This is a paper I wrote for my American Government class in 2012. Given the recent ruling by the Supreme Court regarding the issue of Affirmative Action, I thought I would share my thoughts with you. It is well cited, so I suggest any reader should access the links provided in the Works Cited section before commenting 🙂
Affirmative Action – Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block?
Katrina L. Velsor
POS-111/500: American Government
Professor Meredith McKee
November 15, 2012
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order (EO) 10925 that mandated equal opportunities for employment in the Government sector “without regard to race, creed, color or national origin” (Teaching American History.org, 2012). It also prohibited discrimination when awarding government contracts to civilian contractors. At the time, sex was not included under what was later to be known as Affirmative Action (Ibid). Those who supported the concept of affirmative action in the 1960s had been fighting a long battle against segregation, discrimination and racism in the United States and EO 10925 was looked upon as a good start toward equality for all Americans. Those in opposition feared that Affirmative Action might cause them to lose income and create financial hardships for their families. It would be naïve to assume that there were not individuals who opposed the Executive Order due to racist attitudes, as well. Since 1961, many changes have been made to President Kennedy’s original Executive Order that include private sector hiring practices, the inclusion of extending equal opportunities to someone without regard to their sex and equal opportunities in the academic realm (NYU.edu, 2012). Affirmative Action, while created with the best of intentions, is no longer necessary in American society. The Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide ample protection to all citizens. Society appears to be far less tolerant of racism and racist acts. The establishment of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (now known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC) in EO 10925 ensures that all job applicants, contractors and potential college students will be treated equally regardless of their minority status, not because of it (Teaching American History.org, 2012). Affirmative Action has created an environment that may cause potential employers to discriminate against non-minority citizens due to a desire by the employer to maintain a more accurate representation of the percentages of minority citizens within American society. I am not in favor of Affirmative Action as it appears to alter the perception of their capabilities as an individual in a negative manner.
Many arguments have been brought before the Supreme Court relating to Affirmative Action. Cases such as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Gratz v. Bollinger, Grutter v. Bollinger and most recently Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin either sought to clarify or redefine Affirmative Action. In Bakke, the court determined that race could be used as a factor in college admissions, but not the only reason a person is or is not accepted. Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger were based on a premise similar to Bakke, and the Court decided that Gratz did use race above the merits of the individual applicant, whereas Grutter considered both factors when determining admission into the University Of Michigan Law School (Janda, Berry & Goldman, pp. 559-560). Fisher has yet to be decided. It is clear that the above referenced cases dealt with the effects of Affirmative Action on the academic admissions process. Being admitted to college because one is a minority and not in spite of it might cause that person to doubt their ability to compete on merits alone. If a person’s test scores are lower than those of someone who is not a minority, but that person is admitted anyway, one might question if that individual was being set up to fail. The same set of questions could be asked if the situation were reversed and a white male was admitted based on his race and not his test scores. The testing process, though arguably not a true measure of one’s academic skills due to the potential for test anxiety, exists for a reason. If an individual does not test well in mathematics, it does not appear to be fair to that individual to admit them into a program in which they will be yards behind the starting line on day one.
“Although about three-fourths of white Americans consistently agree that blacks should “work their way up… without any special favors,” so do about half of black Americans. Although 85% or more of whites endorse “ability” rather than “preferential treatment” to determine who gets jobs and college slots, so do about three-fifths of blacks” (Hochschild, JL, 1999).
