This paper discusses Affirmative Action and why it should not have been curtailed. (5 pages; 2 sources; MLA citation style). Introduction Rarely has a public policy caused the outcry associated with Affirmative Action. By wrong labeling Affirmative Action a “quota system,” opponents have succeeded in overturning or curtailing the program in many areas. This paper looks at the reasons why Affirmative Action was designed, what it is meant to do, and why it’s important to restore it. What Is Affirmative Action? Affirmative Action is a program designed to provide equal access to various opportunities (education, employment) that would otherwise not be available to women, people of color, and other minorities. It was meant only to provide such access; it was never a quota system: nowhere has it ever been suggested that companies should hire lesser-qualified applicants because they’re women or minorities. What Affirmative Action does is allow these disadvantaged people an equal opportunity to apply for the positions they might not otherwise have.
And it also suggests that when all other factors are completely equal, it is advantageous to employ a woman, black, or minority rather than yet another white man. (White men, the last I heard, own and/or operate 98% of all businesses in the United States. They don’t really have much to worry about.) There are many myths about Affirmative Action, and they were clearly discussed in a very insightful article published in 1996 in the “Journal of Social Issues.” But before going to that source, I would like to make one observation about Affirmative Action, and other social programs. There is a persistent undercurrent of ill-will in the United States to blacks, immigrants, and others. In the case of blacks, for example, one sometimes hears something like “They got their freedom in 1863; how long does it take before we don’t have to give them special treatment? Isn’t 150 years enough?”
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This observation (aside from being boorish and racist) ignores basic facts of American history: the Emancipation Proclamation did in fact free the slaves, but it was hardly embraced whole-heartedly by the South, or indeed by the nation as a whole. Though technically free from slavery, blacks still faced discrimination, and in the years following the Civil War, they were lynched in increasing numbers. Jim Crow laws codified the despicable “separate but equal” doctrine of the deep South, and if we take all these factors together, we see that such freedom as blacks enjoy has only come to them within the last few decades—specifically since the civil rights movement of in the 1960s. They need and deserve the help of others, as do immigrants, as do women—who have been systematically patronized, devalued, and brutalized for millennia. Affirmative Action is desperately needed, and its repeal was a mistake.
Turning now to the article, I’d like to consider just two of the ten myths the author discusses. They should be sufficient to illustrate why Affirmative Action is a good program, not the unfair quota system its opponents claim. Let’s start with probably the greatest concern of all: that giving opportunities to women, blacks and other minorities will take jobs away from whites: “Government statistics do not support this myth. According to the Commerce Department, there are fewer than 2 million unemployed Black civilians and more than 100 million employed White civilians (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994). Thus, even if every unemployed Black worker were to displace a White worker, less than 2 percent of Whites would be affected.” (Plous, p. 28).
If we narrow this down to only those blacks who are actually qualified to hold the same jobs whites do, the number becomes much smaller, less than one percent. (Plous, p. 28). The other prevalent myth, and the one that really makes people angry, is the idea that their jobs are going to unqualified applicants merely to fill some sort of “quota,” and that the whole program is merely an attempt at social engineering by liberals and other left-wing types. Supporters of Affirmative Action are also opposed to the idea that unqualified people should be selected over those who are significantly more qualified, and in fact, this type of selection is specifically prohibited by the program. The myth that unqualified people get jobs is total without foundation. However, there are other levels of selection that may have lead to the misunderstanding.
First, as I said above, when all else is equal, Affirmative Action chooses women and minorities before whites. This is often the only way these people get into college, for instance, despite the fact that their scores are as good as their white counterparts. They aren’t plugged into the “good old boy” network, nor do their families have influence. Therefore, sometimes the only way for a highly qualified candidate to gain admission is through Affirmative Action. Plous says that most people do not see this as discrimination. (P. 31). The second selection occurs when women and blacks are chosen above whites whose scores/qualifications are marginally better than theirs. The important point term is “marginally.” Plous gives the example of SAT scores of 630 and 620. It is impossible to tell future performance with any degree of accuracy with scores that close, so choosing a black, woman, or minority with only ten points separating this candidate from the white male is easily justified.
At the third level, however, things are more complex. This is the level at which women and blacks are chosen over white men who are substantially more qualified. This is the provision that has led to the outcry against the program. However, it is only one possible outcome out of three, and it does not result in the selection of unqualified persons, merely less qualified persons. I think we have to weigh the gain to society as a whole to have more women, blacks, and minorities in the workforce and the educational system against the undeniable fact that sometimes they will take a position for which someone else is more qualified. I believe the action is worth it. Conclusion. Affirmative Action is not a quota system, nor does it promote unqualified candidates in any case. However, it does occasionally favor lesser-qualified candidates. It is this single provision that has caused the furor, and we have indeed thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
- Kivel, Paul. “Affirmative Action Works!” In-Motion Magazine [On-line]. 17 Nov 1997. Accessed: 15 Mar 2003. http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/pkivel.html
- Plous, S. “Ten Myths about Affirmative Action.” Journal of Social Issues Winter 1996: 25-31.