When people talk about the civil rights movement, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous speech “I have a dream” by Martin Luther King. His dream in short was to have equality among human beings. For the past thirty years, this country has been revolutionizing humanitarianism because there is greater concern for human welfare than one hundred years ago. The revolution began during the 1960’s, and during that era this country was drastically involved in changing the civil rights of minority groups. From this concern, a program called affirmative action evolved. Like other civil right movements, the affirmative action movement was implemented to promote equality.
Like some Americans, I am strangely confused when anyone talks about affirmative action. The reason that I have such confusion is the way people word the term affirmative action. If you ask one person who is in favor of affirmative action, his or her response is going to be different from someone who is against it. So when I am asked what I think about affirmative action, my answer seems to be twisted because I really don’t know what affirmative action is. The only exposure I have had to the term affirmative action is that which is taught in the classroom. Since this was such a controversial subject, the scope was very narrow, mostly terms. My key understanding is that of a definition, which I can hardly recall. I don’t know whether affirmative action is a law or if it is a subset of a bunch of different laws that were passed during the civil rights movement. I am also unaware if people protected under this program like the special treatment if there is any.
My attempts to answer the question of what I think I know start with the idea that since affirmative action evolved from the civil rights movement, its aim is to protect certain minority groups as well as women. I think that the idea is used in a business context because there are other discriminatory laws in place to protect outside of work. I can remember from past schooling that there was a Supreme Court case that a white male sued a school institution because he was anti discriminated against because the school had a affirmative action program in place.
I would like to know exactly what affirmative action is and then decide a stance on whether I support or oppose the use of affirmative action programs. The main reason that I want to know this is because I am a white male and I need to know if I am just competing with other job applicants or with the government. As soon as I graduate from college I want to know what I am up against when I apply for a job. Lets suppose that I go out and apply for a job, and get into a finial interview because I along with one other person was the most qualified. However, after that last interview my employment possibilities are rejected because the company has to hire a woman to meet some status set by the government. This is why I want to know this. The second and less serious reason that I want a stance on affirmative action is because it makes good conversation at tea parties and business gatherings.
My research began when I caught the last two minutes of a television program aired on TLC. During that last two minutes I heard a brief testimony of a white American man that was outraged because he had to hire a less qualified person because of the affirmative action policy. At that point I knew that I had to know about this affirmative action. That night I turned on my computer and started searching the web for this affirmative action policy. My search started on yahoo.com where I typed affirmative action in the search box. My search produced 77 different site matches that listed the term affirmative action in the title. I started finding out what affirmative action was; however none of the sites published information against affirmative action. I did however find an article from the Washington Post, which stated that there was a debate of affirmative action: “Angry white men blame affirmative action for robbing them of promotions and other opportunities” (Foomkin). So this got me in a mind set that maybe white American men are discriminated against. My research led me to go to a to find the historical events of the implementation of affirmative action and what it was. Because I could not find that much information about the opposition of affirmative action, I knew that I had too go to the library. While I was down at Metro, I found only one library book about business ethics, which had only a short chapter about affirmative action. I knew that wasn’t enough, so I went to the Jefferson County library where I found a book about the end of affirmative action. The interview was the last step and I knew that it would be hard. I took a different approach to the interview. Instead of interviewing a white male, I decided to interview an African American to determine their viewpoint on affirmative action.
What is affirmative action actually? According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, the term affirmative action refers to a policy or program that seeks to redress past discrimination by increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups. In 1954 the Supreme Court decided in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that segregating schooling based upon race was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court rejected the older doctrine that stated that separate but equal institutions were legally acceptable (Shaw and Berry, 416). The decision by the Supreme Court to eliminate segregation helped launch the civil rights movement in this country. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 which stated
the contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. Such action shall include, but not be limited to, the following: employment, upgrading, demotion or transfer; recruitment or recruitment advertising; layoff or termination; rates of pay or other forms of compensation; and selection for training, including apprenticeship. (Parker)
Following the Executive order the Civil Rights Act was passed, including Title VII that prohibits employment discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Within one year, another Executive Order was developed and delivered by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Executive Order 11246 instructed contractors to develop positive action, aimed at undoing the grossest inequities of past discrimination, a schedule for how such actions were to take place, and an honest appraisal of what the plan would be likely to yield. Affirmative action goals, then, were to be accompanied by timetables intended to serve as gauges for assessing progress toward the stated goals (Parker). The intent in setting hiring goals for affirmative actions was to articulate where the organization was going, and to be able to assess whether it was getting there. President Johnson wanted minorities and women to have better protection above the discrimination laws in place at the time. Within the next ten years, the development of Affirmative action was ongoing. In the early 1970’s, President Ford added the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974. Years later President Carter created an office to handle affirmative action cases that dealt with the contract aspects of the original Affirmative action plan, and called it the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all forms of discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, or national origin (Shaw and Berry, 416). Title VII basically states that all individuals have the right to employment without racial or sexual consideration affecting employment decisions. Therefore, affirmative action itself contradicts Title VII, because it violates the right of white men to be considered for employment without regard to race or sexual considerations. For example, a Caucasian and African American both go in for an interview for same job position at the same company. The Caucasian man attended a prestigious and highly academic university, had years of work experience in the field and had the potential to make a positive impact on the company’s performance. The second person was just starting out in the field and seemed to lack the ambition that was visible in his opponent. “Who was chosen for the job?” you ask. Well, if the interview took place before 1964, the answer would be obvious. However, with the somewhat recent adoption of the social policy known as affirmative action, the answer becomes unclear.