There is the possibility for “reverse discrimination” when private employers, colleges or agencies within the government use Affirmative Action in their hiring or promotion practices. Reverse discrimination is defined as “discrimination against whites or males (as in employment or education)” by Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. In New Haven, Connecticut the Fire Department offered a promotional exam to those who were qualified to take it. Eighteen White and one Hispanic firefighter passed the test, but none of the African-American candidates did. The Fire Department chose to invalidate the results and no one was promoted. Mr. Ricci, the firefighter who scored highest on the test and the seventeen others who passed, brought their case to the Supreme Court on the basis of reverse discrimination. Justice Kennedy wrote the court’s decision, stating that “…allowing ‘employers to discard the results of lawful and beneficial promotional exams even when there is little if any evidence of disparate-impact discrimination…would amount to a de facto quota system’” In her dissention, Justice Ginsburg mentioned a “long history of race discrimination in firefighting.” However, one of those who passed the test is Hispanic – a minority. Justice Alito wrote a concurrence to the majority decision. He opined that “…they [the firefighters who brought the case] have a right to demand…evenhanded enforcement of the law – of Title VII’s [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] prohibition against discrimination based on race” (NYTimes.com, 2012). So, instead of eliminating racial bias, Affirmative Action has created an avenue for bias in a different form.
It is a fact that “ those of minority are more likely to be born into poverty then [sic] those who are white; 29 percent of Hispanic kids and 33 percent of Black kids and only 10 percent of White kids are born below the poverty line” (NYU.edu, 2012). Taking the socioeconomic background of a college or job applicant into consideration is one of the possibly untended aspects of Affirmative Action. However, if the federal and state governments would institute programs such as Charter Schools and School Choice Vouchers, the parents of minority children might have a fighting chance at improving their child’s educational experience. Giving someone a fighting chance to compete from the start of their lives produces a better result for their future than allowing them to flounder in a system that isn’t working. A strong educational foundation might produce better test scores, which would allow an individual to be accepted on their merits and not the color of their skin. That, in turn, would increase the individual’s level of self-esteem which could carry forward into their personal and working lives.
There are many private organizations that are working in communities in which the population is composed predominantly of minority families. Peaches and Greens, Girls Inc., The Women’s Bean Project and Wounded Warriors’ Project among hundreds of others contribute to improving self-esteem, education programs, and ways to be financially independent in a struggling economy. Some have job fairs and even employ residents to work for their organizations. Through the good works of these organizations, individuals might begin to feel that the small bit of assistance the Affirmative Action policy gives them is unnecessary. As mentioned previously, education reform (especially in economically challenged areas) needs to take place. More attention must be paid to the conditions under which children living in the inner cities and other depressed areas of the country are being educated. Vouchers and Charter Schools are a good start.
Regarding employment and college admissions, the ideal situation would be one in which the race or sex of the job or college applicant is unknown to the decision-maker until and unless the time comes when a face-to-face meeting is necessary. At that point, one would hope that the decision-maker has pre-judged the individual on their merits and physical appearance would be inconsequential. Although racism and sexism still exist, they are no longer the norm. It seems that society judges individuals on who they are and not what they are today more so than during the 1960s when President Kennedy signed EO 10925. During that era, one can understand how a policy such as Affirmative Action would be necessary. More Americans have, all too slowly, begun to understand the true meaning of the dream Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of. “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” (BrainyQuote.com, 2012).
Janda, K., Berry, J.M., Goldman, J. The Challenge of Democracy, 11th Ed. 2008. Boston. Wadsworth.
Hochschild, JL. 1999. Affirmative Action as Culture War. The Cultural Territories of Race: Black and White Boundaries. :343-368., Chicago IL and New York: University of Chicago Press and Russell Sage Foundation. 2012. Web. http://scholar.harvard.edu/jlhochschild/publications/affirmative-action-culture-war Accessed November 15, 2012.
The New York Times. Supreme Court Finds Bias Against White Firefighters.2009. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/us/30scotus.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Accessed November 15, 2012.
Brainy Quote. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes. 2012. Web. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/martinluth115056.html Accessed November 15, 2012.
TeachingAmericanHistory.org. Executive Order 10925. 2012. Web. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=541 Accessed November 15, 2012.
NYU.edu. Affirmative Action History. 2012. Web. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/jackson/social.issues/papers/AfActGrG.html Accessed November 15, 2012.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2012. Web.
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reverse%20discrimination Accessed November 15, 2012.