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Though affirmative action may have been valuable in the beginning, it has long since outlived any usefulness it may have had. That it ever had any usefulness is questionable, based on comparisons between overall black populations socioeconomic standing today and that of the mid-1960’s. Today, it is little more than a scapegoat behind which inferior performance can hid very well, and that scapegoat’s upkeep has become far too extravagant in today’s society.
“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock my brothers and sisters--Plymouth Rock landed on us,” Malcolm X’s observation is brought out by the facts of America history. Snatched from their native land transported thousands of miles--in a nightmare of disease and death and sold into slavery blacks were reduced into the legal status of farm animals. Even after emancipation, blacks were segregated from whites--in some states by law, in social practice almost everywhere. American apartheid continued for another century. In 1954 the Supreme Court declared state compelled segregation in schools unconstitutional, and it followed up that decisions with others that struck down many other forms of official segregation. Still discrimination survived, and in most southern states blacks were either discouraged or prohibited from excersizing their rights to vote. Not until the 1960’s was compulsory segregation finally and effectively challenged. Between 1964 and 1968 congress passed the most sweeping legislation since the end of the Civil War. It banned discrimination in employment, public accommodation,( hotels, motels, restaurants, etc.), and housing; it also guaranteed voting rights for blacks in areas suspected of disenfranchising blacks. Today, several agencies in the federal government excursive sweeping powers to enforce these civil rights measures.
After the United States congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it became apparent that certain business traditions, such as seniority, status and aptitude tests, prevented total equality in employment. The president Lyndon B. Johnson decided something needed to be done to remedy these flaws. On September 24, 1965 he issued an Executive Order #11246 at Howard University that required federal contractors “to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed... without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” When President Johnson signed that order, he enacted one of the most discriminating pieces of legislation since the Jim Crow laws were passed.
Affirmative action was first created in effort to help minorities leap the discriminative barriers that were ever so present when the bill first took action in 1965.
However, since that time affirmative action has evolved into many different misunderstandings among not only the constituents it was designed to open the doors for but also the school systems, employers and others who ended up implementing a “quota system.” What it all boils down to is “reverse discrimination.” It is one thing to end discrimination, but it is quite another when employers, schools and others give preferences to people based on the color of their skin or “past discrimination.” When the Civil Rights act was passed, minorities especially African-Americans believed that they should receive retribution for the years of discrimination they endured. Now, they want to be equal, but when it comes to admission to college, and government contracts they want an advantage. When it comes to private groups such as the NAACP or the Black Women of America (maybe there is no such group), the point is that the only all-white groups that exclude all other colors or origins is the KKK, and for all anybody cares they are crazy! People need to wake up and realize that equal means equal. It is true that many black people have broken the so-called discrimination barriers but is it because of affirmative action? All of the Civil Rights and discrimination laws has set forth a standard that discrimination is wrong and affirmative action has only set more barriers for others.
Affirmative action is an abuse of power by the government and an unjust law. What will be next, a law that protects another group of people? Possibly a law that requires employers and universities to ensure that the percentage of workers and students they have employed and enrolled that are left-handed corresponds with the population as a whole. Or maybe a law doing the same except reverting to eye color or even hair color. This extreme is reverting to the communist ways or beliefs of Adolf Hitler. Maybe left-handed people feel that they are discriminated against or blondes, and want to protest until something is done about it . When our government is going right down to the core requiring that quotas and standards be met, they are obviously trying hard to establish a fine line of equality. Everyone has heard the saying “Life isn’t always fair,” which is true and the government needs to realize that no matter how many laws are passed, and how many violators are prosecuted they can never make things fair. By passing laws that give more opportunity to any race, they are at the same time excluding other races. When government steps in too much they only make things worse. By setting standards and quotas, they essentially exclude some who are more deserving, and give more power and privilege to those who may not be any more deserving than the next. It’s merely a flip of how things have been done the last century in this country. Rather than exclude blacks and other races, and giving privileges and priorities to whites, they are excluding whites and giving privileges and priorities to blacks and other races. And it has proven in the past, the group not receiving the privileges and priorities becomes angry and fights to find “fairness”, and if the whites fight for “fairness,” then the government has only gotten themselves into a repeating chain of events. The government needs to find a balance and call it “fair” and leave it at that!
Are we truly responsible for the years of persecution that African Americans were submitted to? The answers to this question are yes and no. It is true that the white man is partly responsible for the suppression of the African American race. However, the individual white male is not. It is just as unfair and suppressive to hold many white males responsible for past persecution now as it was to discriminate against many African Americans in generations before. Why should an honest, hard-working, open-minded white male be surppressed, today, for past injustice? Affirmative action accepts and condones the idea of “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Do two wrongs make a right? Many parents in America taught their children better than that, did they not?
