Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This statement will always ring true especially on the subject of equal opportunity when it comes to employment and education here in the United States. It’s no secret that equality has been something America has always lacked, but at the same time has always been something America stood for. In fact it can be easily inferred that equality among all men has been something America has stride for since it gained independence from the British in 1776. Our founding fathers were the first to have this initial thought, that being best portrayed in the declaration of independence, which state’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”(qtd. In declaration of independence)
To me this means our founding fathers believed that every man from birth has the god given right to a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but somewhere during Americas journey as a country it forgot it’s true creed and became it’s own tyrant preventing people from reaching their full potential while also denying it’s own citizens liberty and a pursuit to happiness. And although achieving equality in this country has been nothing short of easy with countless set backs and hypocritical ideas, equality among all its citizens is still something America does strides for, and nothing brings you direct equality quit like Affirmative Action does.
If you consider affirmative action for its intentional purposes than Affirmative Action is very just, its purpose being to equalize the education and economic gap between minorities and causations. Although it is not a perfect method to achieving equality in this country, it is essential to accept it for why it’s been put into place and that it is all part of a process. Of course affirmative action is far from perfect and has a fair deal of problems, like promoting reverse discrimination while backing up negative stereotypes. I researched all of these aspects while pondering the question “is affirmative action still needed in today’s society?” In this paper I will be explaining what affirmative action is. The History behind affirmative action like how it all unfolded, who made it, and the history as to why it is in effect now. I will also list some pros and cons of affirmative action, how the United States could better affirmative action for the future and finally a conclusion, which is my opinion on the topic.
But what exactly is Affrimative action? Born of the civil rights movement three decades ago, affirmative action calls for minorities and women to be given special consideration in employment and education acceptance decisions. Universities with affirmative action policies generally set goals to increase diversity. Affirmative action decisions are generally not supposed to be based on quotas, nor are they supposed to give any preference to unqualified candidates. And by no means is affirmative action supposed to harm anyone through “reverse discrimination.”
The purpose was to create equal opportunity for the people who had been unjustly treated in the past. It was set out to correct this wrong, and make it right. But at the same time too often is Affrimative action is looked upon as a solution for a nation once ill with, but now cured of, the evil disease of racial discrimination. Some would say Affirmative action is, and should be seen as, a temporary, partial, and perhaps even flawed cure for past and continuing discrimination. But all in all affirmative action is defined as “The positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded. When those steps involve preferential selection—selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity” (Fullinwider) Of course affirmative action has a very deep history to it, and to why it was put into place. Now that you understand the purpose for which it was made, let me explain who made it and why affirmative action was created.
The history of Affirmative action, the first step in affirmative action was the creation of it. President John F. Kennedy first introduced it in 1961. The following is in sections to show the timeline of affirmative action in the begging stages of its creation:
* March 6, 1961 Executive Order 10925 makes the first reference to “affirmative action” (Timeline)
President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order 10925, which creates the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and mandates that projects financed with federal funds “take affirmative action” to ensure that hiring and employment practices are free of racial bias.
* July 2, 1964 Civil Rights Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson The most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. (Timeline)
* June 4, 1965 Speech defining concept of affirmative action In an eloquent speech to the graduating class at Howard University, President Johnson frames the concept underlying affirmative action, asserting that civil rights laws alone are not enough to remedy discrimination: “You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.” (Timeline)
* Sept. 24,1965 Executive Order 11246 enforces affirmative action for the first time (Timeline) Issued by President Johnson, the executive order requires government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment.
The rest of the affirmative actions timeline from here on out is mainly just Supreme Court cases, which can help define what exactly it can do and what exactly it can’t do.
* In the 1978 Supreme Court case University of California vs. Bakke, a white male named Allan Bakke claimed reverse discrimination because he was rejected twice from medical school while less-qualified minority students were admitted to fill a quota that required 18 out of every 100 places be filled with minorities. The Supreme Court ruled against inflexible quota systems, but did not outlaw affirmative action as a whole.(Timeline)
Most of the lawsuits were against Universities since many universities also adopted affirmative action programs in the 1970s. These programs were aimed at increasing black enrollment and the number of black faculty. None more notable then Jenifer Gatz law suit again the University of Michigan “Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger.” It ruled that affirmative action fulfills “a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” The purpose of affirmative action policy shifted from redressing injustice to promoting values of diversity.
But even after all these deciding cases on affirmative action it’s still a heated matter of dispute. After much legislation and many Supreme Court decisions, affirmative action continues to be controversial (Legal History, Ongoing Debates section, para. 1).
These controversies lead to questions, which can only be answered by understanding why affirmative action was put into effect in the first place. It is important to remember affirmative action is still a work in progress to achieve something much bigger than any one individual. People tend to forget that and the history to why affirmative action was put into place.
It cannot be denied that America’s history is full of mistreatment of minority individuals. Women did not have a chance to vote for nearly a century and half after the birth of the country. African Americans were captured and forced into slavery, Although the Thirteenth Amendment ended institutionalized slavery in the United States in 1865, African Americans were not treated equal to whites in the eyes of the law for nearly another century, they were considered only one third of citizen.
So with the two hundred years of slavery coming to an abrupt end a new regime or prejudices was to come into effect. Of course even after the end of slavery African Americans were consistently denied employment, housing, and education. In the south discrimination was a daily routine supported by “Jim Crow laws.”(Affirmative action) Unjust social statues and norms were passed in the 1800s that establish separate, inferior, public facilities, schools, waiting rooms, railways cars, and restrooms for African Americans through out the country. This has caused a domino effect on our society that still seen today.
