Affirmative Action

Affirmative action has been debated more intensely than at any other time in its 35-year history. Many supporters view affirmative action as a milestone, many opponents see it as a millstone, and many others regard it as both or neither -- as a necessary, but imperfect, remedy for an intractable social disease.

Myth 1 The only way to create a color-blind society is to adopt color-blind policies.
Although this statement sounds intuitively plausible, the reality is that color-blind policies often put racial minorities at a disadvantage.

Myth 2 Affirmative action has not succeeded in increasing female and minority representation. Several studies have documented important gains in racial and gender equality as a direct result of affirmative action (Bowen  Bok, 1998 Murrell  Jones, 1996).

Myth 3 Affirmative action may have been necessary 30 years ago, but the playing field is fairly level today. Despite the progress that has been made, the playing field is far from level. Women continue to earn 76 cents for every male dollar (Bowler, 1999).

Myth 4 The public doesnt support affirmative action anymore. Public opinion polls suggest that the majority of Americans support affirmative action, especially when the polls avoid an all-or-none choice between affirmative action as it currently exists and no affirmative action whatsoever. As these results indicate, most members of the public oppose racial preferences that violate notions of procedural justice -- they do not oppose affirmative action.

Myth 5 A large percentage of White workers will lose out if affirmative action is continued. Government statistics do not support this myth. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, there are 1.3 million unemployed Black civilians and 112 million employed White civilians (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000).

Myth 6 If Jewish people and Asian Americans can rapidly advance economically, African Americans should be able to do the same. This comparison ignores the unique history of discrimination against Black people in America. Jews and Asians, on the other hand, are populations that immigrated to North America and included doctors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs among their ranks.

Myth 7 You cant cure discrimination with discrimination. The problem with this myth is that it uses the same word to describe two very different things. Job discrimination is grounded in prejudice and exclusion, whereas affirmative action is an effort to overcome prejudicial treatment through inclusion. The most effective way to cure society of exclusionary practices is to make special efforts at inclusion, which is exactly what affirmative action does.

Myth 8 Affirmative action tends to undermine the self-esteem of women and racial minorities. Although affirmative action may have this effect in some cases (Heilman, Simon,  Repper, 1987 Steele, 1990), interview studies and public opinion surveys suggest that such reactions are rare (Taylor, 1994). Indeed, in many cases affirmative action may actually raise the self-esteem of women and minorities by providing them with employment and opportunities for advancement.

Myth 9 Affirmative action is nothing more than an attempt at social engineering by liberal Democrats. In truth, affirmative action programs have spanned nine different presidential administrations. Thus, affirmative action has traditionally enjoyed the support of Republicans as well as Democrats.

Myth 10 Support for affirmative action means support for preferential selection procedures that favor unqualified candidates over qualified candidates. Even though these selection procedures occasionally blend into one another (due in part to the difficulty of comparing incommensurable records), a few general observations can be made. First, of the four different procedures, the selection of women and minority members among equal or roughly comparable candidates has the greatest public support, adheres most closely to popular conceptions of fairness, and reduces the chances that affirmative action beneficiaries will be perceived as unqualified or undeserving (Kravitz  Platania, 1993 Nacoste, 1985 Turner  Pratkanis, 1994). Second, the selection of women and minority members among unequal candidates -- used routinely in college admissions -- has deeply divided the nation (with the strongest opposition coming from White males and conservative voters.) And finally, the selection of unqualified candidates is not permitted under federal affirmative action guidelines and should not be equated with legal forms of affirmative action. By distinguishing among these four different selection procedures, it becomes clear that opposition to stronger selection procedures need not imply opposition to milder ones.

Unemployment figures, particularly relating to racial minorities and women, have continued to climb in America since the Great Depression, with only a brief reprieve during World War II. Under President Harry Truman, Congress passed the Full Employment Act in 1946 to show governments commitment to providing employment opportunities to all Americans. However, as racial strife began to explode beyond the confines of the rural and urban ghettos in the 1960s and early 1960s, it was apparent that a more strident, encompassing plan was needed. It came in the form of what is called Affirmative Action. The purpose of this paper will be to discuss this plan and its necessity and weaknesses in light of todays prevailing racial and sexual inequalities.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, as part of his campaign for civil rights that began during the Kennedy Administration, spearheaded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress. Under the Act, Title VII specifically prohibited discrimination based an race, color, religion, sex or national origin in all employment practices, including hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, and provision of benefits (U.S. Commission on..., 1982, p. 2). Following its Passage with the Equal Pay Act which forbade employers from maintaining different pay scales for men and women who perform equal work.

These laws were revolutionary in the fact that they challenged longstanding practices which limited employment opportunities for minorities such as Jewish Americans or Japanese and Chinese Americans, who have all suffered discrimination, now have better income than whites (Beer, 1987, p. 64). It has never been shown that discrimination is the sole cause of statistical disparity it has never been shown that statistical disparity is an acceptable criterion for defining the problem of (discrimination) (Beer, 1987, p. 64). Such information asks the question whether affirmative action is the correct approach in resolving inequality in the work place. Then there is the concern about preferential treatment and the damage it may cause to those who suffer its consequences. Simultaneously, those who are beneficiaries of the program may come to question their own self-worth, to wonder if they really made it on their own or whether sex or ethnicity factored into their success. Opinion polls have shown that the American public accepts affirmative action in its nondiscriminatory, original concept. However, a 1984 poll conducted by Gallup revealed that Americans definitely are opposed to reverse discrimination (Beer, 1987, p. 65). It found that only ten percent endorsed preferential treatment, while eighty-four percent asserted that ability should be the main considered.

Are you for or against Affirmative Action as a strategy by which to address the historical legacy of inequalities in employment and

Some writers have criticized affirmative action as a superficial solution that does not address deeper societal problems by redistributing wealth and developing true educational equality. Yet affirmative action was never proposed as a cure-all solution to inequality.


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