Affirmative Action – Stepping Stone or Stumbling Block?

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).

 

 

References

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.

Through the Eyes of a Dreamer – The Speech President Obama Needs to Give

I don’t believe that the greatest dangers to the America we love lie in the big things.  Syria, Egypt, Iran, Russia, China – yes, there are major ramifications both militarily and fiscally if things cannot be dealt with, and soon.  Obamacare is another biggie.  So is the constant printing of more and more money to juice up confidence in the economy.  The NSA, IRS, Benghazi and Fast & Furious (“phony”) scandals are extremely important and creepy on a level that most conspiracy theorists have yet to fathom.  However, we would not have gotten to this point with the larger issues if we had been taking care of the smaller ones all along.

We need to mend from the inside out before we stop caring about our freedoms and allow the government to systematically take them away because we are apathetic.  We need to end our acceptance of responsibility for all of the faults we are constantly being told Americans possess.   We need to stop listening to the government and wake up the inner voice that made us the greatest nation on the planet for generations.  Furthermore, we need to call the POTUS on his avoidance tactics and hold him to working with us to solve the issues that have exacerbated this mess since he took office.

If Barry sincerely cared about his duties as President, he would restrain himself from making divisive remarks about cases that are best settled within the affected States.  He would surround himself with people to whom he owes nothing politically or personally – individuals with the strength of character to say “No” or to make suggestions that may not necessarily be popular with the West Wing crowd.  Maybe one of those people could honestly assess the tone of American citizens and the issues that are important to us would become important to Barry and Congress both.

So, with that being said, the speech Obama needs to give is this…

My fellow Americans, as President I have been to many states in this amazing country and spoken with people from all walks of life.  I know that I have not been as attentive to the small issues that affect our communities on a daily basis, and I could use many things as an excuse for this, but today is not the time for excuses.  Today is a time for working together toward becoming a whole nation once again.

Too many of our young people are dying from acts of violence, be they gang related or otherwise.  We must ask ourselves why these “children” are turning to outside influences such as gangs, television shows, video games and, on occasion, adults with bad intentions, instead of their families, teachers or members of the clergy.  Is it that these people are no longer available to them?  Is it that the constant use of race as a reason for violent acts on the part of people from all races gives the sense of justification to otherwise senseless acts?  Does it create hatred which spawns retaliation, which in turn creates more violence?  I believe all of these factors have contributed to the problem.  

Since most violent crimes involve illegal firearms, I am proposing today that all states, as well as Congress, review the laws concerning sentencing for those who commit violent crimes while in possession of an illegal fire arm.  I believe these laws need to be far stricter than they are and the length of the sentences should be increased with parole no longer being an option.  Sentences for those involved in the sale of these weapons, and those possessing such guns should be strengthened, as well.  Where the federal government has no jurisdiction, and as relates to non-federal trials in the individual states, I believe that the Department of Justice should not involve itself in those cases nor should we, the government, second guess the decisions made by the citizenry of any state.

When it comes to the private life of the President, my staff works diligently to allow my wife and children their private time, without the intrusion of the media, public or even the government.  It has become clear to me that every law abiding citizen deserves the same respect.  How can you have faith in me or the government employees you pay to protect us if you feel as though you are being treated as the enemy?  Common sense will tell you that America does need some sort of system in place to stop acts of terrorism before they occur, however, stricter controls should be in place to ensure that only those found to be – either through personal observation or electronic surveillance – potentially dangerous to the citizenry need be surveyed via high tech means.  Congress has already begun to re-write certain aspects of the Patriot Act that will be available for public inspection two weeks prior to a vote, giving you time to comment to your Senator or Representative about these proposed revisions.

Lastly, the condition of the education system is far from desirable.  In the beginning of my first term I ended the voucher program due to budgetary concerns.  After several years, I have come to realize this program is necessary if we want those who would otherwise not have a chance at a good education to get one.  It is especially important in those areas of the country that are suffering from bad economic times or are located a long distance from the more successful institutions available to other students.  Parents should have the right to choose the best possible education for their children.  That being said, the governors of all 50 states are being asked to create legislation to submit to their respective Congresspersons that provides for voucher programs.  I am confident that we will have a 100% success rate and vouchers will be available in all 50 states by the next calendar year.

There are many more issues that affect the personal lives of all of us.  I have touched on only a few today.  My pledge to you is that I will address more issues each month and give a reporting to the nation of the status of those solutions already being worked on.  No longer will I be the President who avoids the day-to-day issues of my fellow citizens.  I hope to be the President who jumped in with both feet and helped to heal our nation from the inside out.

Show of hands if you think this would ever happen…yeah, me either.