Affirmative Action: An Unnecessary Evil
Affirmative action refers to the U.S. program set forth in the early 1970's to correct the effects of past discrimination by giving preferential treatment to women and ethnic minorities in the workplace. At the time of their induction, proponents of affirmative action programs felt that the only way to increase the number of minorities in the workplace was to establish a system of quotas to be maintained by law. However, by forming and maintaining these laws over the past twenty-five years, we have developed an entirely new set of problems. These problems are what fuels the controversy over affirmative action. Most people are dissatisfied with current affirmative action policies, but are opposed to eliminating them completely: "Americans hold doggedly to notions of family and liberty, but they also believe in a sort of rough equality of opportunity that gives the underdog a real chance in life" (Kahlenberg 209). Once a necessary evil, affirmative action programs have outlived their usefulness, and promote discrimination by continuing to allow for unfair hiring practices.
The primary goal of affirmative action programs was to increase the number of minorities in the workplace. Most people would agree that that goal has been realized. There was a definite need for action to enlighten individuals and corporations to the negative results of their prejudices. It is unlikely that corporations would have taken the initiative to hire from the minority groups, had it not been for government intervention. Affirmative action has created numerous opportunities for women and minorities in this country. It would be difficult to argue that these programs were not absolutely essential in making progress toward equality that we have made today. However, affirmative action has always been a compromise, and with the progress made, a price has also been paid. Affirmative action must now be rethought and restructured. The preference programs were created by laws that: "were based in the conscience of the American people and in their commitment to equal treatment. The racial quotas that we experience today are blatant perversions that are illegal under the statutory language of the Civil Rights Act" (Roberts & Stratton 67). If our goal is true equal opportunity employment, we must remove all advantages and for the first time allow people to be hired for their skills and abilities only.
By continuing to allow for unfair hiring practices, affirmative action programs promote discrimination. Using discrimination to solve the problem of discrimination will always receive criticism for its hypocrisy. By requiring corporations to fulfill quotas, the affirmative action laws promote the hiring of less qualified workers. For example, in 1965, the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. buckled under the heavy hand of the EEOC, who had solicited complaints by knocking on the doors in black neighborhoods. The company reluctantly agreed to promote 2,890 of its five thousand black workers, designate 100 blacks as supervisors, and agreed to a quota system. One shipyard worker stated that the EEOC had done its best to "set black against white, labor against management, and disconcert everybody. (Roberts & Stratton 93). This creates animosities between workers that leads to further segregation, defeating the intentions of the programs entirely. Affirmative action programs also diminish the accomplishments of the women and minorities who achieved their success not through special circumstances, but by hard work and determination. However capable these individuals may be, it will more that likely be assumed that he or she was hired to fulfill a quota. This is an unfair and inevitable result of the attitudes created by these programs.
Probably the most unintentional, but definitely the most disturbing negative result of affirmative action is that the benefits of the programs are available to, and being used by, millions of immigrants and foreign visitors. "Because affirmative action is keyed to race and ethnicity without regard to American nationality, foreign citizens routinely get special consideration as if they shared a history of U.S. discrimination with blacks and select other native minorities" (Robb). Corporations that are participating in preference programs rarely check a prospective employees citizenship, therefore displacing a member of the group that the programs were intended for. This practice is now protected by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1896. In that bill, Congress made it illegal to bar immigrants from employment solely on the basis of their nationality.
Affirmative action has never been a perfect solution and people will always have valid arguments for maintaining its existence. But, to continue to offer one group opportunity, due only to their minority status, at the expense of another is wrong. Non-minorities continue to feel that their rights have been violated and that they are being punished for crimes that they had no part in committing. And when non-minorities are subject to the same discrimination, they have little recourse: "Under the 1991 Civil Rights Act, white males can have no grounds for discrimination lawsuits until they are statistically underrepresented in management and line positions. The 1991 act, in effect, repealed the 1964 act by legalizing racial preferences as the core of civil rights law" (Roberts & Stratton). Regardless of our good intentions, changing the past effects of discrimination is an unattainable goal. Women and minorities should be entitled to enjoy the same successes as the rest of the country, without the fear of being seen as the beneficiary of entitlements. Business owners should be free to make intelligent hiring decisions based on a persons skills and talents, without the fear of penalty from the government. As Marsha M. states, "Affirmative action is used not to level the playing field, but used to strong-arm employer s into jobs, raises and promotions for Black Americans and women". The growing tensions that result from these programs continues to divide races, not bring them closer together. Allowing different sets of rules and lower standards to separate people based on race or sex, defeats any efforts made toward finally ending discrimination. "Ultimately, either quotas will go or democracy will, because legal privileges based on status are incompatible with democracy's requirement of equal standing before the law" (Roberts & Stratton 177).
Affirmative action has had its time and served its purpose in our country. However, to eliminate the programs entirely, without improving our educational system at all levels, would be disastrous. People often use the term "level-playing field" when referring to the issue of affirmative action. How can we use that term as a future goal when minorities are subject to inferior education systems that completely fail to offer the proper classes and training necessary to compete in academic admissions or employment? The government should redirect it's energies from enforcing quotas to emphasizing the importance of an education; and then guarantee safe, top quality schooling for children in all neighborhoods. The opportunity to learn and to acquire marketable skills should be available to everyone. The ignorance that allows for discrimination cannot be eliminated through legislation, only through education.
Kahlenberg, Richard D. The Remedy. New York; BasicBooks, 1996.
Roberts, Paul Craig., and Lawrence M. Stratton. The New Color Line. Washington, DC; Regnery Publishing, 1995.
"The Most Bizarre Affirmative Action Abuse Yet." National Review Nov. 1995: n. pag. http://pw2.netcom.com/ jimrobb/NR-article.html
M., Marsha. "Untitled". Tidewater Community college. November 1998.