Affirmative Action Essay, Research Paper
May 1, 2000
Affirmative action is a set of policies designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established a committee on equal employment opportunity that was dedicated to the removal of discrimination in employment. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 broadened this concept and removed overt forms of racial discrimination in public places, as well as race and sex discrimination in employment (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 10). President Lyndon Johnson first used the term affirmative action in 1965, when he required all government contractors to ensure employees were not discriminated against. In 1971, President Nixon required all government contractors to develop an affirmative action program that would detail when the contractor would correct disparities in the amount of minorities employed (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal History of affirmative action 11). Popular support for affirmative action has gone down in recent years (Galston 6). While attempting to end discrimination and give all Americans equal opportunity, this country began discriminating all over again as more and more changes were made to the original affirmative action laws. Affirmative action laws worked for a while, and changed business forever, but their time has passed.
Affirmative action programs no longer accomplish what they were intended to accomplish. Becoming an extensive system of anti-white preferences, double standards, and quotas, affirmative action is now widely rejected. In the 1960 s and 1970 s, affirmative action won popular support as a way of redressing the historic grievances of the black community (Zuckerman 88). Most people now feel that there really is no viable way to make amends for the wrongs that had been done to the blacks in this country. In an attempt to rid this country of discrimination, affirmative action has inadvertently magnified the problem by bringing race into the forefront of everyday life. The Supreme Court, and other courts, has dramatically narrowed the scope of affirmative action (Zuckerman 88). Two states, Washington and California, have abolished affirmative action altogether. In a third State, Florida, measures are being looked at to abolish affirmative action as well. People are realizing that affirmative action programs are causing more problems than they fix. Proportionality is often regarded as a hallmark of affirmative action policies (Wasserman 32). Hiring individuals in order to proportionately reflect the surrounding community sounds good at face value. Looking deeper, this procedure has a detrimental effect on businesses by forcing them to hire less qualified individuals.
The understanding in the beginning was that affirmative action programs would be temporary and justified for a single generation at most (Galston 8). The intent of affirmative action was to motivate firms to detect and eliminate procedures that excluded minorities and women (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 11). Once those procedures and policies were removed, it was believed that women and the black community would quickly become an equal part of the workplace. Salaries would increase, as well as opportunities, and the color-blind America would no longer need the affirmative action programs. The rapid expansion of the black middle class was supposed to reduce or eliminate the need for affirmative action programs for their children (Galston 8). As minorities earned higher salaries, they would be able to send their children to college. Affirmative action programs also affected college admissions. In essence, once minorities had money, their children would be accepted to attend college. All of these changes were supposed to break the cycle of discrimination. Preference was extended to individuals who had never personally experienced the discrimination affirmative action was supposed to redress (Zuckerman 88). The focus changed from blacks to minorities, giving all minorities an advantage, whether they needed it or not. There soon became a lack of identity between the victims of the wrong and the recipients of the preferential treatment (Fiss 37).
The end of legal segregation and the increase in economic opportunity has created a black middle class (Wasserman 34). Black communities are seeing a differentiation between the prosperous black middle class and the isolated ghetto poor (Galston 4). Having little or no valuable skills, or being unwilling to learn new skills, may affect those still living in the ghetto. Sometime in the 1980 s, a sense of entitlement began to replace black s sense of doing things for ourselves , says Renee Redwood, former executive director of Americans for a Fair Chance (White 34). She feels that the division of the middle class from the poor blacks within the black community is largely due to less influence on values. The black middle class has more in common with its white counterpart than it does with the poorer blacks left behind in the inner city (Wasserman 34). Moving into the middle class, blacks also move out of their old neighborhood. They begin to socialize with whites and their children attend school with other middle class kids who are mostly white. Common experiences between blacks and whites draws the line between middle class blacks and the ghetto poor. Affirmative action programs have not had much effect on the bulk of the ghetto poor (Galston 4). The programs only helped those who already had the education to succeed or were willing to get the education. Even if they put fourth the effort, many young men still feel they will not succeed. Others, such as single mothers, may not be able to enter college or the workforce through no fault of their own. Any changes in the affirmative action programs are not likely to have much effect on the ghetto poor.
Affirmative action programs do not take into account merit in employment or admission decisions. By admitting students who find the curriculum too difficult and drop out, affirmative action programs may actually hurt minorities. Students are better off when they attend colleges that match their academic level (Cohen, When the field is level 30). When students are allowed to attend colleges that normally would not have admitted them, they suffer (Cohen, When the field is level 31). They frequently struggle with the coursework and also have trouble developing peer relationships. The dropout rate of black California undergraduate students, during the time affirmative action was in place, was 42 percent (Cohen, When the field is level 32). The affirmative action programs were good at getting blacks into top colleges, but no programs could keep them there if they were not prepared to begin with. Realizing this, California, Washington, and Texas all banned affirmative action in colleges and universities. As the preferences that helped minorities qualify for top California colleges were removed, minorities were redistributed down to less selective colleges (Cohen, When the field is level 30). The rate of attendance at colleges and universities by minorities has actually risen, however, they are no longer attending the most prestigious colleges since the skin color advantage is gone (Cohen, When the field is level 31). Applicants are finally being judged on their abilities, not their color of skin.