Those outrageous social norms were practiced in America until late in the civil rights movement when president JFK finally acknowledged the struggle for equality and the idea of Affirmative Action was born. After President Kennedy’s assignation, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It banned discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and sex in the areas of employment, public facilities, and government programs. The idea of equality in America, that every man is created equally was slowly and surly becoming more realistic, due largely to Martin Luther Kings efforts. Here are Dr. King’s own words on the idea of Affirmative action from his 1963 book “why cant we wait” King states:
“Among the many vital jobs to be done, the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate in its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past. It is impossible to create a formula for the future which does not take into account that our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years. How then can he be absorbed into the mainstream of American life if we do not do something special for him now, in order to balance the equation and equip him to compete on a just and equal basis?” – Martin Luther King J.R (Wise)
In his 1967 book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” King argued: “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis.”(wise) Continuing:
“…for Two centuries the Negro was enslaved and robbed of any wages: potential accrued wealth which would have been the legacy of his descendants. All of America’s wealth could not adequately compensate its Negroes for his centuries of exploitation and humiliation. It is an economic fact that a program such as I propose would certainly cost far less than any computation of two centuries of unpaid wages plus accumulated interest. In any case, I do not intend that this program of economic aid should apply only to the Negro: it should benefit the disadvantaged of all races.”- Martin Luther King J.R (Wise)
It is clear that these are some of the reasons why Martin Luther King J.R and others thought affirmative action should be and eventually was put into effect. A large part as to why affirmative action is in effect is so Compensation can be made to those who are at a disadvantage due to past racial biases and predjedism.
You should now have a better idea as to what exactly affirmative action is, what it’s intentions are, the history behind who made it and the deeper history as to why it is still in effect and why it was originally put into effect. Affirmative action is however a major controversy in the United States, ever since it’s beginning, the concept of affirmative action raised difficult questions. “Many civil rights activists see affirmative action as a necessary step in achieving equality for groups that had faced discrimination in the past. However, critics of affirmative action argued that individuals should be treated on their own merits without regard to color, national origin, or sex.”(Affirmative Action)
The Benefits of Affirmative Action “The one benefit of affirmative action is to correct past discriminations such as the mistreatment of women and slavery. This remedial justification of affirmative action recognizes that wrongs have been committed in the past and acknowledges a moral obligation to set things right” (Affirmative Action – Pros and Cons, The Origins Of, Legal Treatment Of, Political and Social Debates, The Future, Pros and Cons section, para. 1).
It is important for injustices to be redressed. “Slavery and institutionalized racism have not been redressed yet in America and around the world. In order for justice to be served, it is necessary for the main losers of racism in America (African Americans) to be compensated for their loses through affirmative action.” (Affirmative Action) And affirmative action does just that, not in the sense of giving physical money, but through opportunities in education and in life. The following are the benefits affirmative action provides:
Affirmative action has provided many opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds and income levels who ordinarily would not be considered for admission to colleges and universities. This means that the pool of talent coming out of the higher education system is larger and better able to contribute as productive members of the workforce. Affirmative action has had a profound effect on employment hiring and promoting practices. Historically, “close to 90% of all jobs are filled without being advertised, with the majority of positions going to friends, relatives, or acquaintances of company employees.”(Wise) This is often the case with a lot of jobs. Unfortunately it can boil down to whom one knows not what they know. The result of this practice is that employers often end up with employees who are not the best person for the job if it were properly advertised.
Affirmative action has encouraged many companies to engage in employment practices that set minimum standards of job definition, recruiting, outreach, and evaluation that result in choosing the right person for the job. Finding the right person for the job or the promotion is critical in letting business efficiently utilize the workforce and allow each person to reach his or her full potential.
Diversity in itself is desirable, it has been since the birth of this country, but it won’t always occur if left to chance. But when affirmative action is working like its initial purpose was intended too miraculous things can happen, and there are good facts to back that up. “Between 1981 and 2001, the total number of degrees awarded to Native Americans rose by 151.9% because of affirmative action policies.” (Patterns) Also, from “1982 to 1995, there has been an increase in the percent of black managers from 5 to 7 percent. Hispanics have shown a 3 percent increase from 5 percent in 1982.”(Patterns) Affirmative Action has been successful in providing minorities with opportunities.
“At the same time a recent study has shown a person with a white sounding name has a 50% more change of getting a call back from a interview than those with black sounding name even when qualifications are indistinguishable.” (Tim Wise) Again equality is desirable but it won’t always occur if left to chance.
“Eliminating affirmative action can lead to the re-segregation of higher education. When affirmative action was outlawed at the University of Texas in 1995, the number of black students at the UT Law School dropped from 65 in 1996 to 11 in 1997 and Latino student enrollments have been cut in half since the decision.” (Patterns) this isn’t necessarily a pro, but interesting enough. With affirmative action being banned in Texas the number of white students also dramatically increased while the number of Asians skyrocketed. I guess the best-qualified applicants where accepted.
Here is a statistics that shows why affirmative action is still needed. For “every dollar earned by men, women earn 74 cents, African American women earn 63 cents and Latina women earn 57 cents.” (Patterns) This unjust statistics will continue with out the help of something like affirmative action. It is the reality inequalities like this that suggest maybe affirmative action should be left alone till equality is fully reached or a better solution is thought of.