Affects of Affirmative Action on society’s well being takes place in many forms. The lingering cycle of inequality begins with the socioeconomical environments, and education of our nations children. It has been stated that when a child is moved from a ghetto, whether black, white, Hispanic, Asian or any other origin for that matter, where the thought of succeeding or being better and overcoming hardships would be shunned, to a middle or upper-class neighborhood where opportunity for succeeding is greater, that today’s children would do impressively better. This may be due to raised self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and other contributing factors that come with socioeconomic status. Bringing our children up in poverty causes the same things to happen again and again. Some blacks may feel that the entire white race is solely responsible for the downfall of the African American race in America. However, anyone, if they try, is able to live up to their own abilities. The children who live in the ghettos do not have many positive role models, their parents may possibly set forth bad examples, and children might not be encouraged to live up to their abilities. Some people may have to try harder than others to succeed but because of Equal Rights and Civil Rights acts they cannot be discriminated against for any reason. The main reasons the black people in our country may not have the same opportunity isn’t because of their race whatsoever, it is because of the ways in which they were raised in this country.
Justice John Marshall, according to national review, had said, “There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind.” Indeed, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained points that were needed at the time, but it is a far cry from what we see as civil rights today as they have been extremely modified by other bills. After more than 30 years of evolution of the act and of more than enough time to judge the effectiveness of Affirmative action, the only logical conclusion in light of the facts-rather than that of rhetoric-is that not only has affirmative action not been working effectively for the black segment of our population for which it was originally intended, it has not been working efficiently for any segment of our population. In fact, it has probably done more harm than good.
Affirmative action is often vilified by those not eligible for its benefits as being unfair, as a policy that gives preferential treatment. After one Supreme Court ruling on an affirmative action case, at least one white man was incensed that he possible could be passed by because of his color. He was disturbed by what he called preferential treatment to unqualified minorities getting more than they deserved. He wanted to know: Couldn’t they compete like everyone else?, Why should hard-working whites like himself be pushed aside for second-rate affirmative action hires?, and Why should he be discriminated against in order to accommodate them? This young white man was a Harvard student of seemingly limited metal capabilities. His admission to Harvard had been by means of family connections, as were his internships first with the White House and then with World bank. He had been offered a prestigious position based on his pending Harvard degree and two internships. He had obviously failed to realize that he had been the recipient of the very preferential treatment he so railed against when the subject was affirmative action rather than his own background and family history. On the other hand, some blacks or other minorities may feel that companies or schools can’t see their real talent, skill, and what they bring into the environment is because they are under affirmative action. From there, it is a natural progression to a feeling that performance would be better if the worker would be hired for any other reason aside from the mandates of affirmative action.
Supporters of affirmative action still maintain that nor only has the policy served both women and minorities both in their entrance to the corporate world and their abilities to advance within the existing framework of the corporate system. After “billions of dollars and thousands of regulations”, the fact that blacks and women have made substantial gains during the past 30 years that affirmative action policies have been in place cannot be disputed: The number of black corporate managers has risen over 50 percent, and the ranks of black professionals have increased more than 75 percent. But contrary to the claims of its champions these improvements are not perforce the result of affirmative action. “As Thomas Sowell noted in Preferential Policies, if anyone has been helped by affirmative action, then it has been the black elite and those positioned to advance regardless of quotas” (Kirsanow, 1995). Edward Koch, former mayor of New York City, agrees. Echoing the sentiments of many Americans who feel that preference does need to be given to those who otherwise would not have little chance, he also says of California’s debate on the abolition of discrimination that “in a simple, straightforward manner, this amendment to the state Constitution will eliminate race and gender preferences in state and local government contracting, employment, and education programs. As a Liberal with sanity, I say it’s about time.”
The most common argument of proponents of affirmative action is that it is needed, if for no other reason, for the purpose of correcting the wrongs done to the black race in the past. While most Americans would support providing remedies to identifiable victims of discrimination and punishing the perpetrators, the victims of today’s quotas, preferences, but of preferences and government set-asides by and large had nothing to do with the wrongs of previous generations’ prejudice and discrimination. For that reason, Koch supports the idea of preference treatment, but based on economic standing rather than on color of skin or associating with a particular ethnic group. Whether the basis for any affirmative action is race, color, economic need, sexual orientation, or abnormal preference for a specific season of the year, there are going to be people who cry foul over missing out on promotions simply because affirmative action and preference systems exist.