Discrimination will not go away by forcing companies to put in a program that selectively picks applicants based upon their race or sex. When a company does this, it is setting itself up for internal problems with workers that already work there. Any idea of discrimination or racism that already exists in the workers may be heightened instead of lessened. The idea that your coworker didn't have to score as high on the test, meet the same requirements, or have as much schooling as you because they received preferential treatment is going to cause some people to feel a bit enraged. In a business where a person's physical skills are an important part of the job, such as heavy machinery, hiring a less qualified person could cause internal problems because other employees may feel unsafe. Would you want someone working a crane around you if they barely passed the test for operations? From an administrative standpoint, the management may also feel a negative attitude toward being forced to hire someone who they know doesn't fit the job, but some sort of government program is telling them too. This could cause internal conflict at even the management level toward the workers.
The average business number one goal is to maximize profits. To reach this goal, this business would naturally hire the most competent man or woman for the job, whether they are black or white or any other race. Why would a businessman intentionally cause his business to lose money by hiring a poorly qualified worker? Most wouldn’t. With this in mind, it seems unnecessary to employ any policy that would cause the business to do otherwise. It forces an employer, who needs to meet a quota established by the government, to hire the minority, no matter whom is more qualified. Another way that affirmative action deducts from a company’s profits happens by forcing them to create jobs for minorities. This occurs when a company does not meet its quota with existing employees and has to find places to put minorities. These jobs are often unnecessary, and force a company to pay for workers that they do not need. Now, don’t get the impression that affirmative action is only present in the work place.
Affirmative action is also very powerful in education. Just as a white male employee needs more credentials to get a job than his minority opponent, a white male student needs more or better skills to get accepted at a prestigious university than a minority student. There are complete sections on college applications dedicated to race and ethnic background. Colleges must now have a completely diverse student body, even if that means some, more qualified students, must be turned away. A perfect example of this can be found at the University of California at Berkeley. A 1995 report released by the university said that 9.7% of all accepted applicants were African American. Only 0.8% of these African American students were accepted by academic criteria alone. 36.8% of the accepted applicants were white. Of these accepted white students, 47.9% were accepted on academic criteria alone. That means that approximately sixty times more African Americans students were accepted due to non-academic influences than white students. It seems hard to believe that affirmative action wasn’t one these outside influences. Another interesting fact included in the 1995 report said that the average grade point average for a rejected white student was 3.66 with an average SAT score of 1142. The average grade point average for an accepted African American student was 3.66 with a 1030 average SAT score. These stunning facts show just how many competent, if not gifted students fall between the cracks as a direct result of affirmative action (McWhirter, 237).
The admittance of a student for educational purposes without having to meet the same requirements as the whole seems to me to be a bit discriminative in nature. A popular case that has occurred in our history was that of Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (1978). Allan Bakke is a white man who applied for admission to the medical school at the University of California at Davis. In this case the University had reserved 16 of its 100 openings for minorities. The other 64 slots had already been filled, but because Bakke was not a minority, his admittance was denied, even though he was more qualified than his minority competitors (Shaw and Berry, 418).
Supporters of affirmative action asked, ”why not let the government help them get better jobs and education?” After all, the white man was responsible for their suffering. While this may all be true, there is another question to be asked. Are we truly responsible for the years of persecution that the African Americans were submitted to? The answer to the question is yes and no. It is true that the white man is partly responsible for the suppression of the African- American race. However, the individual white male is not. It is just as unfair and suppressive to hold many white males responsible for past persecution now, as it was to discriminate against many African-Americans in the generations before. Why should an honest, hard working, open minded, white male be suppressed, today, for past injustice? Affirmative action accepts and condones the idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Do two wrongs make a right?
Affirmative action supporters make one large assumption when defending the policy. They assume that minority groups want help. This, however, may not always be the case. My experience with minorities has led me to believe that they fought to attain equality, not special treatment. To them, the acceptance of special treatment is an admittance of inferiority. I composed an interview with Don Grandstaff who is a middle aged African American. During the course of the interview he stated that “Why can’t I become successful on my own? Why do I need laws to help me get a job?” Mr. Grandstaff stated he along with others wanted to be treated as equals, not as incompetents (23. April 2000). “Do you believe that since blacks in the past suffered from discrimination that this country needs affirmative action to permit fair competition?” I asked. Mr. Grandstaff stated that there are also a lot of disadvantages white males, and it is not the employers responsibility to investigate who overcame the most obstacles. I gave him a quotation from supporters of affirmative action that stated “affirmative action is in place because the government feels that blacks and women have been hampered by discrimination and from this they lack self-confidence and self-respect” (Shaw and Berry, 420). Mr. Grandstaff couldn’t believe that is what people think of black people (23. April 2000). Although I can’t use Mr. Grandstaff’s beliefs as a generalization for the entire population of African American’s, I believe that his testimony proves that some African American’s don’t want any type of special treatment.
Well, I believe that the problem has been identified; affirmative action is becoming a form of reverse discrimination. It is now time for the doctor to prescribe a potential remedy. Society should work towards broad based economic policies like public investment, national health reform, an enlarged income tax credit, child support assurance, and other policies benefiting families with young children. Widely supported programs that promote the interests of both lower and middle class Americans that deliver benefits to minorities and whites on the basis of their economic status, and not their race or ethnicity, will do more to reduce minority poverty than the current, narrowly based, poorly supported policies that single out minority groups. However, if this, or another remedy is not taken sometime in the near future, and affirmative action continues to separate minority groups from whites, we can be sure to see racial tension reach points that our history has never seen.
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