Affirmative Action Affirmative Action ? The Right Approach? In the beginning, it seemed simple enough. In 1961, John F. Kennedy, then president of the United States of America, established the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity by executive order. The goal was to curb discrimination by the government and its contractors, who were now required to ?not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The Contractor will take affirmative action, to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.? Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 expanded this idea of affirmative action by declaring that ?No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.? An ideal was established.
A vision of people with all kinds of backgrounds taking advantage of equal opportunities and reaching comparable goals in their lives arose. But it soon became apparent that, in order to be able to compete, these people would need the same tools, the same educational background, indeed, the same abilities. The next U.S. president, Lyndon B. Johnson, said it best in his 1965 commencement address at Howard University: ?You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ?You’re free to compete with all the others,? and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates?? That is a very convincing argument, and affirmative action as we know it today has become the answer to it, giving a certain degree of preferential treatment to perceived minorities and disadvantaged groups ? the very same preferential treatment that was originally sought to be entirely abolished. The ongoing debate about affirmative action nowadays largely centers on this one issue of seemingly contradicting goals and interpretations of the law. Certainly, we do not see preferential treatment of the white, middle-class man ? a perceived majority of Americans ? over other, less represented groups, unless an employer or educational institution is willfully engaging in unfair, if not criminal, conduct. But which factors does one have to consider, and how does one have to weigh them, in order to determine who today?s minorities really are, how ?under-accepted? they are and to what degree they should be given preferential treatment before the scale tips? We try to give groups of people that are inherently different (in regard to their culture, personal backgrounds, life experiences, physical and mental abilities, etc.) the same education, the same professional tools and the same opportunities.
This approach may be flawed. For reasons that I will further explain, I believe we need to ?go back to the roots? and adopt the initial idea behind affirmative action, which is fair and equal treatment for all. In fact, one way to make affirmative action ultimately succeed may be through better acknowledgement and support of multiculturalism. In America, many different cultures and subcultures exist side by side because everyone is welcome to live and work here, practice their beliefs and voice their opinions ? all within the limits of the law and of mutual respect, of course. In her essay, ?Multiculturalism in Education,? Jennifer Hochschild of Princeton University says: ?Public education, at least through high school, has traditionally been [?] the main route for assimilation of newcomers to the American political, economic, and social ?mainstream?. At the same time, the public education system is under pressure from a growing immigrant population, an increasingly isolated group of poor students of color, and increasing challenges to the idea of assimilation into the mainstream.? As stated before, affirmative action currently seeks to level the playing field for everyone regardless of their origin by ?boosting? minorities.
Can we say assimilation here? It seems we need to recognize the fact that there are multiple playing fields, and support each one of them ? in other words, support minorities based on their unique backgrounds and abilities, rather than align them with the rest of the nation. This may require radical changes throughout American society with respect to the opinions it holds of various professions and career and educational goals. A person can be anything he or she wants ? a sales representative, a lawyer, a professional basketball player, a factory worker, a dental assistant, a musician, actor, make-up artist, repair technician, theologian, florist, horse breeder, Formula One driver ? the list is virtually endless. My point is that anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion, can find something he or she is good at (and likes to do), and pursue it. Affirmative action in its simplest form ? equal treatment ? can only support that. But my point is also that anyone pursuing their goals, furthering their abilities, and living a productive life makes a positive impact on others and on all of society in general.
If a young black male has considerable talent as a basketball player, by all means he should pursue it and build a career for himself. In the context of current affirmative action policies, he might have been given numerous advantages and chances on the way to becoming, say, a lawyer (like many whites), but it might not have been the right stuff for him after all. Is he therefore an individual of lesser worth? Did we fail him? Hardly. But society is still conditioned to look at an individual?s academic achievements rather than his or her personality and true skills. A given group of people of the same race, origin, religion and background may be a minority when compared to American ?mainstream? culture, but very much a majority in its own right.
To summarize my beliefs, affirmative action is not well implemented at this time because its underlying social ideas and trends are in need of some fundamental changes ? away from assimilation into a unified American culture and more towards recognition, acceptance and support of the unique attributes, talents and even shortcomings of particular groups and the individuals that are part of these groups. We absolutely need to continue providing equal opportunities to all, but we also need to support whatever course minority groups and individuals decide to take and meet that decision with equal approval and acceptance in a truly multicultural society. Social Issues.