What Does Equal Mean Essay, Research Paper
What Does Equal Mean?
“All men are created equal,” as affirmed in the Constitution of the United States of America. This is a statement that no America claims to dispute but it has been disputed many times when it comes to the issue of affirmative action. Both sides of the debate have over examined moral and ethical issues concerning affirmative action while forgetting to scrutinize the system that has created the need for them. Affirmative action is more encompassing than just a cure all for racial discrimination, segregation and slavery (Eastland, 396). The opposition has failed to account for the positive features that affirmative action has fostered. Affirmative action has heightened our awareness of racism, sexism, equal opportunity in jobs and education and an overall increased quality of life as is guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In theory, it should provide groups a greater equality of opportunity denied to Blacks by an unfair assessment of their capabilities and a historically flawed system . Until all individuals have the same motivation, the same physical attributes, the same language, the same skin color, the same sex, and the same talents there is a overwhelming need to continue affirmative action. Although affirmative action has caused tension in American society, it has also established assistance programs for better schooling and equal pay and opportunity to achieve regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability or age.
A cursory look at the history of this country tells the tale of oppression of the Blacks as an inferior race. Originally civil rights programs were enacted to help Black Americans become citizens with full rights guaranteed to all. The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal; the 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection; the 15th Amendment forbade racial discrimination in regard to voting. Then in 1941, President Roosevelt signed an executive order outlawing segregation in hiring for defense related industries and in 1954 the decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education removed the legal impediments that had left an entire race impoverished and powerless (Lawrence,40). However, the phrase “affirmative action” was coined by President Johnson in 1965 when he signed executive order 11246, for federal contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure applicants were employed and treated fairly, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” (Boyer,842). Again in 1967 the executive order was finally expanded to include affirmative action requirements for women as well. It wasn’t until President Ford was in office that affirmative action also extended to people with disabilities and Vietnam Veterans. It has been established that affirmative action is a set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, gender, ethnicity, disability or age.
Much of the opposition to affirmative action is framed on the so-called “reverse discrimination and unwarranted preferences” (Eastland, 397). In fact, according to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, less than 2% of the 91,000 discrimination cases pending are reverse discrimination suits (Kaminer, 4). It also states that ” anyone benefiting from affirmative action must have relevant and valid job or educational qualifications” (Kamer, 4). It is quite obvious to both sides of this issue that some kind of discrimination is in fact masquerading as affirmative action and that not every white person is advantaged and not every is disadvantaged. ‘Real’ affirmative action is needed to equalize opportunity, respect, and treatment to all groups and individuals who need justice. Without affirmative action minorities and women would have confronted social and legal exclusion simply because of who they are or what the represent. Another point mentioned in Eastland’s essay refers to the stigma affirmative action infers on the Black community (398). As far as racial categories goes, the Blacks have always carried a stigma of being a minority and therefore inferior, regardless of their character or qualifications. Affirmative action gives minorities the opportunity to defy the stereotype and stigma cast upon them by others. It appears that the stigma has more to do with continued racism than the effects of affirmative action.
Eastland alludes to the fact that “Ending affirmative action will create circumstances in which the individual will shine quite on their own merits” (399). But in fact ratifying Proposition 209 would end such programs as tutoring and mentoring for minorities and women, recruitment, outreach, counseling, financial aid, and job placement for many, thus making it difficult for these groups to have equal opportunities in education, employment, and contracting. Merits are honorable but first must be recognized as such in order for equality to take place. Should affirmative action require society to hire unqualified individuals? No, but affirmative action helps society re-evaluate how to assess those qualifications and how to measure merit.
The opposition does not even mention the injustices that whole industries have imposed on women and minorities, such as in many fire and police departments across the country where not one minority or women is present. Newspaper job listings use to be separated by gender and women still receive lower pay and fewer benefits than men filling the same position, not to mention the sexual harassment women have habitually been subjected to. Thanks to affirmative action, we have witnessed an increase in minority and women applicants to city, state and government jobs.
Lastly, there is no mention by Mr. Eastland of the discrimination against the disabled before they were included in affirmative action. In the past having a disability meant you where put in a home or asylum and denied an education, job and the ability to thrive. Until recently, disabled individuals could not even frequent public libraries, post offices, restaurants and many places of business, because they were not accessible to them. Now since the Disabilities Act 1990, handicapped people can access public places, attend school, be trained for a profession and feel positive about their contribution to society.
There are many people, Mr. Eastland, included who do not see affirmative action as a positive influence on society and would prefer it was eliminated. However, affirmative action has only been policy for the last thirty years, which is hardly long enough to solve a major societal problem. It is making steady strides in a definitive direction to eliminate equality by increasing educational possibilities to all minorities, increasing women in math and science, employing the handicapped and disabled so they can become independent, training minorities who would otherwise remain in menial jobs and providing contracts and positions to qualified individuals, especially women and minorities. In the end, a we need to continue a broad-based program of affirmative action ranging from the classroom to the workplace to the housing market to the government. Although I realize this is not a perfect plan and there may always be some legitimate discrimination concerns, affirmative action moves us away from a society that is inherently unfair to some groups and towards reform with equality and ‘justice for all’.