There are two ways people are chosen for jobs or schools; one is based on merit, the other is based on affirmative action (Luban 21). Merit is not the only value or principle that ought to play a part in the distribution of acceptances, promotions, and jobs (Luban 25). Certainly a school or company should use a whole person standard, taking into account experiences, attitude, communication skills, etc. These are quite valuable areas of diversity, but colleges still do not treat race or gender in the same way as they treat the other areas. In accepting seniority and veteran status, we admit that other values count besides merit. The question is which other values count, and how much (Luban 25). Colleges and business owners to should decide the answer to this question. We do expect a university to be more concerned about those dimensions most closely correlated with vital differences on value and opinion (Fullinwider, Diversity and affirmative action 28). Colleges firmly believe in diversity because many different viewpoints lend themselves to discussion that enhances education. Diversity does not mean simply a difference in the color of skin of a population, rather a variety of different viewpoints. Colleges may place more emphasis on political affiliation or economic background than on color of skin.
The debate over testing is mostly a shadow debate over affirmative action. SAT s are designed to measure the developed capacity to do college work (Leo 16). And they do that well. The scores received on these tests have many times accurately reflected the actual performance of black students at selective colleges. Relying on the track record of the tests, the more selective colleges keep high standards and have high expectations of their students. There is unwillingness of some affirmative action proponents to look hard at black s lagging performance on standardized tests. Between 1988 and 1998, the gap between average black and white SAT scores widened slightly (White 34). Some hold public school teachers responsible and want to raise standards in grade schools. It is quite difficult to follow this train of thought, since black and white students attend many of the same classes. Possibly the schools in the inner city may need to make some major changes to help even the score. By rigging admissions and trying to dismantle tests, critics of testing are really saying that they do not believe minorities can make it without a thumb on the scale (Leo 16). Fixing the tests is not the solution, it will only cause problems in the future. Sure fixing the tests will get more minorities into selective colleges, but the college professors will not fix the midterms or finals.
Affirmative action is another one of those well intentioned government programs that have gone awry (Zuckerman 88). By the 1970 s, courts had begun ordering companies to meet quotas (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 12). In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that employers could be prosecuted if the composition of the work force did not reflect the composition of the community (Zuckerman 88). To avoid prosecution, companies had to review their policies for anything that could cause a disparity between blacks and whites. Companies quickly began using quotas in an effort to change the racial breakdown of their personnel. Rules made by a company that caused a disparity between blacks and whites were considered discrimination (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 10). In order to avoid lawsuits, companies with bad rules had to show how they were necessary in the running of the business. Due to the way the law was written, all minorities were being considered, not just blacks. In the mid 1970 s, reverse discrimination lawsuits were beginning to appear (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 13). Exceptionally more qualified applicants were being turned down in favor of minorities. In 1979, the EEOC issued rules protecting employers from the reverse discrimination suits as long as the reason for the discrimination supported affirmative action (Fullinwider, Civil rights and racial preferences: A legal history of affirmative action 13).
California, Texas, and Washington have all banned the use of affirmative action in college admissions. There are many perspectives equally or more valuable to the college university than a mere difference in skin color (Fullinwider, Diversity and affirmative action 27). As many public schools are quite racially mixed (depending on locality), those students most likely have very similar experiences regardless of skin color. This is the reason that colleges look toward socio-economic differences that may prove more valuable and diverse. Since voters banned the use of race in college admissions, a search for other means to maintain diversity has been on (Wildavsky 28). One idea is to accept all applicants within the top percentage of their high school class. Another would be to accept more students from schools in poorer areas. In an effort to maintain some diversity, colleges in these states are accepting all applicants in the top ten percent of high school standing (Wildavsky 28). The class rank measure did raise the number of minorities attending college in California and Texas. This plan circumvented the college entrance exams and permitted kids in all high schools a shot at a state college, no matter what area the school was in.
The Florida State governor proposes banning race based affirmative action in schools and government contracting (Foer 31). The measure would bar using race in hiring, contracting, and school admissions (Cohen, Affirmative action face off 58). Polls indicate that even a majority of minorities do not like the fact that affirmative action is used to help less qualified people get jobs, promotions, and admission to state colleges (Zuckerman 88). The programs made them feel that they are part of an inferior group of people. This stereotype is not what we, as a country, are trying to promote, but these programs do just that. They are degrading; however, an end is in sight. According to a recent poll, 83 percent of Florida s potential voters support the initiative to end racial preferences (Cohen, Affirmative action face off 58). Florida s initiative is very similar to the ones passed in California and Washington. It ought to be, since the same man that got it passed in California and Washington is promoting it here in Florida. A petition drive has been started that is aimed at putting the measure on next year s ballot (Cohen, Affirmative action face off 58). Speaking about collecting signatures, Gloria Brown said, White men love it. They might have already walked past me, but when I tell them it s anti-affirmative action, they come back and sign . Brown is also getting plenty of signatures from white women, Hispanics, and blacks (Cohen, Affirmative action face off 58). Because this is an election year, with any luck, the proposal will pass and Florida will follow suit with California and Washington. Eventually, the popular support to end affirmative action will be heard in Washington D.C.
Not originally intended to be an extensive system of anti-white preferences, double standards, and quotas, affirmative action programs were supposed to be temporary, lasting for one generation at most. Merit was not taken into account and the programs actually hurt the unprepared minorities admitted to college that were forced to drop out. Opinions toward banning affirmative action have been swayed by heated debates over standardized tests, merit, and affirmative action. This well-intentioned government program has gone wrong. Having been ordered by the courts, companies used quotas in all aspects of business. As a result, an ever-increasing number of minority groups are attempting to be included in the preferences. Due to the poor public opinion of affirmative action, several states have banned preferential treatment. Florida is the next battleground, and according to public opinion, the battle will be an easy victory for the opponents of affirmative action.
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