For Democracy to truly thrive there must be equal opportunity and an equal distribution of hope for all people. A myth that underpins American culture is that we live in a land where success is based on merit, and differences in wealth is due to the differences in ambition and ability. Each individual has equal opportunity obtain an educational foundation that will provide social mobility, self-improvement and self-awareness. Lastly each individual will live without the pains of discrimination and will have the freedom to pursue their dreams. If this American myth is true, do we still need legislation such as Affirmative Action?
Since the birth of this country, there has also been the issue of racial discrimination. We have made progress since the days of slavery and segregation, but animosity towards a universal acceptance of all races still exist. Today in America, white males occupy most managerial positions, and corporate market institutions have a disproportionate amount of capital, power and influence on how society is run and how culture is shaped. (p25, Race Matters) After the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, it became apparent that certain business traditions, such as seniority status and aptitude tests, prevented total equality in employment. In 1965 the U.S. government believed that employers were discriminating against minorities and that action must be taken to try to bring equality back into the marketplace. On September 24, 1965, President, Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order #11246 at Howard University that required federal contractors ?to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed . . . without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin (Civil Rights).? When Lyndon Banes Johnson signed that order, he enacted one of the most controversial pieces of legislation. Affirmative action was created in an effort to help minorities leap the discriminative barriers that are present in this country. In a statement released in 1981 by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Jack P. Hartog, who directed the project, said: Only if discrimination were nothing more than the misguided acts of a few prejudiced individuals would affirmative action plans be ?reverse discrimination.? Only if today?s society were operating fairly toward minorities and women would measures that take race, sex, and national origin into account be ?preferential treatment.? Only if discrimination were securely placed in a well-distant past would affirmative action be an unneeded and drastic remedy. The problem with Affirmative Action is that is has two serious drawbacks that I will mention, it contributes to ?preferential treatment? and ?reverse discrimination.? The following cases are examples of what has occurred after the legislation has been past; In 1969, five major Omaha corporations reported that the number of white managers fell 25% due to restrictions put on them when affirmative action was adopted (Nebraska Advisory Committee 27). In 1977, The Northern Natural Gas Company of Omaha, Nebraska, was forced by the government to release sixty-five white male workers to make room for minority employees. (Nebraska Advisory Committee 40). From the above examples we have created situations that have the potential to increase racial prejudices amongst the workers and families of the workers. Needless the employees were treated unfairly.
Martin Luther King Jr. desired a world without discrimination, without prejudice, and without stereotypes. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”(Martin Luther King Jr.) The fundamental lesson that years of discrimination should have taught is that to give anyone preference based on skin color, sex, or religious beliefs is wrong. Needless to say preferential hiring does influence judgments based on skin color, race and sex. By no means am I trying to use the late Martin Luther King Jr.s speech against his original cause, but instead I hope to bring attention to the fact that the government has implemented a law, which can lead to negative consequences. The end result from affirmative action may actually fuel, rather than extinguish, racial hostilities through out our country.
Just as the late Martin Luther King Jr. feelings towards discrimination fueled one of the greatest changes this country has ever experienced, he also condemned the unfairness towards African Americans and other minorities which still exist today. According to data compiled in 1990 for basic measures of poverty, unemployment, and income, the slow advances of African Americans made during the 1960s and 1970s have definitely been reversed. The unemployment rate for blacks is 2.5 times the rate for whites. Black per-capita income is not even two thirds of the income for whites; and blacks, most of who own little wealth or business property, are three times more likely to have income below the poverty level than whites. (The fact of Slavery, Bell) These trends have continued, and today as a result we have seen the havoc caused by joblessness and poverty: broken homes, anarchy in communities and violence in public schools. Many of the reasons for such alarming statistics is due to discrimination that has not given minorities equal opportunities to obtain training or a quality education.
Affirmative action policies also have been implemented in our educational institutions to try to provide the foundation needed to reverse the trend that we still see in our society today. There are complete sections on college applications dedicated to race and ethnic background. Colleges must now have a completely diverse student body, even if that means some, more qualified students, must be turned away. A perfect example of this can be found at the University of California at Berkeley. A 1995 report released by the university said that 9.7% of all accepted applicants were African American. Only 0.8% of these African American students were accepted by academic criteria alone. 36.8% of the accepted applicants were white. Of these accepted white students, 47.9% were accepted on academic criteria alone. That means that approximately sixty times more African Americans students were accepted due to non-academic influences than white students. Another interesting fact included in the 1995 report said that the average grade point average for a rejected white student was 3.66 with an average SAT score of 1142. The average grade point average for an accepted African American student was 3.66 with a 1030 average SAT score. Many whites against affirmative action would argue that many gifted students fall between the cracks as a direct result of affirmative action (Affirmative action). On the other hand, research suggests that race-sensitive admissions policies did in fact succeed in colleges and universities. According to the Harvard Business Review, this was evidenced by the fact that the majority of individuals admitted as a result of such policies did well in school, went on to successful careers and played an active role in civic life (Harvard Business Review, January/February 1999, pg. 140).
The whole idea behind affirmative action is to right the wrongs of the past, but ironically it is doing so through same practices has created the inequality in this country. In a statement that made by Guadalupe Quintanilla, the assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University of Houston clearly makes a good point that we still need change, “Affirmative action has been distorted and abused. I think affirmative action has opened a lot of doors, but it has been misrepresented. I’m for opportunity, not special treatment. Affirmative action has balanced for thirty years on a moral threat. It is now time to apply new moral threats, not towards the employers and colleges but towards the government. For it is the government that needs to change its polices.”
Our government must focus more than ever before, on poverty, family life/community, and inadequate schooling. These problems are colorblind, and can hinder ones chances for success more than anything else. To equal the opportunity of minorities for employment we should continue to raise education standards, which will prepare individuals for the work force or universities. Until equal opportunities are enforced through government policies we will always fall short from truly becoming a democratic nation. Affirmative action does tip the scale towards minorities groups, but it should not be considered the best means to correct employment inequalities. As a country, this problem must still be revisited and better solutions provided. Until then Affirmative Action should be enforced to help improve the lives of those who are being kept in lower social classes.
?Affirmative Action at the University of California at Berkeley? Online. October 28, 1996. http://pwa.acusd.edu/~e_cook/ucb-95.html
?Civil Rights? Compton?s Interactive Encyclopedia. (1996). [Computer Program]
SoftKey Multimedia International Corporation.
United States. Commission on Civil Rights. Affirmative Action in the 1980?s:
United States. Nebraska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Private Sector Affirmative Action: Omaha. Washington: 1979.
“Faces at the Bottom of the Well”, Derrick Bell 1992