April 24, 2002
Discrimination is a problem that has plagued our country for many years. In the past few decades the government has been attempting to correct the problem through anti discrimination legislation. Some of the biggest programs have been through affirmative action. There is a general consensus that there are problems in our society with discrimination in many areas. But the questions we must ask are: Is affirmative action a just way to solve the problem of discrimination? Is affirmative action constitutional or is it reverse discrimination? And how do we go about solving the problem of discrimination if not through affirmative action?
President Kennedy first introduced affirmative action in 1961 although he did not really possess the power to do much about it without the support of Congress. Affirmative action was expanded into the arena of government contracts. Kennedy made a declaration that said that upon accepting a government contract the contractor must pledge not to discriminate against any applicants or employees on the basis of race, creed, color, or national origin(Elliot and Ewoh, p212). Although the contractors made this pledge there was not much enforcement of it.
In 1964 congress took steps battle discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act said that no person could be discriminated against on the basis of race, color, or national origin when it came to publicly funded programs. This was expanded in 1965 when president Johnson declared that the government would provide equal opportunity employment. Then in 1967 this was again expanded to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender as well as race(Elliot and Ewoh, p213).
In 1970 the Department of Labor ordered that all contractors with government contracts, fifty or more employees, and received $50,000 or more in assistance had to develop an extensive affirmative action plan to include minorities in areas where they lacked representation(Elliot and Ewoh, p213). These plans had to include in depth research with goals and timetables, which would be met by the contractors. If the goals were not met then the government would no longer enter into contracts with the contractors. This was called order No. 4, and was revised in 1971 to include women(Elliot and Ewoh, p213). At this time affirmative action was not quota based. Later Jimmy Carter would give the responsibility of overseeing these mandates to the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee.
The Supreme Court would not yet support affirmative action in all areas. In college admissions, race could only be used as one of many factors when considering students for entrance into a college. Affirmative action was first tested in the case of Bakke v. Regents of the University of California. This case made racial quotas unconstitutional, but did allow for race to be used as a factor in the admissions process (Brunner, p2). Regardless, congress would make provisions for affirmative action in the public works areas. They would set percentages of minorities, which must be employed in the programs. These were tested in the Supreme Court, but were upheld when they came to trial (Elliot and Ewoh, p215).
Ronald Reagan was committed to anti affirmative action when it came to the matter of equal opportunity. The courts felt otherwise as they upheld affirmative action measures (Elliot and Ewoh, p215). One example is a case in 1987, in The United States v. Paradise the Supreme Court upheld that blacks were being discriminated against by being far underrepresented in the Alabama State troopers. The court mandated that for every white person hired and promoted a black person must be hired and promoted until 25% of the upper ranks were black (Brunner, p3)
During the Reagan and Bush terms the new members who were appointed the Supreme Court would not be accommodating for the affirmative action cause. In the 1996 case, Hopwood v. University of Texas Law School it was deemed that race could not be considered at all during the college admissions process. Although most Americans consider racial discrimination to be a serious problem, a Gallup poll taken in 1996 showed that 83% of the public did not support race preferential programs (Elliot and Ewoh, p217).
Taking into account these court decisions and the other factors it looks like affirmative action has entered its period of demise. The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution guarantees all citizens equal protection under the laws. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. If affirmative action gives preference to one citizen because they are of a certain color or sex then doesnt that violate both the fourteenth amendment and the Civil Rights Act? This is one of the major arguments of people who are anti affirmative action.
It seems unfair that someone who is more qualified for a job, or for admittance into a university should be denied a position over another citizen of this country simply because the latter is of a certain minority who is underrepresented in that field. In the eyes of a person running a business it seems insensible not to hire the best person for the job. This argument appears to be sound in its nature, but vice versa it is also unfair if a minority or a woman is denied a job, or a promotion that they deserve because of discrimination.
This is the problem that we face because it is undeniable that there are differences in the amounts of women and minorities in the different echelons of the labor force.Supporters of affirmative action claim that the cases in which affirmative action hurts the nonrecipients of its fruits are far and few in between. They claim that the stories of people not being hired, or being passed over in admissions are extremely exaggerated. Be this true as it may the few cases in which this occurs are reason enough to find another solution to the dilemma. Another reason that is given to support affirmative action is that the prejudices in our society are deep rooted. They say that without direct plans to alleviate the problems of discrimination then the injustices will continue. This is probably a valid statement but by differentiating between groups of people we are only emphasizing the differences between the groups.
In the past fifty years we have made remarkable steps toward ending racism and discrimination in our country. The process is far from over, and most likely racism will never be eradicated completely. If we continue to employ affirmative action as the means by which to bring about equal opportunities then we are continuing to make a distinction between the different races and sexes. This is only fostering the very idea of racial differences, which we are trying to eliminate. Our country is based on equal opportunities for all. Making special exceptions for some people does not perpetuate the idea of equality; it only reinforces the idea of inequality. This also produces resentment from the group that is not receiving the special treatment, which only makes the idea of racial inequality grow. There must be a better way to level the playing field.
One alternative that has been offered is to give preferential treatment to people who have had a disadvantaged life. This would include circumstances such as people who have grown up in poverty. This would include many minorities. While this will not completely remedy the problem, it is a place to begin. Discrimination is not a problem that will easily go away, but with time and better ideas about how to help the discriminated we will be able to alleviate the problem.
Elliot, Euel; Ewoh, Andrew. The Evolution of an Issue: the Rise and Decline of Affirmative Action.. Policy Studies Review v. 17 no.2/3, Summer Autumn 2000. P. 212-237.
Brunner, Borgna. Timeline of Affirmative Action Milestones. Learning Network. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html