Affirmative action works. 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. The implementation of affirmative
action was America’s first honest attempt at solving a problem, it had
previously chosen to ignore. In a variety of areas, from the quality of health
care to the rate of employment, blacks still remain far behind whites. Their
representation in the more prestigious professions is still almost
insignificant. Comparable imbalances exist for other racial and ethnic
minorities as well as for women. Yet, to truly understand the importance of
affirmative action, one must look at America’s past discrimination to see why,
at this point in history, we must become more “color conscious”.

History Of Discrimination In America: Events Leading To Affirmative Action. The
Declaration of Independence asserts that “all men are created equal.”
Yet America is scarred by a long history of legally imposed inequality. Snatched
from their native land, transported thousands of miles-in a nightmare of disease
and death-and sold into slavery, blacks in America were reduced to the legal
status of farm animals. A Supreme Court opinion, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857),
made this official by classifying slaves as a species of “private
property.” Even after slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in
1865, American blacks, other minorities, and women continued to be deprived of
some of the most elementary right of citizenship. During the Reconstruction,
after the end of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868,
making blacks citizens and promised them the “equal protection of the
laws.” In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, which gave blacks the
right to vote. Congress also passed a number of civil rights laws barring
discrimination against blacks in hotels, theaters, and other places. However,
the South reacted by passing the “Black Codes, ” which severely
limited the rights of the newly freed slaves, preventing them in most states
from testifying in courts against whites, limiting their opportunities to find
work, and generally assigning them to the status of second or third class
citizen. White vigilante groups like the Klu Klux Klan began to appear, by
murdering and terrorizing blacks who tried to exercise their new rights.

“Legal” ways were also found for circumventing the new laws; these
included “grandfather clauses”, poll taxes, white only primary
elections, and constant social discrimination against and intimidation of
blacks, who were excluded form education and from any job except the most
menial. In 1883, the Supreme Court declared a key civil rights statute, one that
prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, unconstitutional. And in
1896, Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 [1896]), the Court declared that the
state of Louisiana had the right to segregate their races in every public
facility. Thus began the heyday of “Jim Crow” legislation. In Justice
John Marshall Harlan’s lone dissent, he realized it was a mockery. He wrote,
” We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our peoples above all other peoples.

But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which,
practically, puts a brand of servitude and degregation upon a large class of our
fellow citizens, our equals before the law. This thin disguise of ‘equal’
accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, or
atone for the wrong this day done.” Not until sixty years later, in Brown
v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (347 U.S. 483 [1954]), was Plessy
overturned. Chief Justice earl Warren declared the unanimous opinion of the
court by saying: “We cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment
was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written.” In
today’s world, “separate educational facilities are inherently
unequal.” This decision sparked racial tensions all across America. in
1957, President Eisenhower had to call federal troops into Little Rock,
Arkansas, after the state’s governor forcibly barred black children from
entering white schools. In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested and fined, for not
moving to the back of a public bus, setting a pattern of boycotts by black of
bus companies. And a number of “sit in” were being held by blacks in
still segregated restaurants in the South. Responding to those and other
incidents, Congress passed a variety of new laws, including the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The
Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly titles VI and VII, seem to prohibit any
form of racial discrimination. Affirmative action existed in obscurity for years
before current-day affirmative action was executed after President Lyndon B.

