Affirmative Action

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There are thousands of examples of situations where people of color, white

women, and working class women and men of all races who were previously excluded

from jobs or educational opportunities, or were denied opportunities once admitted, have

gained access through affirmative action. When these policies received executive branch

and judicial support, vast numbers of people of color, white women and men have gained

access they would not otherwise have had. These gains have led to very real changes.

Affirmative action programs have not eliminated racism, nor have they always been

implemented without problems. However, there would be no struggle to roll back the

gains achieved if affirmative action policies were ineffective. Affirmative action is not

about opening opportunities for unqualified individuals, but instead is designed to

increase the number of qualified applicants for employment, no matter what gender or

race they may happen to be.

     “ Affirmative action is not about quotas. It’s an attempt to open more

opportunities for women and people of color through aggressive recruitment and outreach

greater access to academic institutions and the work place and not exclude people on the

basis of race or gender (Holhut3). Affirmative action in the employment status consist of

publicizing job notices in places where everyone can see: recruitment: eliminating

discriminatory hiring and setting goals towards increasing opportunities for those that

were previously discriminated against. However, Affirmative action programs not only

take steps for women and minorities, but also disabled veterans, and emotionally and

economically disabled.
     Affirmative action measures were established to fight racial discrimination. The

federal government mandated affirmative action programs to redress racial inequality and

injustice in a series of steps beginning with an executive order issued by president

Kennedy in 1961 (Thomas4). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination illegal

and established equal employment opportunity for all Americans regardless of race,

cultural differences, colo or religion. Subsequent executive orders in particular executive

order11246 issued by President Johnson in September 1965, mandated affirmative action

goals for all federally funded programs and moved monitoring and enforcement of

affirmative action programs out of the White House and into the labor department

(Holhut3). These policies and the government action that followed were a response to

the tremendous mobilization of African Americans and white supporters during the late

1950’s and early 1960’s pushing for integration and racial justice (Kivel2).

     An area that affirmative action address is selective hiring programs. Many times

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people of color have been excluded from hiring pools, overly discriminated against,

unfairly eliminated because of inappropriate qualification standards, or have been

rendered unqualified because of the discrimination in education and housing. Court

decisions such as Adarand versus Pena dealing with affirmative action issues have been

rendered illegal these qualifications that are not relevant to ones ability on the job. They

have mandated hiring goals so that those employed begin to reflect the racial mix of the

general population which workers are drawn (Thomas3). There is a mandate that is

choosing between qualified candidates; the hiring preference should be for a person of

color when past discrimination has resulted in whit people receiving selective treatment.

     Sometimes people argue that affirmative action means that the most qualified

person will not be hired. However, it has been demonstrated many times in hiring and

academic recruitment that test and educational qualifications are not necessarily the best

predictors of the future success. This does not mean unqualified people should be hired.

It means qualified people who may not have the highest test scores or grades, but who are

ready to do the job may be hired(Lopez5). Employers have traditionally hired people not

only on test scores, but personal appearance, personal connections, school ties and on

race and gender preferences, demonstrating that talent or desirability can be defined in

many ways. These practices have all contributed to a segregated work force where

whites hold the best jobs, and people of color work in the least desirable and most poorly

paid jobs. Affirmative action policies serve as a corrective to such patterns of

discrimination. They show progress toward equal representation and place the burdens of

proof on organizations to show why it is not possible to achieve it.

     It has been argued that affirmative action benefits people of color who are already

well off or have middle class advantages, not the poor and working class people of color

who most need it. A more careful observation reveals that affirmative action programs

have benefited substantial numbers of poor and working class people of color. Access to

job training programs, vocational schools, and semi-skilled and skilled blue-collar, craft,

pink-collar, police and firefighter jobs has increased substantially through affirmative

action programs. Even in the professions, many people of color who have benefited from

affirmative action have been from families of low income and job status.

     Another argument raised against affirmative action is that individual white

people, especially white males, have to pay for past discrimination and may not get the

jobs they deserve. It is true that specific white people may not get specific job

opportunities because of affirmative action policies and may not suffer as a result. This

lack of opportunity is unfortunate; the structural factors which produce a lack of decent

jobs needs to be addressed. It must not be forgotten that millions of specific people of

color have also specific job opportunities as a result of racial discrimination. “ To be

concerned only with the white applicants who don’t get the job, and not with the people

who don’t, is showing racial preference (Greenberg1).”

     But how true is it that white males are being discriminated against or are losing

out because of affirmative action programs? If one looks at the compositions of various

professions such as law, medicine, architecture, academics, and journalism, or at

corporate management, or at higher-level government positions. If one looks overall at

the average income levels of white men immediately notices that people of color are still

significantly underrepresented and underpaid in every category. People of color don’t

make up the proportions of these jobs even remotely equal to their percentage of the

population. They don’t earn wages comparable to white men. White men are

tremendously over represented in almost any category of work that is highly rewarded

except for professional athletics. According to a 1995 government report, white males

make up only 29 percent of the workforce, but they hold 95 percent of senior

management positions (“Affirmative action4”). Until there is both equak opportunity and

fair distribution of education, training and advancement to all Americans, affirmative

action for people of color will be necessary to counter the hundreds of years of

affirmative action that has been directed at white males. It cannot reasonably be argued

that white males are discriminated against as a group if they are over represented in most

high status categories (Scoggins6).

     Affirmative action programs have been effective in many areas of public life

because they opened up opportunities for people who would not otherwise have them,

including white women and men. Attacks on affirmative action are part of a systematic

attempt to roll back progress in ending discrimination and to curtail a broad social

commitment to justice and equality. Attacking affirmative action is self-destructive for

all of us except the rich (“ Affirmative Action”). Affirmative action is not a cure-all. It

will not eliminate racial discrimination, nor will it eliminate competition for scarce

resources. Affirmative action programs can only ensure that every one has a fair chance

at what is available.



Works cited

“ Affirmative action.” History of Affirmative Action. Online. Norview Lib. Internet

     March 22,1999.

“ Affirmative Action.” What is Affirmative Action. Online. Norview Lib. Internet

     March 22, 1999.

Greenberg, David. “ Affirmative Action. “ Beltway Watch. Online. Norview Lib.

     Internet. March 22, 1999.

Holhut, Randolph. The Hottest of the Hot Button: Racism and Affirmative Action.

     Online. Norview Lib. Internet. 1996. March 22, 1999.


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