Should we be punished for the mistakes of our ancestors? In recent times, Affirmative Action has implemented policies of reverse discrimination to help oppressed minorities gain an advantage over majority groups in college admissions and in employment. The term "Affirmative Action" was originally used by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 when referring to his executive order that required all federal contractors treat their employees and applicants "without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin." In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order #11246 at Howard University that required federal contractors to undertake Affirmative Action to increase the number of minorities that they employ. He wanted to ensure that minorities were recruited to have real opportunities to be hired and then eventually get a promotion. 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. 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. In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, initiated by Kennedy, and the Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, equal opportunity was established. While there was little controversy over equal opportunity, the main issue with Affirmative Action was equal results. Although equal opportunity was established with Kennedy's original executive order in 1961, the statistical results showed that the number of minority workers employed or in certain higher level positions was not in proportion to the surrounding population, making the actual existence of equal opportunity suspect. As a result of this discrepancy, it became necessary to create more aggressive legislation that ensured equal opportunity and equal results. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 required both, and new Affirmative Action programs were instituted to further support this. These programs range from encouraging minorities and women to apply for certain positions to setting up actual numerical goals, such as quota systems and set-aside programs. However, is Affirmative Action, as many critics assert, just passing on the oppression? The basis behind Affirmative Action is that because of past discrimination and oppression, such as the dispossession of Native Americans, the unequal treatment of women, and the enslavement of Black Americans, minorities and women have difficulty competing with their white male counterparts in mainstream American society. But is this true? Why must white males be oppressed by Affirmative Action just because their ancestors enslaved and oppressed another race and gender, and be victims of reverse discrimination in college admissions and employment? The U.S. Supreme Court has faced many cases regarding this controversial issue, including The Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Bakke, a white medical student, was denied admission to a University of California medical school because of a quota system. Bakke claimed that he was a victim of "reverse discrimination" and sued. In a close decision, the Court ruled that schools might not enforce a rigid quota system if whites are not allowed to compete equally. The issue was still muddied, however, because in the same decision, the Court ruled that race could be used as a factor. The various regulations and court rulings have made Affirmative Action one of the most paradoxical issues facing America. On one hand, differing local, state, and federal laws require employers to avoid discrimination in up to nine criteria: race, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual preference, handicap, veterans' status and religion. On the other hand, Affirmative Action rules also require certain employers, such as companies with federal contracts, to give preference to racial minorities, women, and others. Consequently, when considering both sides of the issue, it becomes apparent that reverse discrimination and preferential treatment of minorities is absolutely ludicrous when people are preaching equal rights and that "all men are created equal," and that Affirmative Action should be outright abolished from all aspects of society as an unnecessary evil in order to ensure an equal playing field for all.
Those who wish to retain Affirmative Action regulations argue that America has a moral obligation to right the wrongs of the past - that Blacks and other minorities, whose ancestors have suffered institutionalized discrimination for hundreds of years, have earned preferential treatment. Race-neutral hiring, say proponents, actually discriminates against minorities because the majority of available jobs are not advertised. Rather, they are learned about by word-of-mouth, and minorities are not plugged into the "old-boy networks" through which they might hear of these jobs. Affirmative Action must be maintained for minorities to rise above the glass ceiling to management positions, and for poor minorities to rise from poverty and unemployment. Affirmative action has been the subject of increasing debate and tension in American society, and through this heated debate, the fight between Angle males and minorities actually sets the two groups apart instead of bringing them together. However, the debate over affirmative action has become ensnared in rhetoric that pits equality of opportunity against the equality of results. The debate has been more emotional than intellectual, and has generated more tension than shed light on the issue. Participants in the debate have over examined the ethical and moral issues that Affirmative Action raises while forgetting to scrutinize the system that has created the need for them. Too often, Affirmative Action is looked upon as the panacea for a nation once ill with, but now cured of, the virulent disease of racial discrimination. Affirmative Action is, and should be seen as, a temporary, partial, and perhaps even flawed remedy for past and continuing discrimination against historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups in American society. Working as it should, it affords groups greater equality of opportunity in a social context marked by substantial inequalities and structural forces that impede a fair assessment of their capabilities. However, its failure highlights the potential for an aura of racism in this country which may perpetuate for many generations on.
