longer in need of them; or (d) the programs disadvantage the self-proclaimed victims. South Africa, like the rest of the globe, is setting the stage for the twenty-first century. Black South Africans have suffered throughout this century with oppression caused by a minority of the country's white inhabitants. Both South African and United States oppressive practices were, and still are, based on the race of the group oppressed, and the races of both oppressed groups share the same skin pigmentation." As South Africa charts its future democratic society with a mission to do the right thing, what route will it take for uplifting the oppressed group--a leveling of the playing field laden with affirmative action policies, like the United States, or a new and different course? This article will compare South Africa's future of righting the wrongs the minority in its society carried out against members of its majority with the United States' stance on remedying past discrimination. Although this article parallels the United States with South Africa, minority members did not cause the oppression in the United States as they did in South Africa. In the United States' truer sense of democracy, majority members caused the oppression. This article compares these two countries because the oppressed people share some commonalties, namely their skin pigmentation, which appears to be an easy target for discriminatory purposes, and the continent of their ancestry.' South Africa's approach to righting the wrongs suffered by so many and caused by so few is intriguing. Why is South Africa discussing affirmative action? How is it, then, that in a democratic society members of the majority need affirmative action incentives to overcome race problems brought on by members of the minority? How could oppressed people vote to oppress themselves? Why would they? Should we suggest to black South Africans that they should simply use their majority status as the minorities did? In South Africa, the fact that a majority democratic dark-skinned group is in need of affirmative action suggests that perhaps the color of one's skin is at issue-not simply any darkened skin color, but a color that designates African descent. The 1996 United States presidential election vibrantly depicts the furor of affirmative action. During an election year divisive issues tend to come to the forefront because politicians know that these issues get excellent media attention that influences potential voters. Politicians go for the "jugular" without regard to the pain caused, proclaiming on the nightly news and advertising programs picayune resolutions to important issues. Rather than bring forth the same old arguments of the politicians and media gurus, this article examines affirmative action through South Africa's prism and suggests solid resolutions the United States can use in righting its wrongs. Part I of this article examines affirmative action in the United States and discusses majority versus minority oppression and the significance of skin pigmentation. Part II compares and contrasts South Africa's approach of rewriting its constitution to include the oppressed group with the United States' addition of amendments to its constitution in trying to include members of the oppressed group. Part III makes recommendations for resolving affirmative action concerns in an effort to allow all members of society to embrace the twenty-first century in a way that enhances our communities without regard to skin color.
Lundy R. Langston, Affirmative Action, a Look at South Africa and the United States: A Question of Pigmentation or Leveling the Playing Field, 13 AM. U. INT'l L. REV. 333 (1997).