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women, and working class women and men of all races who were previously excluded
from jobs or educational opportunities, or were denied opportunities once admitted, have
gained access through affirmative action. When these policies received executive branch
and judicial support, vast numbers of people of color, white women and men have gained
access they would not otherwise have had. These gains have led to very real changes.
Affirmative action programs have not eliminated racism, nor have they always been
implemented without problems. However, there would be no struggle to roll back the
gains achieved if affirmative action policies were ineffective. Affirmative action is not
about opening opportunities for unqualified individuals, but instead is designed to
increase the number of qualified applicants for employment, no matter what gender or
race they may happen to be.
“ Affirmative action is not about quotas. It’s an attempt to open more
opportunities for women and people of color through aggressive recruitment and outreach
greater access to academic institutions and the work place and not exclude people on the
basis of race or gender (Holhut3). Affirmative action in the employment status consist of
publicizing job notices in places where everyone can see: recruitment: eliminating
discriminatory hiring and setting goals towards increasing opportunities for those that
were previously discriminated against. However, Affirmative action programs not only
take steps for women and minorities, but also disabled veterans, and emotionally and
Affirmative action measures were established to fight racial discrimination. The
federal government mandated affirmative action programs to redress racial inequality and
injustice in a series of steps beginning with an executive order issued by president
Kennedy in 1961 (Thomas4). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination illegal
and established equal employment opportunity for all Americans regardless of race,
cultural differences, colo or religion. Subsequent executive orders in particular executive
order11246 issued by President Johnson in September 1965, mandated affirmative action
goals for all federally funded programs and moved monitoring and enforcement of
affirmative action programs out of the White House and into the labor department
(Holhut3). These policies and the government action that followed were a response to
the tremendous mobilization of African Americans and white supporters during the late
1950’s and early 1960’s pushing for integration and racial justice (Kivel2).
An area that affirmative action address is selective hiring programs. Many times
people of color have been excluded from hiring pools, overly discriminated against,
unfairly eliminated because of inappropriate qualification standards, or have been
rendered unqualified because of the discrimination in education and housing. Court
decisions such as Adarand versus Pena dealing with affirmative action issues have been
rendered illegal these qualifications that are not relevant to ones ability on the job. They
have mandated hiring goals so that those employed begin to reflect the racial mix of the
general population which workers are drawn (Thomas3). There is a mandate that is
choosing between qualified candidates; the hiring preference should be for a person of
color when past discrimination has resulted in whit people receiving selective treatment.
Sometimes people argue that affirmative action means that the most qualified
person will not be hired. However, it has been demonstrated many times in hiring and
academic recruitment that test and educational qualifications are not necessarily the best
predictors of the future success. This does not mean unqualified people should be hired.
It means qualified people who may not have the highest test scores or grades, but who are
ready to do the job may be hired(Lopez5). Employers have traditionally hired people not
only on test scores, but personal appearance, personal connections, school ties and on
race and gender preferences, demonstrating that talent or desirability can be defined in
many ways. These practices have all contributed to a segregated work force where
whites hold the best jobs, and people of color work in the least desirable and most poorly
paid jobs. Affirmative action policies serve as a corrective to such patterns of
discrimination. They show progress toward equal representation and place the burdens of
proof on organizations to show why it is not possible to achieve it.
It has been argued that affirmative action benefits people of color who are already
well off or have middle class advantages, not the poor and working class people of color
who most need it. A more careful observation reveals that affirmative action programs
have benefited substantial numbers of poor and working class people of color. Access to
job training programs, vocational schools, and semi-skilled and skilled blue-collar, craft,
pink-collar, police and firefighter jobs has increased substantially through affirmative
action programs. Even in the professions, many people of color who have benefited from
affirmative action have been from families of low income and job status.
Another argument raised against affirmative action is that individual white
people, especially white males, have to pay for past discrimination and may not get the
jobs they deserve. It is true that specific white people may not get specific job
opportunities because of affirmative action policies and may not suffer as a result. This
lack of opportunity is unfortunate; the structural factors which produce a lack of decent
jobs needs to be addressed. It must not be forgotten that millions of specific people of
color have also specific job opportunities as a result of racial discrimination. “ To be
concerned only with the white applicants who don’t get the job, and not with the people
who don’t, is showing racial preference (Greenberg1).”
But how true is it that white males are being discriminated against or are losing
out because of affirmative action programs? If one looks at the compositions of various
professions such as law, medicine, architecture, academics, and journalism, or at
corporate management, or at higher-level government positions. If one looks overall at
the average income levels of white men immediately notices that people of color are still
significantly underrepresented and underpaid in every category. People of color don’t
make up the proportions of these jobs even remotely equal to their percentage of the
population. They don’t earn wages comparable to white men. White men are
tremendously over represented in almost any category of work that is highly rewarded
except for professional athletics. According to a 1995 government report, white males
make up only 29 percent of the workforce, but they hold 95 percent of senior
management positions (“Affirmative action4”). Until there is both equak opportunity and
fair distribution of education, training and advancement to all Americans, affirmative
action for people of color will be necessary to counter the hundreds of years of
affirmative action that has been directed at white males. It cannot reasonably be argued
that white males are discriminated against as a group if they are over represented in most
high status categories (Scoggins6).
Affirmative action programs have been effective in many areas of public life
because they opened up opportunities for people who would not otherwise have them,
including white women and men. Attacks on affirmative action are part of a systematic
attempt to roll back progress in ending discrimination and to curtail a broad social
commitment to justice and equality. Attacking affirmative action is self-destructive for
all of us except the rich (“ Affirmative Action”). Affirmative action is not a cure-all. It
will not eliminate racial discrimination, nor will it eliminate competition for scarce
resources. Affirmative action programs can only ensure that every one has a fair chance
at what is available.
“ Affirmative action.” History of Affirmative Action. Online. Norview Lib. Internet
“ Affirmative Action.” What is Affirmative Action. Online. Norview Lib. Internet
March 22, 1999.
Greenberg, David. “ Affirmative Action. “ Beltway Watch. Online. Norview Lib.
Internet. March 22, 1999.
Holhut, Randolph. The Hottest of the Hot Button: Racism and Affirmative Action.
Online. Norview Lib. Internet. 1996. March 22, 1999.