Affirmative action applies to employers in hiring and promoting minorities and women, governments in reserving a portion of their contracts for businesses owned by minorities and women, and colleges and universities in admitting minorities and women (Welch, 504). The history of affirmative action has its roots in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which stemmed from the 1954 United States Supreme Court Case of Brown vs. Board of Education. In this case, the Court ruled unanimously that school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order #11246 at Howard University that required federal contractors to undertake affirmative action to increase the number of minorities that they employ. He wanted to ensure that minorities were recruited to have real opportunities to be hired and then eventually get a promotion.
In 1969, 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.
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Before Carter did this, each agency handled affirmative action in its own individual way, some were not as consistent as other agencies were. He created the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP) in 1978 to ensure compliance with affirmative action policies. Affirmative action began to go downhill when Ronald Reagan and later George Bush came into office. Affirmative action lost some gains it had made and was more or less ignored by the Republicans in the White House and in Congress. Affirmative action was being neglected by our federal administrators. But during this time of neglect, there was one positive aspect, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA bans discrimination against workers with disabilities and requires employers to make ‘reasonable accommodations so they can work (Fram, 18).
Finally to the Presidency of Bill Clinton. The Republicans are attempting to scare people into changing their party lines by misusing affirmative action. They are saying that affirmative action is nothing more than a quota or reverse discrimination. As you can see, there have been many additions to the policy of affirmative action. People from the Vietnam War, people with disabilities, and minority groups have made gains in the workforce. However, more research needs to be conducted as to the qualifications of all of these people to make sure that race is not a determining factor in the giving and receiving of jobs. The best person for the job, no matter what race, should be given the job. Now that I have given a brief overview of the history of affirmative action, we will discuss the positive aspects. As you already know affirmative action was implemented with the idea and hope that America would finally become truly equal.
The tension of the 1960’s civil rights movement had made it very clear that the nation’s minority and female population were not receiving equal social and economic opportunity. The implementation of affirmative action was America’s first honest attempt at solving a problem, it had previously chosen to ignore. Affirmative action has had its greatest amount of success in the city, state, and government jobs. Since the 1960s, the area of law enforcement witnessed the greatest increase in minority applicants, and in jobs offered to minorities. This should be viewed as an extremely positive thing because prior to affirmative action these jobs were almost completely closed off to minorities and women. The influx has been greatest in the area of government, state, and the city because this type of work is easier for affirmative action to watch over and regulate. Affirmative action has experienced considerably less success in integration in big business. This is due to the fact that big business has been more resistant to affirmative action and harder to regulate.
A good example of affirmative action struggling in a large business would be The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. It is, in sum, an agency that has gone a long way toward complying with the letter of affirmative action goals while falling short in spirit — leaving many minority employees saying they suffer from the second-class treatment, harassment, and worse (Palmer). However, this is an area that most supporters of affirmative action expect to see a change for the better occur. Actually, within the MBTA, that change has already begun. The ranks of minority employees at MBTA have grown steadily over the years from less than 2% in 1966 to 6% in 1976 to more than 28.6% today (Palmer). There are many people who don’t see affirmative action as a positive thing and would like to see it eliminated. One disturbed writer feels that; “Affirmative action remains the whipping post and rallying cry of many white males, even though there exists no statistical proof that blacks have taken jobs or lucrative career opportunities away from white men, or even interrupted their dominance in the workplace (Lowery, p.148).
In my opinion, these people need to realize that thirty years of affirmative action isn’t a long enough time to solve a major societal problem. Affirmative action is making steady strides in helping the problem of racial inequality in America. Affirmative action is something we should all support until better and more effective plans are proposed. Since Affirmative action is a compromise, it does not please everybody. To tell you the truth… Affirmative action is far from perfect. First of all, many people feel that Affirmative Action uses reverse discrimination to solve the problem of discrimination. In that, it promotes the hiring of less-skilled workers: the employers have to choose from the best available employee from the minorities, instead of having the possibility to choose simply the best available employee. This bothers employers as well as employees who do not qualify for Affirmative Action; the employers feel they ended up with a lesser quality worker.