One black woman filed a discrimination suit against a New York utility because she was passed by on four different occasions for promotion to middle management. Each time, the open position was awarded to a white employee. However, the gender of these “white” employees was not mentioned. Simultaneously at another New York utility, however, two white men instituted a suit of their own, “a case in state court charging that affirmative action has turned into a form of injustice all its own” (Mendels A06). When affirmative action is the focus either for success or the lack of it, its very existence gives some employees a target to blame for their own lack of success. It is highly likely that neither black nor the white men involved in the New York utilities suits have even considered that perhaps they were seen as not being the best people for the jobs for which they applied. Anyone in the position of hiring for any sort of management position is faced with the necessity of taking into account far more than qualifications and experience. Some people who are in favor of affirmative action programs may argue that without affirmative action people in power who are prejudice will take advantage of their situation. A rebuttal for that belief may be that companies should and more often than not do hire potential employees for the sole reason that they are the best candidate for the job and that they will make a difference in a positive manner for the company.
Much of the extended life of affirmative action has been in response to such widespread scapegoating as exhibited by people of all colors and sex claiming discrimination based on the point du jour. A look at the true record of just the black race overall during the period for which affirmative action policies have been law clearly illustrates the true effect that those policies have had in advancing their causes. Many companies had to create jobs even though they may not have needed the help just because they needed to fill them with people of minority to reflect the overall percentage of minority; truly this would have to be a quota system and there for illegal even though it had been ordered by the federal government. Because of affirmative action programs’ stretched out regulations, the number of charges filed for discrimination with the EEOC has increased 50 percent between 1990 and 1995. When considering the cost of employers, maintaining (and creating) government set-asides, creating a private sector jobs for affirmative action hires and then training those hired under the collective programs, the true cost is estimated to be in the excess of $150 billion each year. More recently, that cost has been increased in estimate to more than $236 billion annually, which equates to more than $25,000 for each of the country’s black families with more four or more members.
Today, black unemployment is twice that of whites, which is about the same as it was when affirmative action was first in effect. In fact the overall black unemployment percentage rate has gone up rather than gone down. In 1971, the median black family income was 61 percent of what white families had. Today, it has fallen to just 54 percent of the white family’s income. In 1975, black males earned 74.3 percent of what white males earned. In 1995, that figure had dropped slightly to 74 percent. Additionally, although blacks constitute nearly 13 percent of the country’s population, blacks make up only 4 percent of doctors, 3.7 percent of lawyers, 3.6 percent of natural scientists and 1.4 percent of architects. However, what about all of the other professions, especially the professional athletes? Certainly, there is a great number of black males and females in professional athletics that make way more money than the average white American family. The whites are seemingly a minority in that particular field. Companies today are searching out the very best talent they can find, and neither color nor background has any bearing on hiring decisions when there is evidence of talent, as witnessed to by the trend of the corporate seeking any Indian or Asian national available who possesses any sort of technical background. Many of these people are not even American citizens and so are not protected in any manner by affirmative action policies. The only preferences they receive stems from their records of superior training and performance. In today’s increasingly competitive business environment and the ever-growing global market, color truly matters not one bit. Businesses have to do the best they can for themselves, and part of that best is attracting, and then keeping, the best individuals for the tasks they need done.
Replacing existing federally-mandated discrimination policies and affirmative action programs in favor of all of those economically disadvantaged, without regard to color or gender makes far more sense than continuing to maintain affirmative action policies and making more and more regulations to add on to the growing confusion. Until the nation’s people become more responsible citizens (gun laws, tobacco laws, rape, incest, sexual harassment, and other crimes that didn’t have laws before would be relevant to mention) and learn to accept everyone without looking at their color of skin but seeing the uniqueness in everybody, affirmative action laws unfortunately will have to stand as they do today.
1. Altschiller, Donald. ed. The Reference Shelf Series: Affirmative Action. 1991, The H. W. Wilson Company. This source includes reprints of articles and excerpts of books including the following sources: USA Today, U.S. Department of Labor, New Republic, Business Week, Mother Jones, US News and World Report, Ebony, Jet, Newsweek and many others.
2. Cose, Ellis. “Affirmative Action and the Dilemma of the “Qualified.” Black Enterprise. Oct 1994.
3. Curry, George E, ed.(editor in chief of Emerge magazine). The Affirmative Action Debate. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Inc., United States, May 1996.------includes many other sources in the book such as; Time Magazine, New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, and, Washington Post.
4. Kirsanow, Peter. “The Affirmative Action Experiment: One Colossal Failure.” Chicago Citizen. June 1995.
5. Koch, Edward L. “Scrap Affirmative Action As We Know It.” Los Angeles Times. PG M5, Oct. 1996.
6. Mendels, Pamela. “Sharing NYNEX’ Pie Job Equity a Delicate Balance.” Newsday, PG A7. April 1995.
7. Roberts, Paul Craig and Lawrence M. Stratton, Jr. “Color Code” (Affirmative Action: Cover Story). National Review. vol. 47 p 36. March 1995.