Johnson signed Executive Order 11246. As conceived, current day affirmative
action was to promote greater equality of opportunity by expanding access and
increasing inclusiveness. President Johnson, in his 4 June 1964 commencement
speech at Howard University, addressed the motivation behind Executive Order
11246, which he signed into law a few months after this speech. He said,
“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and
liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are
free to compete with all the others’ and still justly believe that you have been
completely fair.” Adding, he said that the U.S. must have “not just
equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a
result.” (Pinkerton, James P. “Ending Quotas Should Help End
Racism” in Los Angeles Times, 4 June 1995, p. M5) In 1969, the Department
of Labor exposed widespread racial discrimination of the Construction Department
so President Richard M. Nixon decided to incorporate a system of “goals and
timetables” to evaluate federal construction companies according to
affirmative action. This idea of “goals and timetables” provided
guidelines for companies to follow and comply with affirmative action
regulations. During the presidency of Gerald R. Ford, he extended affirmative
action to people with disabilities and Vietnam veterans but there were no goals
or timetables for these two groups. This type of affirmative action required
recruitment efforts, accessibility, accommodation and reviews of physical and
mental job qualifications. President Jimmy Carter consolidated all federal
agencies that were required by law to follow the affirmative action play into
the Department of Labor. Before Carter did this, each agency handled affirmative
action in its own individual way, some were not as consistent as other agencies
were. He created the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP) in
1978 to ensure compliance with the affirmative action policies. The first
Supreme Court case to directly deal with affirmative action was Regents of
California v. Bakke (438 U.S. 265 [1978]). Alan Bakke, a white male, was turned
down for admission, even though his test scores and grades were higher that
those of some candidates admitted through a “special” program. Bakke
argued that he was a victim of reverse discrimination because he was white. Four
members of the Supreme Court took the view that admission to a state medical
school must be on a completely “color blind” basis; another four
contended that “a racial criteria may be used by a state for the purpose of
overcoming the chronic minority underrepresentation in the medical
profession.” The remaining justice, Lewis Powel, had the controlling
opinion in the case. Powell agreed in part with both sides. He believed that a
“legitimate justification might exist for using race as a criterion in
medical school admission,” yet he opposed “explicit” racial
classifications. Another landmark case about affirmative action was United
Steelworkers of America v. Weber (433 U.S. 193 [1979]). Unlike Bakke, Weber
deals with a private company who voluntarily creates a affirmative action
policy. Brian Weber, a white worker, was passed over for admission to a training
program in favor for a black worker less seniority. He bought suit under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court ruled against Weber on
two grounds: 1) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was aimed at relieving the plight
of blacks, not whites 2) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “did not intend
wholly to prohibit private and voluntary affirmative action efforts.”
Affirmative action began to go downhill when Ronald Reagan and later George Bush
came into office. Affirmative action lost some gains it had made and was more or
less ignored by the Republicans in the White House and in Congress. Affirmative
action was silently being “killed” by our federal administrators. But
among this destruction there was one positive aspect, the passage of Americans
with Disabilities Act of 1990. Finally to the Presidency of Bill Clinton. The
Republicans are attempting to scare people into changing their party lines by
misusing affirmative action. They are saying that affirmative action is nothing
more than a quota or reverse discrimination. President Clinton supports
affirmative action, but he clearly states: “I’m against quotas. I’m against
reverse discrimination. I’m against giving anybody unqualified anything they’re
not qualified for. But I am for making a conscious effort to bring the American
people together.” (Speech on September 4, 1995, quoted by Michael K. Frisby,
Wall Street Journal, September 6, 1995, p. A4). Further, President Clinton
added: The purpose of affirmative action is to give our nation a way to finally
address the systemic exclusion of individuals of talent, on the basis of their
gender or race, from opportunities to develop, perform, achieve and contribute.