Here we come to yet another disadvantage of Affirmative Action, namely that now every employee from a minority that benefits from Affirmative Action bears a mark of “not being the best pick, but only the best pick from a limited group”, even if the person was selected for being the best available on the complete job market. The bypassed employees feel tricked by the government or the minority. This could lead to claims of racism among the bypassed group, while Affirmative Action was introduced to decrease racism. Affirmative Action does provide people from certain minorities with a job they would not have gotten otherwise, that is, after all, what Affirmative Action was introduced for. But if, after reading all of the above, you think of the quality of this job, in a surrounding hostile towards the minority the employee is from, one could seriously doubt the fact that this employee is happy with this job. It is better than no job, but that’s about it.
This brings me to the last negative aspect of Affirmative Action, and that is Affirmative Action. In a situation like this, nothing, no matter what kind of regulation you think of, will change unless the people (employers in this case) are willing to cooperate. I find it sad that in America, the “Melting-pot” of cultures, there is such a problem with discrimination. As long as people are not willing to live with each other and respect each other, then the “Melting-pot” will never really be melted. Despite the few negative aspects of Affirmative Action that I have mentioned above, I feel that Affirmative Action is necessary. Until a better solution is found or until the people of America finally stop quarreling about race, color, and culture and establish peace in the country itself, Affirmative Action should stay, being the best solution available: a compromise.
There are a few possible alternatives to affirmative action, some of them are very simple and some are a little more complex. The alternatives I will discuss in this paper will include reconstruction of civil society in minority communities, increasing minority and female applicant flow, and also the promotion of broad policies for economic opportunity and security that benefit low and middle-income Americans, black and white. “Building up civil society means strengthening ‘intermediate’ institutions, lying between the state and the individual, such as community associations, schools, media, and independent social agencies, which provide the organizational foundation for collective development and effective public representation” (Starr p. 4). If the same capital was made available for minority institutions, like other institutions, they would be able to develop in the society and eventually become a strong part of the minority community. These institutions would give direction and guidance that is needed by all to play a major role in his or her community.
Increasing minority and female applicant flow would be very easy for a company to do. They simply need to include minority colleges and universities in campus recruitment programs, place employment opportunities in minority-oriented print and broadcast media and retain applications of unhired minority applicants to be reviewed as a position opens. This would be a great opportunity for applicants and employers. We should work toward broad-based economic policies by consistently emphasizing broad-based, race-neutral policies, public investment, national health reform, an enlarged earned income tax credit, child support assurance, and other policies benefiting families with young children. Widely supported programs that promote the interests of both lower and middle-income Americans and that will also deliver substantial benefits to minorities on the basis of their economic condition, will do more to reduce minority poverty than narrowly based, and poorly funded, measures for minority groups or the poor alone.
These efforts can also be designed to coincide with intermediate institutions and thereby contribute to the overall process of civil reconstruction and renewal. Government-regulated affirmative action is slowly transitioning into voluntary policies of inclusion in the business community. The changing demographics of our workforce and of the United States population as a whole have caught the attention of government officials and business leaders. Women and minorities will be entering the workforce at a greater rate than white males as we enter the twenty-first century. The markets that businesses are competing for will also be shifting in a similar fashion. We often hear The President speak of the importance of recognizing the diversity in this country. Everyone has something to contribute; ideas or perspectives that have been shaped and influenced by their heritage, culture, ethnicity, race, gender, etc.
Besides possibly realizing anti-discriminatory policies are simply the right things to follow, there is a growing awareness that if businesses don’t recognize diversity inherent in the emerging workforce and markets they are competing for, future growth is at risk. More and more companies planning for the future and expecting to be influential forces in the years ahead are including diversity initiatives in their agendas. There are significant efforts in many companies to raise the awareness of their managers relative to the importance of diversity issues. There is an air of intolerance growing in corporate America when it appears that there is discriminatory activity taking place, recall the Texaco example. What once was legislated is slowly changing to a voluntary movement. Progress will probably be slow, but it’s a beginning.
- Fram, David K. “Manager’s Journal: What Employees Should Know About the ADA.” The Wall Street Journal 16 Sept. 1996, p. 18.
- Lowery, Mark. “The War on Equal Opportunity.” Black Enterprise Feb. 1995: p. 148-152.
- Palmer, Thomas C. “Racism Fight: MBTA’s Unfinished Business.” The Boston Globe 24 Feb. 1997, 3rd ed.: A1+.
- Starr, Paul. “Rebuilding Black Institutions.” The New Democrat May/June 1995: pgs. 3-6.
- Welch, Susan, et al. American Government: Sixth Edition. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1996.