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Affirmative Action: A Need for Reform

The goal of affirmative action was not (or at least should not have been) to promote diversity.

The goal should have been to promote and ensure equality of opportunity for people regardless of

race, color, creed, gender or national origin. The system that has evolved since the civil rights

legislation of the 1960's is a misapplication of its original intent. Laws have been passed, quotas

have been established and seemingly, everything has been done to prevent discrimination, but

these new laws and quotas are only discriminating against a new group of people--the qualified

white male. The affirmative action system originally may have had a just intent, but I

sincerely believe it has been counterproductive in practice.

Affirmative action by design was intended to help minorities and women reach the same

levels of opportunity as the so-called majority, but in the process, reverse discrimination has

taken place. Graglia believes "affirmative action" has become simply a deceptive label for racial

preferences (31). This discrimination transgresses the basic American ideal that all people are

equal before the law and must be treated as individuals. With the mass media rarely recognizing

quotas much less portraying white males sympathetically, Peter Lynch, a sociological researcher,

states "white males have been silently victimized one by one" (qtd. in Brimelow and Spencer).

Now , in order to be employed, qualifications do not always matter as much as the color of a

person's skin or his ethnicity. Race and gender-based preferences have no place in an affirmative

action program. Race preferences were originally reserved for the approximately twelve-percent

of Americans who are black (O'Sullivan 22). Today their beneficiaries of racial preference

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include Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Alaskan natives and immigrants

who belong to the "protected classes." A whopping one-third of the population is currently

covered by race preferences--a figure that is predicted to inflate to about fifty-percent by the year

2050 since immigration from Third World countries is primarily responsible for transforming

America demographically (O'Sullivan 22). These statistics essentially mean that a white male is

now almost three times as likely to suffer officially imposed negative discrimination as he was

thirty years ago (O'Sullivan). Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream: "I have a dream that my four

little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin,

but by the content of their character." Affirmative action will never fulfill Martin Luther King

Jr.'s dream unless the program undergoes some reform. Is discrimination the solution to

resolving past discrimination? No, I don't believe so when it hurts others. Some people believe

that affirmative action is justified as a way of making up for past discrimination. Although

discrimination still exists in the United States, as it does in the rest of the world, most blacks

entering the job market today were born after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and have suffered little

prejudice when compared to their predecessors. In my opinion, affirmative action was a feeble

attempt to correct a long history of racial and sexual discrimination that seems to incite rather

than ease feelings of racial hostility.

Secondly, affirmative action promotes the hiring of less skilled workers. Affirmative action

sometimes forces employers to choose the best of the minority applicants, regardless of whether

they have the required skills, education or experience. Many colleges and universities frequently

also have quotas for how many blacks it is necessary to admit to "round out" their class

enrollments. Today's affirmative action can call for a college admissions officer faced with two

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similarly qualified applicants to choose the minority over the white, or for a manager to recruit

and hire a qualified woman for a job instead of a man. "Qualified" as defined by affirmative action

means minimally qualified (Koch 66). This guideline when applied in the real world, means that

whites and Asians--no matter how economically disadvantaged or educationally deprived--may

not compete equally in programs intended for blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women

(Koch). Affirmative action decisions are not supposed to be based on quotas, nor are they

supposed to give any preference to unqualified candidates. The Supreme Court and other courts

have drastically reduced the scope of affirmative action, and recent polls have shown that a

majority of blacks dislike the fact that it is being used to help less qualified people get jobs,

promotions, and admission to college (Zuckerman 88). The 1964 and 1991 Civil Rights Acts

explicitly banned government imposed quotas, but nevertheless, quotas immediately spread

through the economy (Brimelow and Spencer 80). In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled that

employers could be prosecuted if the racial makeup of the employees was not similar to that of

the community. "Proportional representation rather than social justice became the watchword"

(Zuckerman 88). Some people claim that whites owe blacks for what we took from them in the

past. I don't believe that society owes any compensation to blacks who are entering today's

workplace or colleges. Where should a line be drawn; how much do we do to repay people for

past wrongdoings? Is it enough to give them equal rights, or will we give them extra

opportunities to make up for those we (my ancestors) took away? I agree that diversity in the

workplace is essential because it coerces people of different cultures, backgrounds, colors, and

race to work side-by-side in harmony. I believe the more one learns about another, the less likely

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he/she will discriminate against that person and others of the same race. On the other hand, it can

also create animosity due to the fact that a minority may replace one who has had a particular job

for a long period of time. It would only be natural for one to become bitter and dislike the

minority who took the already filled position only because of his/her ethnic background or

gender. If at all, race-based preferences should only apply in limited cases when two applicants

are roughly similar in nature except for their race or gender.

