By: Rafael Rodriguez
Affirmative action is a term used to describe federal initiatives that require people responsible for providing economic and educational opportunities to consider a candidate’s race, sex, or disability, especially if the individual’s minority affiliation has suffered past discrimination. It has done an incredible favor by allowing opportunities for those who have been historically denied equal opportunity. Affirmative action was not intended to be a quota system, but has been abused by administrators–particularly those who are opposed to it. Affirmative action is a question of morals. The simplicity to form two morals that are both correct but conflicting is the reason for the division of America on affirmative action. It is thought that one takes a side in the issue of affirmative action; they are either for or against the issue. However, I hold a neutral position in the debate. I can identify with both perspectives on this topic. Not only does affirmative action deal with discrimination because of race or sex, it addresses discrimination as a whole. Affirmative action is a growing argument among our society. It is multifaceted and very often defined vaguely. Some can define affirmative action as the ability to strive for equality and inclusiveness. Others might see it as a quota-based system for different minority groups. Is affirmative action fair? Are minority groups on equal footing? Is gaining employment for minorities difficult? Is education easily obtained for the minority groups of people? Affirmative action pretends to answer all these questions, while allowing society to believe harmony exists. AA has provided many opportunities for minorities in America. It has taken thirty years to finally show minorities in greater numbers getting accepted to more colleges, and having more job opportunities and less limitations. But I also feel that it is lacking in some aspects. In a way it has had an impact of some reverse discrimination among all Americans; the problem still exists as a ongoing battle. It forces colleges and business to adhere to quotas, still discriminating against the best-qualified individual- whoever they may be. I think there may be a better way to obtain equality for all people in America. And that is why I choose to remain neutral in this discrepancy (Ladies.35) It is difficult for me to choose a definite side. Because of affirmative action being present, the government has introduced quotas and criteria in considering job applicants and on college applications. In a sense, that lowers the standards for all the other qualified non-minorities who apply. However, without affirmative action, I feel that by some subliminal discrimination, the number of minorities may significantly decline. This is because all people are guilty of some form of discrimination- whether we realize it or not. Twenty years ago, women could not have held some of the jobs or had the opportunities available for us today. But a woman will still receive lower wages to a man holding her same job (Ladies 36). This is encouraging to me, yet discouraging at the same time. Racial differences are also an issue. From my own personal past experience, I had a friend that worked for a man who owned a restaurant. By no fault of her own, she could not get to work on time one day. When she called to let her boss know the situation as to why she would be a little late, the man told her not to bother coming at all. I can’t help but feel that because she was black, she was discriminated against. However, my friend may have been fired for other reasons as well. It is one thing to deny someone the right to a job because of their physical or mental disability; some individuals simply cannot do the work that is offered. But when there are no prominent disabilities, one does wonder why people act the way they do toward anyone whose appearance looks different. Since being introduced to the college life, Ive become more accustomed to the diversity, especially in UB. Growing up in Puerto Rico, racism was not something I was brought up to seriously thinking about; I was not told or brought up to have preconceived notions about anyone who was different. But viewing a vandalized bulletin board, (when I moved to USA) filled with racist comments made the issue more of a reality for me, not just something I’d read about in textbooks and newspapers. Now looking back, I can see how I may have been subjected to sexism in a slight way, even in my own country. Affirmative action was never designed to relieve poverty; however, the opportunity for professional advancement undeniably provides a better life style for minorities and women. Despite the positive results of 30 years of affirmative action, it is still under attack by whites and even by blacks and other minorities–those who would benefit the most from it, wants to abolish it. It might need some tweaking or transformation, but abolishment is not the answer. Some have suggested the program should shift to a class-based program, but classes and race are already engraved in this society–I don’t think we can separate that. Though we would all like to think that America no longer needs affirmative action; there are at least three reasons that this well-meaning program should remain public policy. The first reason that affirmative action should remain a policy in this country is racism. Though many white Americans embrace the progress of minorities and women, many still hold on the old “Jim Crow” ideologies. One example of racism is the blatant recruitment practices by extremist groups such as the “Skin-heads” and the old “Ku Klux Klan”. These organized racist groups are using new technology (The Internet) and some of the old tactics (rallies and terrorism) to pollute the minds of the American youth. Another example of racism is of the covert variety. This variety uses demographics to screen potential employees. Since most of our cities are still segregated by race and/or ethnic neighborhoods, it is very easy for employers to identify or “weed out” individuals by a mere address alone. Identities are also obtained from ethnic speech patterns. The second reason affirmative action should remain public policy is based on simple human nature. One example of this is explained through sociological research– in that people have a tendency to surround themselves with those whom they most identify with. This applies to race, sex, and ethnicity. The presence of affirmative action serves as a reminder that Americans should have “inclusion” or “cultural diversity” as a goal. This is the only way we will actually achieve peace and tranquility. Another example of human nature that hinders equal opportunity is racial ego The third reason that affirmative action should remain public policy is political denial. One example is a speech by one of our nations leaders, former Vice President Bob Dole “Let me now forgive us Slavery was before we were bornmust future generations continue to pay the price for ancient wrongs?” (R. Wilkins, p. 344:19). This kind of rhetoric demonstrates that some white Americans deny that there is still a racial problem in this country–this attitude suggest that affirmative action should remain. Another example of a politician in denial was by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. According to the Washington Post”Gingrich dismissed the argument that the beneficiaries of affirmative action (blacks), have been subjected to discrimination for centuriesand that the Irish were discriminated by the English.” (R. Wilkins, p. 335:23). Given the nature of these denials from our leaders, minorities are still subject to discrimination. “People who forget the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat those mistakes in the future”. (Unknown famous quote). In my opinion, even if I am neutral, it would be a great mistake to abolish the affirmative action program. The attitude by politicians, racists, and plain old human nature provides solid reasons why affirmative action should remain public policy–maybe forever. Now understanding the some events that affected the public opinion about affirmative action, I can proceed in the discussion of what affect this has had on public opinion today. A few years ago, California’s government was debating Proposition 209, an article that states: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The state voted as to whether or not to do away with affirmative action altogether. It was a controversial issue in that one can easily see how it could or could not benefit society. One view was that it would make society blind to that which makes us all individuals and American citizens: ideally uniform all Americans in the eyes of the law. The opposing view was that it would terminate programs created for minorities, and that the proposition creates excuses that will continue discrimination against women. I can identify to the points made in both arguments. Proposition 209 was a reminder to the country that discrimination still takes place, and is an ongoing problem. It is necessary to understand where these viewpoints come from. American former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter took great pains to further the notion of equality among all American citizens. Ford extended affirmative action to veterans and people with disabilities, although his efforts did not prove to be completely successful. Carter put forth the Federal Contract Compliance Program in the hopes to consolidate businesses to having a uniform standard for their employees. But this pursuit of equality among all U.S. citizens was short lived by the time presidents Reagan and Bush came into office. Both presidents seemed to hold an “ideal” viewpoint, but I also believe that their speeches were written to please all American citizens, and are not entirely true to their own beliefs. The Fourteenth Amendment states 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. As a result, Affirmative action is not consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment. I will first discuss the violation of Affirmative Action against the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, how Affirmative Action helps one group of people while leaving out the other groups of people? Affirmative Action has occurred in several cases throughout the Americans history and the case that I will be referring to is Regents of the University of California. In 1978, Allan Bakke, a white male, who applied to the Medical School of the University of California medical school, was rejected even though his grade point average were higher than most of the applicants. he claimed being a victim of “reverse discrimination” and sued. In a close decision, the Court ruled that schools might not enforce a rigid quota system if whites are not allowed to compete equally. With the fact that applicants that were admitted with the special admissions program had lower scores, Bakke alleged that the Medical Schools special admissions program operated to exclude him from the school on the basis of his race. Affirmative action is very good when looking at who benefits from the outcome. Take a closer look at affirmative action. The people that are involved and the damage it takes on our society surfaces many doubts. Taking a closer look also stirs up a question of dignity that needs to be answered before making a decision on affirmative action. Does affirmative action simply change who is discriminated against and makes it legal for the new discriminators? An equal opportunity for the African Americans, for the most part, has remained more wishful thinking than fact. African American students are continuing to struggle for an education. In society today, many educational institutions offer scholarships for minorities. Ethnic minority students can further their education from the elementary level to the PhD level. However, for a minority student, all the financial assistance in the world is not going to pay for the racial discrimination that they may receive, while attending an educational facility. Equal opportunities for African Americans continue to be hard work and wishful thinking. African American business owners are still competing against their White counterparts. Society labels and stereotypes certain ethic people. Affirmative action is a written law requesting that minorities have equal opportunities however; society dictates how the opportunities will be given. African American workers are experiencing an unemployment rate twice that of Whites. The low rate of unemployment is due to low-income, low-education and low individual worth of African Americans. African Americans hold dead-end, labor-intensive, low-paying jobs. The educational opportunity for minority groups is low. One may argue that education is low due to finances. Studies have demonstrated that cities with the majority of the population being African American tend to have low-income earners, low standards of living and low basic education skills. One may argue that the community in which certain minority people have grown