Affirmative action in the U.S. started to come about in the early nineteen sixties. It was enacted along with many other anti-segregation laws, as part of the “Civil Rights act of 1964 and an executive order in 1965 (Affirmative, Encyclopedia Britannica par. 2).” Today affirmative action is still going strong. It has many positive aspects, but it also has several negative affects, one of which is “reverse discrimination.
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines affirmative action as “an active effort to improve the employment or education opportunities of members of minority groups and women.” Some of the other areas of emphasis are age, religion, and ethnic origin. I feel the same as the authors of the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, when they said these laws were brought about because,
In the judgment of a good many Americans, equality qua equality, even when conscientiously enforced with an even hand, would neither suffice to enable those previously deprived on racial grounds to realize the promises of equality of opportunity, nor would it atone, and provide redress, for the ravages wrought by two centuries of past discrimination. Consequently programs were established to go well beyond “mere” equality of opportunity and provide not only remedial but preferential compensatory action, especially in the worlds of EDUCATION and employment (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 34).
However, even as early as 1978 the Supreme Court has made it a point to not support laws that provide for “reverse discrimination,” which Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines as “discrimination against whites or males as in employment or education.” The Supreme Court stated that this isn’t acceptable when it decided “reverse discrimination” is not acceptable legally or constitutionally (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 35). I think what they mean by this is that, even though affirmative action is necessary, it should not be so harsh as to make it so the “majority” is then discriminated against in return, because then it is just reversing the discrimination, hence the term “reverse discrimination.” There have been many court cases that support each side of this issue.
There were some major Supreme Court cases that led up to affirmative action. One of which was Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 in which it was deemed that the constitution meant politically equal not socially equal, which was held up until Brown v. Board of Education Topeka Kansas 1954. Brown v. The Board was a huge stepping stone towards affirmative action, because it started the processes of desegregation.
As soon as affirmative action took hold into America, it became the next battleground. Just ten years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 there was a Supreme Court case against affirmative action. It was DeFunis v. Odegaard. According to the Encyclopedia of The American Constitution, it “dealt with preferential racial admissions quotas that by design advantaged nonwhite applicants and thereby ipso facto disadvantaged whites” (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 34). Throughout the next 15 years or so, everything went on pretty much as it had been after the ruling in the DeFunis v. Odegaard case, which was ruled moot, because no matter what the ruling, DeFunis would be graduated from the University of Washington Law School (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 34). Since these rulings there have been many more cases having to do with pro-affirmative action and anti-affirmative action views.
Affirmative action has helped minorities, especially blacks, when entering school. Shelton showed this when she said,”In 1955, only 4.9 percent of college students ages 18-24 were African American. This figure rose to 6.5 percent during the next five years but by 1965 had slumped back to 4.9 percent. Only in the wake of affirmative action measures in the late 1960s and early 70s did the percentage of black college students begin to climb steadily: In 1970, 7.8 percent of college students were African American, in 1980, 9.1 percent and in 1990, 11.3 percent” (Shelton, par. 13).
I would assume, being I was unable to find any evidence on the subject, that those figures continued to rise through the 1990s and should keep going up, spare anything drastic, through the next century.
Affirmative action has also hurt many of the majority, and it can do so very easily. Clegg showed this in his essay Affirmative Action: It’s Counterproductive. He shows this when he states, “Only qualified’ applicants are given preferences. The issue is not whether the winning applicant is in some absolute sense qualified.’ If you use race (or sex) to select a less qualified applicant your discriminating” (Clegg, par 8). In other words even if we in any way use race or sex to limit our choices, then we are it turn discriminating.
Affirmative action is quite a heated topic on today’s society, and I would imagine it will be for some time to come. The main reason for this being, that every time we place one persons needs in front of another we discriminate, or reverse discriminate, against somebody somewhere. So we just all have to learn to get along and not judge people by the color of their skin or their sex or beliefs. As “the first Justice John Marshall Harlan’s memorable phrase in dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), namely, that our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,'” (Affirmative, Encyclopedia American 35). We too need to be color-blind and not judge, or else we should expect to be judged in return.
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“Affirmative Action.” Encyclopedia of the American
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“Affirmative Action.” Merriam Webster’s Collegiate
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Clegg, Roger. “Affirmative Action: It’s Counterproductive.
By Roger Clegg.” World and I. June 1998, v13, n6,
p29(4): 33. Expanded Academic Index. Online. 02 Feb. 1999.
“reverse discrimination.” Merriam Webster’s Collegiate
Dictionary Tenth Edition. 1995 ed.
Shelton, Hilary O. “Affirmative Action: It’s Still Needed.
By Hilary O. Shelton.” World and I. June 1998, v13,
n6, p28(4): 31. Expanded Academic Index. Online. 02 Feb. 1999.