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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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