Affirmative action is an effort to develop a systematic approach to open the
doors of education, employment, and business development opportunities to
qualified individuals who happen to be members of groups that have experienced
long-standing and persistent discrimination. (New York Times, “Excerpts
From Clinton Talk on Affirmative Action” July 20, 1995, p. A9). Affirmative
Action Today. Affirmative action has had its greatest amount of success in city,
state, and government jobs. Since the 1960s the area of law enforcement
witnessed the greatest increase in minority applicants, and in jobs offered to
minorities. This should be viewed as an extremely positive thing, because prior
to affirmative action these jobs were almost completely closed off to minorities
and woman. The influx has been greatest in the area of government, state and
city, because this type of work is easier for affirmative action to watch over
and regulate. Affirmative action has experienced considerably less success in
integration in big business. This is do to the fact that big business has been
more resistant to affirmative action and harder to regulate. I believe that
increasing minority and female applicant flow would be very easy for a company
to do. They simply need to include minority colleges and universities in campus
recruitment programs, place employment opportunities in minority oriented print
and broadcast media, and retain applications of unhired minority applicants to
be reviewed as a position opens. This would be a great opportunity for
applicants and employers. Affirmative action is also needed to help black women
to compete in today’s corporate world. Black women in corporate America are
still scarce: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s report for 1984,
among the classification “executive, administrative, managerial, and
professional, specialty,” there were only 1,474,000 black women 5.9% of the
total, as opposed to 22,250,000 white women, 91% of the total number of working
women in this category (Cyrus, Virginia. Experiencing Race, Class, and Gender in
the United States. Second Edition. 1997. p. 122). Another area affirmative
action addresses is preferential hiring programs. Many times people of color
have been excluded from hiring pools, overtly discriminated against, unfairly
eliminated because of inappropriate qualification standards, or have been
rendered unqualified because of discrimination in education and housing. Court
decisions on affirmative action have rendered illegal those qualifications that
are not relevant to one’s ability to do the job. They have also mandated hiring
goals so that those employed begin to reflect the racial mix of the general
population from which workers are drawn. There is no legal requirement to ever
hire an unqualified person. There is a mandate that in choosing between
qualified candidates, the hiring preference should be for a person of color when
past discrimination has resulted in white people receiving preferential
treatment. Sometimes people and companies argue that affirmative action means
the best 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 future success. This
does not mean unqualified people should be hired. It means basically qualified
people who may not have the highest test scores or grades, but who are ready to
do the job may be hired. Employers have traditionally hired people not only on
test scores, but on personal appearance, family and 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 positions. Affirmative action
policies serve as a corrective to such patterns of discrimination. They keep
score on progress toward proportional representation and place the burden of
proof on organizations to show why it is not possible to achieve it. Opponents
of affirmative action want to see the “most qualified” people be
hired, regardless of sex, race, age, etc. However, a person’s experience should
be taken into consideration during the hiring process and if certain groups are
blocked from competeing, when they are finally allowed to compete they may have
every other qualification, but will lack what they were blocked at competeing in
the first place (Cyrus, p. 265). While companies continue to permit
discrimination in the hiring process they are overlooking a very staggering
reality. According to a Workforce 2000 study by the Hudson Institute for the
U.S. Department of Labor., it is estimated that 85% of the 26 million net new
American workers in this decade will consist of women, minorities, and
immigrants. The companies that refuse to share power with those discriminated
against may be shooting themselves in the foot, compared to the companies who
choose and promote a more diversified workforce {Cyrus, p. 463). Another
argument raised against affirmative action is that individual white people,
often 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 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 lost 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 of color who don’t, I
believe, is also showing racial preference. But how true is it that white male
candidates are being discriminated against or are losing out because of
affirmative action programs? If one looks at the composition of various
professions such as law, medicine, architecture, academics and journalism, or at
corporate management, or at higher-level government positions or if one looks
overall at the average income levels of white men one 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 overrepresented 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 (Sklar,
Holly. Chaos or Community?:Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad
Economics.Boston. South End Press. 1995. p. 115). Until there is both equal
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 overrepresented in most high status categories.

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 everyone has a fair chance at
what is available. I believe, the larger question should be to ask is why are
there not enough decent paying, challenging and safe jobs for everyone? Why are
there not enough seats in the universities for everyone who wants an education?
Expanding opportunity for people of color means expanding not only their access
to existing jobs, education and housing , but also removing the obstacles that
cause them from obtaining their goals. I believe, affirmative action is the best
shot they have in order to achieve their dreams.

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