Affirmative action in America refers to policies that take ethnicity, race, and gender into consideration in an effort to encourage equal opportunity. It started as a device to deal with the enduring discriminations among African-Americans in the 1960s. Focusing particularly on jobs and education, affirmative action policies mandated that active measures should be taken to make sure that blacks and other minorities benefited from equal opportunities for financial aid, scholarships, school admissions, career advancement, salary increase, and promotions that had been practically the whites’ exclusive province.
The thrust towards affirmative action is twofold; including the rectification as a result of involuntary, institutional, or blatant discrimination, and the maximization of the advantages of diversity in every levels of society. In 1964, the landmark legislation of Civil Rights Act was signed into law, which prohibited employment discrimination by large employers, regardless of their previous contracts with the government.
President Johnson developed and enforced for the first time the country’s affirmative action through the Executive Order 11246 of 1965 and amended it in 1967 through Executive Order 11246 requiring every government contractors and subcontractors to observe affirmative action so as to expand employment opportunities for ethnic minorities and women. However, the 1978 decision of the United States Supreme Court in the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U. S.
912 ruled illegal the practice of the University Medical School of setting aside 18 seats for minority students in every incoming class of 100, but upheld the use of race as one aspect in selecting qualified applicants for admission. Opposition to affirmative action has resulted to numerous legal challenges, which required local and states governments to draw on more comprehensive evidence of inequalities to validate the need for the programs. In 1998, both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives prevented efforts to abolish particular programs of affirmative action.
Amendments to eliminate the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program sponsored through the Transportation Bill were rejected by both houses, and the upper house rejected an endeavor to abolish the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions programs supported through the Higher Education Act. Throughout these periods, affirmative action has been both ridiculed and praised as a response to racial inequalities. The opinions of the Supreme Court justices in affirmative action cases have been generally divided partly because of conflicting political beliefs but moreover because the issue is basically so complicated.
But in 2003, the landmark case involving the affirmative action policies of University of Michigan, which became one of the most imperative rulings on the issue in 25 years, the Supreme Court finally and positively supported higher education’s right of affirmative action. The Court held as constitutional the use of race, among other aspects, of the University of Michigan in its law school admissions program given that the program advanced a compelling interest in achieving an educational advantage that flows from the diversity of student body.
At present, statistics proved that affirmative action has helped strengthen the black professionals’ ranks, yet African-American in general has been left behind. Notwithstanding all the discussions of the establishment of a black middle class, the position of the black community to white American has relatively remained the same. As such, affirmative action must be continually asserted to put in place mandatory and voluntary efforts by local, state, and federal governments, schools, and private employers to combat inequalities and encourage fair hiring and promotions of qualified individuals.
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