America is the land of plenty, justice and equality for all. Despite prolific statements about the virtues of American society, these claims of equality have little basis in truth, fact or practice. Throughout history, discrimination has bloodied the tides of time at the hand of the government, in the forms of racial discrimination and substandard women’s rights. The United States has made progress in the endeavors involved in more closely resembling the aforementioned statements of equality, by improving women’s equality, and outlawing segregation or discrimination on the basis of race. In recent years the United States has attempted to become more equal through the implementation of affirmative action. Due to the setbacks caused to women and racial minorities by previous government discrimination, the purpose of affirmative action is to give these groups an advantage, in order to accommodate the disadvantage experienced previously.
Redress for prior offenses is a large part of the American legal system. In general, this compensation takes two forms, negative action, or positive action. A negative action requires that party at fault not perform an action, or cease an action. A positive, or affirmative, action compels a concession or action on the part of the party at fault. In the case of affirmative action, the terms are exactly as such, American businesses, and schools that are contracted by the government, are compelled to give a concession to minority groups in race or gender as redress for past misconduct. Unlike a straightforward case where there are concrete parties involved, the whole of America is affected with requirements that lack clear guidelines (Peterson). Affirmative action presents several problems as it is currently applied to the society of the United States. These problems exist on several levels, from an economic standpoint, as well as that of education. These two areas have been increasingly regulated by the government, including the arena of affirmative action.
The history of affirmative action dates back as early as the 1930s, long before it was made an executive order by President Kennedy in 1961. The Public Works Administration
Created a policy in 1934, which mandated that in cities with “an appreciable Negro population” employ “a fixed percentage of skilled black workers” (Lawson). This action was later considered in a 1941 decision by President Roosevelt to create the Fair Employment Practice Committee. This committee was created by executive order, and was designed to foster equality in the work place. The organization itself was relatively weak, mostly relying on businesses and organizations to voluntarily follow recommendations. The nightmare of quantifying equality was just beginning to rear its ugly head, when in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and broadened the scope of the government’s role in equality, marking the conception of the concept that would come to be known as affirmative action.
Originally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to insure equality, but not through the use of quotas or preferential based on race, according to its supporters such as Senator Hubert Humphrey (Lawson). Lyndon B. Johnson came in to presidency in 1963, and along with him came great changes concerning race, gender, and equality. In 1965, Executive Order 11246 was signed into law by Johnson, requiring that government contractors take affirmative action in regard to prospective employees. Later this order was amended by order 11375, which included the phrasing, “to correct the effects of past and present discrimination.” The actual mandate of the order requires that institutions that have greater than 50 employees and revenue of greater than $50,000 from a single government contract per year must have a written plan of affirmative action; including goals and timelines as to how women and racial minorities would be hired and used in the work force. Affirmative action is primarily focused on government contractors; however, any business can be sued for discrimination in actual cases where minorities are discriminated against. By the same token, there have been lawsuits won by majority members who felt that they were victims of reverse-discrimination.
Affirmative action in universities began in the 1970s when students held mass demonstrations demanding the minority students be recruited into universities. Most concessions regarding scholarship and admissions that are made by universities are justified as trying to compensate for previous discrimination or hardship by a group. In university admissions processes there are sever factors that can play into admission, such as race, gender, social status, and geographic status when schools are attempting to judge the applicants grades and test scores. Affirmative action is sore point in many universities today, one such example ‘affirmative action bake sales’ in which those against affirmative action sell baked goods with different prices according to the buyer’s race. White males typically pay the most, and black females typically pay the least.
There have been several important Supreme Court cases involving education and affirmative action. Two of the most notable cases originated in Michigan State University. In the first case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled in 2003 that race could in fact be a legitimate factor in admissions (Hocker). Later that same year in Gratz v. Bollinger the supreme court ruled that Michigan’s point based admissions system that distinguished applicants by race was too mechanical and therefore unconstitutional (Wikipedia).
The issue of forced racial equality in tertiary educational facilities is still hotly debated, amidst evidence that it is not having the intended effect. A 1990 to 1991 study found that 21 percent of black students failed to achieve a degree in law school, as opposed to a 9.7 percent failure rate among white students. Among those students given preference by affirmative action, a 42.3 attrition rate was observed (Leo). This evidence suggests that those students who are admitted under affirmative action do not perform as well as their peers; however, the exact reason is undeterminable, it may be that law schools themselves are unfair to minorities, resulting in a lack of performance not because of lack of qualification for admission, but because of the institution itself. Another reason for this disparity may be that through decades of racism, the overall qualifications and education of the race was harmed. Regardless of the reason, there is evidence that suggests that affirmative action is not fulfilling its intended purpose.
Recently, the Supreme Court's actions have stepped back in the power and influence of affirmative action. During the Regan administration, the court kept affirmative action to a regulation of strict scrutiny. Some states in the union have actively passed legislation that forbids preferential treatment based on race, these include California, Florida, and Washington. In California, any preferential treatment is banned according to proposition 209. In Florida legislature was passed forbidding colleges to allow race as a factor in admissions. Washington state proposition 200, acted much like California’s legislation (Brunner).
Affirmative action has, and still has a holds a highly controversial position within American society. The issues inherent in trying to quantify race have made rulings and requirements of affirmative action problematic at best. Although it is widely known which minority groups are protected by the government, no lists are kept, mostly out of fear of violating the Equal Protection Act. Affirmative action is a result of an American public that desires equality for all, yet is not informed or interested enough to actively try and solve the problem outside of legislation. A tough balance is required, trying to elevate some, while at the same time avoiding lowering the bar to the point where everyone occupies the same lower standard.
"Affirmative Action." Wikipedia. 18 Mar. 2004. 20 Mar. 2006 .
Brunner, Borgna. "Affirmative Action Timeline." InfoPlease. 2006. 22 Mar. 2006 .
Hocker, Cliff. "Affirmative Action Upheld." Black Enterprise 34 (2003): 23-25. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.
Lawson, Steven F. "The Pursuit of Fairness: a History of Affirmative Action." The Journal of Southern History 71 (2005): 745-746. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action History.
Leo, John. "Let's Attack Merit." U.S. and World Report 123 (1994): 21-22. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 17 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.
Peterson, William H. "A Cure Worse Than Disease: Fighting Descrimination Through Government Control." Ideas on Liberty 50 (2000): 50-51. ProQuest. Christopher Newport University Library, Newport News. 15 Mar. 2006. Keyword: Affirmative Action.