Another problem with affirmative action is that it places a stigma on groups which receive

preferential treatment, especially for individuals who earn their positions strictly because of their

ability or qualifications. For example, an employer hires a member of a minority group for a

high position on the basis of merit, not for affirmative action reasons. Other employees are likely

to assume that it was an affirmative action hiring, as are many other minority hirings. This is not

fair to minorities who earn their position based on qualifications or ability. Treating an individual

like an affirmative action case, even if he/she is not, can be very insulting to a person who has

made it to the top on his/her own talent. As an individual passes the initial point of entry and

moves up to the top in one's field of interest, the arguments of preference vanish; it is time to

stand with pride on one's own merit (Carter 386-387). According to Koch people like E.R Shipp

(Pulitzer Prize winner), Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell have every right to be insulted (66).

To eliminate the stigma on minority groups, the agenda of affirmative action should focus the

racial aspect on the recruitment of minorities. This statement means that schools should not

absolutely give preferential treatment to minorities, but schools should encourage minorities to

apply for jobs in which they are underrepresented (Koch 66). Even if some of the minority

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applicants fail to qualify for a specific position, they can at least find out where they stand and

what they need to do to qualify. From this point on it will be up to individuals to gain the

qualifications they need. A positive attitude and a little self-motivation can go a long way.

Lastly, I would like to point out that affirmative action focuses on race rather than economics.

In some parts of the country the playing field is not level because of income and economics, only

partly due to race. "It is preference on the basis of race that arouses anger and a sense of injustice

among whites, just as it arouses such feelings among blacks" (Glazer). When a poor child is

offered petty curriculum choices and third-rate teachers by his school district, it is not because of

his color, but because of his socioeconomic status ( Brimelow and Spencer). Every child in this

country should be afforded the same opportunity for a quality education until the completion of

high school. Upon graduation from high school, the responsibility lies on the young adult to

further his education. In my opinion, race has not been the major barrier to children obtaining a

quality education. Lack of money has been the barrier, therefore, the government should focus on

trying to increase the equality in the quality of our public schools.

I believe affirmative action is fundamentally flawed , good in principle, but drastically needs to

be reformed. There should be no special treatments, and no special preferences given to people

because of race, creed, color or national origin. Society should try to live up to Martin Luther

King Jr.'s dream of leaving people to be judged solely on character. Then and only then will the

issues of race and gender disappear. Everyone has an opportunity to advance in this country; one

just has to take the initiative and have the desire to succeed.

Argument Outline

Thesis: The affirmative action system originally may have had a just intent, but I sincerely believe it has been counterproductive in practice.

I: Causes reverse discrimination

A. Policies judge people solely on skin color and gender

B. White males are not figured into the equation

C. Race and gender-based preferences

II: Promotes hiring of less skilled workers and admission of unqualified students to colleges and universities.

A. Hiring and school admissions based on race

B. Existing quotas

III: Places a stigma on groups that receive preferential treatment

A. An employer hires a minority for a position based on merit, not preference

B. Decrease the stigma by recruiting minorities, but not absolutely giving preferential treatment.

IV: Focuses on ethnic background and gender

A. Needs to focus on economics (money)

B. Should focus on equality in quality of our public schools up to the high school level.


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Works Cited

Brimelow, Peter and Spencer, Leslie. "When Quotas Replace Merit, Everybody Suffers."

Forbes 15 Feb. 1993: 80-102.

Carter, Stephen L. "Racial Justice on the Cheap." Elements of Argument Text 1997: 382-387.

Glazer, Nathan. "Race, Not Class." Elements of Argument Text 1997: 389-392.

Graglia, Lino A. "The Affirmative Action Fraud." Washington University Journal of Urban

and Contemporary Law (Summer 1998): 31-38.

Koch, Ed. "Be Fair to All the Disadvantaged." The American Enterprise (Nov/Dec 1998): 66.

O'Sullivan, John. "Preferences For (Almost) All." National Review 17 Apr. 2000: 22-24.

Zuckerman, Mortimer B. "Piling on the Preferences." US News and World Report 28 Jun.

1999: 88.

Word Count: 1725

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