up in does not encourage education. Illegal drug abuse is often found in these communities. Those with low self-esteem seem to find that the drug dealers are their way to escape reality. One may argue that the minorities of people simply do not want to succeed in life, because there is no equality in our society. Affirmative action increases the opportunities for every minority whether race, creed, religion, or age to an equal opportunity for an educational experience. The Other Side of the Coin Should Americans be punished for the mistakes of their ancestors? In recent times, Affirmative Action has implemented policies of reverse discrimination to help oppressed minorities gain an advantage over majority groups in college admissions and in employment. In 1970, the Department of Labor exposed widespread racial discrimination of the Construction Department so President Richard M. Nixon decided to incorporate a system of “goals and timetables” to evaluate federal construction companies according to Affirmative Action. This idea of “goals and timetables” provided guidelines for companies to follow and comply with Affirmative Action regulations. During the presidency of Gerald R. Ford, he extended Affirmative Action to people with disabilities and Vietnam veterans but there were no goals or timetables for these two groups. This type of Affirmative Action required recruitment efforts, accessibility, accommodation and reviews of physical and mental job qualifications. President Jimmy Carter consolidated all federal agencies that were required by law to follow the Affirmative Action play into the Department of Labor. Before Carter did this, each agency handled Affirmative Action in its own individual way; some were not as consistent as other agencies were. The basis behind Affirmative Action is that because of past discrimination and oppression, such as the dispossession of Native Americans, the unequal treatment of women, and the enslavement of Black Americans, minorities and women have difficulty competing with their white male counterparts in mainstream American society (Thomas.125). But is this true? Why must white males be oppressed by Affirmative Action just because their ancestors enslaved and oppressed another race and gender, and be victims of reverse discrimination in employment and college admissions, like the Alan Bakker issue? The various regulations and court rulings have made Affirmative Action one of the most paradoxical issues facing America. On one hand, differing local, state, and federal laws require employers to avoid discrimination in up to nine criteria: race, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual preference, handicap, veterans’ status and religion. On the other hand, Affirmative Action rules also require certain employers, such as companies with federal contracts, to give preference to racial minorities, women, and others. Consequently, when considering both sides of the issue, it becomes apparent that reverse discrimination and preferential treatment of minorities is absolutely ludicrous when people are preaching equal rights and that “all men are created equal,” and that Affirmative Action should be outright abolished from all aspects of society as an unnecessary evil in order to ensure an equal playing field for all. Those who wish to retain Affirmative Action regulations argue that America has a moral obligation to right the wrongs of the past – which Blacks and other minorities, whose ancestors have suffered institutionalized discrimination for hundreds of years, have earned preferential treatment. Race-neutral hiring, say proponents, actually discriminates against minorities because the majority of available jobs are not advertised. Affirmative Action must be maintained for minorities to rise above the glass ceiling to management positions, and for poor minorities to rise from poverty and unemployment. Affirmative action has been the subject of increasing debate and tension in American society, and through this heated debate, the fight between Angle males and minorities actually sets the two groups apart instead of bringing them together. However, the debate over affirmative action has become ensnared in rhetoric that pits equality of opportunity against the equality of results (Matthew 344). The debate has been more emotional than intellectual, and has generated more tension than shed light on the issue. Too often, Affirmative Action is looked upon as the cure for a nation once ill with, but now cured of, the virulent disease of racial discrimination. Affirmative Action is, and should be seen as, a temporary, partial, and perhaps even imperfect remedy for past and continuing discrimination against historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups in American society. Working, as it should, it affords groups greater equality of opportunity in a social context marked by substantial inequalities and structural forces that impede a fair assessment of their capabilities (Matthew 348). However, its failure highlights the potential for an atmosphere of racism in this country, which may cause for many generations on. As Martin Luther King once said, “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.” Affirmative Action would make this dream virtually impossible, bringing race in as a factor in judging college admissions and employment. Why should whites suffer for society’s past mistakes? Anti-Affirmative Action activists also note that Affirmative Action programs make whites the victims of reverse discrimination. Affirmative Action works against minorities, because it is assumed that an individual who benefits from such programs is automatically considered inferior to other candidates for jobs or schools. Again in conclusion after all my research am still thinking neutral. Affirmative action is a double-sided sword, everything depends in which of the ends of the weapon are you. As a minority member, I see how Affirmative Action can help me, but also I will like to be hire in some job because of what I can do, I will not like to be hire in a job, just because they have 25 white Americansand only 2 Hispanics.
Bibliography 1. “A Question of Fairness” Ladies Home Journal. March 1996. 2. Boston, Thomas. “Ready, Aim, Fire”. Black Enterprises. March 1995. 3. Chappell, Kevin. “What They Don’t Tell You About Affirmative Action Ebony. August 1995. 4. Cooper, Matthew. “Affirmative Action on Ever-Thinning Ice”. Rolling Stones January/February 1995.
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By: Rafael Rodriguez