As Martin Luther King once said, "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 would make this dream virtually impossible, bringing race in as a factor in judging college admissions and employment. Those who want to eliminate Affirmative Action regulations argue that preferential programs encourage racial tensions when white students and workers feel they are not getting fair consideration. Why should whites suffer for society's past mistakes? ask Anti-Affirmative Action activists who also note that Affirmative Action programs make whites the victims of reverse discrimination. Affirmative Action works against minorities, the argument continues, because it is assumed that an individual who benefits from such programs is automatically considered inferior to other candidates for jobs or schools, and because the majority who benefit from Affirmative Action are already middle-class, those most in need of the programs, rural and inner-city blacks, have gained nothing. Protestors against Affirmative Action have already taken steps to abolish the abominable doctrine through the passing of Proposition 209 in California. The measure would eliminate Affirmative Action programs used to increase hiring and promotion opportunities for state or local government jobs, where sex, race, and ethnicity are preferential factors in hiring, promotion, training, or recruitment decisions. In addition, the measure would eliminate programs that give preference to women-owned or minority-owned companies on public contracts. Contracts affected by the measure would include contracts for construction projects, purchases of computer equipment, and the hiring of consultants. These prohibitions would not apply to those government agencies that receive money under federal programs that require such Affirmative Action. The elimination of these programs would result in savings to the state and local governments. These savings would occur for two reasons. First, government agencies no longer would incur costs to administer the programs. Second, the prices paid on some government contracts would decrease. This would happen because bidders on contracts no longer would need to show ''good faith efforts" to use minority-owned or women-owned subcontractors. Thus, state and local governments would save money to the extent they otherwise would have rejected a low bidder--because the bidder did not make a ''good faith effort"--and awarded the contract to a higher bidder. The measure also could affect funding for public schools (kindergarten through grade 12) and community college programs. For instance, the measure could eliminate, or cause fundamental changes to, voluntary desegregation programs run by school districts. (It would not, however, affect court-ordered desegregation programs.) Examples of desegregation spending that could be affected by the measure include the special funding given to ''magnet" schools (in those cases where race or ethnicity are preferential factors in the admission of students to the schools) and designated ''racially isolated minority schools" that are located in areas with high proportions of racial or ethnic minorities. Up to $60 million of state and local funds spent each year on voluntary desegregation programs may be affected by the measure. In addition, the measure would affect a variety of public school and community college programs such as counseling, tutoring, outreach, student financial aid, and financial aid to selected school districts in those cases where the programs provide preferences to individuals or schools based on race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin. Funds spent on these programs total at least $15 million each year. Eliminating Affirmative Action programs in America would thus save the government a substantial amount of money and pave the road for truly equal opportunity and treatment of all races.
In light of the conflicting arguments for and against Affirmative Action, it is readily apparent that Affirmative Action essentially implements reverse discrimination as an "acceptable" solution to racial inequality in America, giving preferential treatment to minorities and women, and should thus be forbidden morally and legally if there is to be any sense of "color-blindness" in race relations in the future. As Daniel Boorstin once said, "The menace to America today is the emphasis on what separates us rather than what brings us together." Truly, doing so would further separate embittered races and pit them against each other in heated debate and controversy. Calling for an alternative to Affirmative Action, Randall Kennedy states, ""We ought to construct a society and set of laws that focus on an individual's character, not color of skin." If Affirmative Action should be banned and society should be "color-blind," there should be an alternative to Affirmative Action to ensure this. There are a few possible alternatives to Affirmative Action, some of them are very simple and some are a little more complex. The alternatives include reconstruction of civil society in minority communities, increasing minority and female applicant flow, and most importantly promotion of broad policies for economic opportunity and security that benefit low- and middle-income Americans, both black and white. "Building up civil society means strengthening 'intermediate' institutions, lying between the state and the individual, such as community associations, schools, media, and independent social agencies, which provide the organizational foundation for collective development and effective public representation." If the same capital was made available for minority institutions as other institutions, they would be able to develop in the society and eventually become a strong part of the minority community. These institutions would give direction and guidance that is needed by all to play a major role in their community. 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 unemployed minority applicants to be reviewed as a position opens. This would be a great opportunity for applicants and employers. We should work toward broad based economic policies by consistently emphasizing broad-based, race-neutral policies; for example, public investment, national health reform, an enlarged earned 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-income Americans and that deliver substantial benefits to minorities on the basis of their economic condition will do more to reduce minority poverty than narrowly based, and poorly funded, measures for minority groups or the poor alone. These efforts can also be designed to coincide with intermediate institutions and thereby to contribute to the overall process of civil reconstruction and renewal. Ultimately, if there is to be any sense of racial equality and equal opportunity in this world, we must abolish Affirmative Action and ensure an equal playing field for all races in America.