Evolution of Affirmative Action Over The Last 40+ Years

For over 40 years, affirmative action has been used as a solution to racial inequality problems faced by organizations. The concept of affirmative action was introduced in 1961 by President Kennedy. Its creation was influenced by the high levels of discrimination that were observed in constitutional guarantees and civil rights laws. Enforcement of the term ‘affirmative action’ was however done during the reign of President Johnson (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005). The original goal of affirmative action was to level the playing field with reference to jobs and education, and to make sure that blacks and other minority groups had equal opportunities for career advancements, scholarships, promotions, financial aids, school admissions, and salary increases that had been set aside exclusively for the whites. Many people viewed affirmative action as a temporary issue that would end immediately a level playing field is created for all American citizens. However, for more than 45 years now, affirmative action still exists but with a totally different image from the one it had in 1961 (Rojas, 2002).

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In its original form, affirmative action gave minorities and women equal opportunities during employment hiring, entrance to universities, and federal contracts. It attempted to eliminate discrimination against women and minorities in America. During this time, affirmative action was labeled ‘reverse discrimination’ because it discriminated against white men. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows review of race-conscious affirmative action that is practiced by public or private employers and unions. Title VI of the Act allows review of affirmative action if practiced by private or state recipients of federal funds. Affirmative action that is practiced by government agencies is subject to review under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In 1965, Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 that required the Secretary of Labor to formulate rules that will allow federal contractors to eliminate discrimination. The department of labor, in collaboration with the construction industry, established plans that could pressure labor unions to create work crews that are ethnically balanced (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

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One case that can help in understanding the Civil Rights Act is the Griggs vs. Duke Power Company of 1971. In this case, the court held that affirmative action prohibits both intentional discrimination as well as employment policies that have resulted into the impacts of previous discrimination. It was established that organizations that discriminate against employees on the basis of race will have violated the Civil Rights Act. In 1976, the Supreme Court decided to except the federal government from liability under the fifth Amendment’s due process clause (Rojas, 2002). This was in the case of Washington vs. Davis of 1976 where the Supreme Court argued that the federal government could not be granted the same impact standard under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause employers in the private sector are protected by the Civil Rights Act (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

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Flaws in the policies that support affirmative action began to occur in the late 1970s. People were concerned about reverse discrimination when an increasing number of white men were denied education chances in institutions of higher learning. This issue was evidenced in the case of Regents of the University of California vs Bakke of 1978 (The Regents of the University of California, 2010). In this case, Allan Bakke was denied a chance in the University of California Medical School in two consecutive years. The school had reserved 16 out of 100 seats for women and minority groups and Bakke could not be given a chance because he was a white male. The Supreme Court later affirmed that affirmative action was a legal approach that organizations can use to reduce discrimination. However, the court was against the inflexible quota system that the medical school was trying to include in the affirmative action programs. For this reason, the court had unfairly discriminated against Bakke. According to Lewis Powell, the then judge of the Supreme Court, stated that universities may use race-based affirmative action in their admissions. However, racial quotas must completely be eliminated. In this case, race is just one of the factors that universities can use when they want to maintain a heterogeneous student body (Rojas, 2002).

Conservatives looked at the affirmative action concept as a zero-sum game that only opened doors for minorities while it denied whites education and job opportunities. The white angry men felt that majorities of unqualified blacks were enjoying opportunities offered to them by the American system. Some Americans blamed minority groups for trying to make the American way work for them yet they had experienced even more serious adversities in the hands of Asians and Jews. By the mid 1980s, American Universities used both the quota system and the race-based system in the admission programs. Several educational institutions and companies began to change the original intentions of affirmative action (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the government should set aside a certain amount of money to reward companies that did not discriminate against the minority groups. This ruling was meant to prevent companies from discriminating against minority groups. In addition, the ruling was meant to increase the number of businesses owned by minority groups. Non-minority businesses were expected to subcontract approximately 9.5 percent of their businesses to minority businesses. It is also during the late 1980s when it was held by the Supreme Court that discriminative practices that were performed before the Civil Rights Act were legal. Looking at the steps that affirmative action had taken up to this point, it is clear that the original intention of affirmative action had been changed (Rojas, 2002).

Debates about the effectiveness of affirmative action became even more complex and difficult. In the late 1980s, many people began to understand numerous injustices that were brought about by affirmative action. In Wygant case of 1986, white employees in senior positions were laid off while black employees retained their jobs. In 1987, the Alabama Department of Public Safety declined to promote black people above entry level even after they were demanded by the court for 12 years. In these instances, the initial goal of affirmative action had not been achieved because a level playing field had not been created for American citizens (Rojas, 2002).

The quota systems that universities had imposed in affirmative action programs began to fade in 1994 when the University of Maryland awarded scholarship only to African-American students. The University was struck by the Supreme Court which later affirmed that such practices were illegal. In 1998, the University of Texas Law School was also struck by the Court of Appeal for admitting students by race. This caused further disintegration of the University practices and admission systems that largely discriminated against white students. The main objective of the Supreme Court in these two instances was to do away with the issue of ‘reverse discrimination.’ The debates continued until 2003 when the Supreme Court decided to endorse the opinions if Justice Powell. This was in the case of Grutter vs. Bolliner of 2003 that involved the University of Michigan. In this case, the Supreme Court held that diversity of the student body is a compelling issue that can allow for the use of race in admissions. However the road for diversity-inspired affirmative action programs in 2003 was not as clear as those of 1978 (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

Some American citizens feel that affirmative action resulted into the impacts of reverse discrimination against white males because it prevented discrimination against women and minorities. In several instances, conservatives have accused the Supreme Court of endorsing reverse discrimination. When raising their complaints, American citizens stated that academic institutions and employers favored men and minorities in almost all aspects. Conversely, other Americans supported affirmative action because they felt that this system helped to counteract the past injustices that had been committed in institutions of higher learning and companies (Rojas, 2002). According to supporters, affirmative action could assist companies and academic institutions to achieve gender and racial equality. In a reaction against affirmative action, President Ronald Reagan decided to cut finding for civil rights division of the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to Reagan, black and other minorities should not be compensated for past injustices and the government should relax its efforts of fighting for equality on behalf of minorities and blacks (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

Personally, I feel that affirmative action has consistently and effectively been used to create a more robust and productive workforce. Affirmative action led to the creation of a policy that improved schooling for minorities in the late 1960s. Between 1960 and 1995, the percentage of minorities who graduated from college increased from 5.4 percent to 15.4 percent. Additionally, affirmative action led to a proportional rise in the number of Hispanic and Africa-American students who joined college in 1998 (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005). Again, affirmative action has effectively assisted academic institutions to break separation and segregation that have historically been rooted in their national life. Through affirmative action, diversity has been encouraged in the workforce which has helped to enhance engagement and active thinking processes. Diversity that is encouraged through affirmative action has also promoted motivation and intellectual engagement in the workplace (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

The positive impacts of affirmative action cannot be denied. Since 1961, affirmative action has assisted minority groups to get equal opportunities in institutions. For more than 40 years, affirmative action has helped to repair the damages that had previously been committed. To date, academic institutions all over the nation consist of students from diverse backgrounds. Companies have also employed workers from very diverse populations. Debates over affirmative action practices are still on the increase up to date. Many people feel that the original goal of affirmative action has not been achieved. In both public and the private sector, employees continuously complain that affirmative action is robbing them of opportunities and promotions. In another side, organizations continue to work hard towards achieving effectiveness in maintaining racially diverse workforce (Appel, Gray and Loym, 2005).

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