Affirmative Action, and Why it Is Misunderstood
Affirmative Action (U.S. English), or positive discrimination (British English), is a policy or a program providing advantages for people of a minority group who are seen to have traditionally been discriminated against, with the aim of creating a more egalitarian society. This consists of preferential access to education, employment, health care, or social welfare.
In employment, affirmative action may also be known as employment equity. In this context affirmative action requires that institutions increase hiring and promotion of candidates of mandated groups.
Affirmative action is controversial, and critics often regard affirmative action as racialism and reverse discrimination, arguing that it takes a situational stand against racial/gender preference (supporting it in some situations but not others) instead of a principled stand (always objecting to it). Another criticism is the claim that affirmative action is anti-meritocratic (reward being based on merit), reducing incentive for productive work, and that part of demographic differences actually arise from cultural differences. Critics are also concerned that affirmative action may encourage animosity both ways, as well as encourage tribalistic thinking.
Affirmative action exists to change the distribution of jobs, education, wealth, or other things, based on characteristics that usually include race, sex, or ethnicity.
A certain minority group or gender may be less proportionately represented in an area, often employment or education, due predominantly, in the view of proponents, to past or ongoing discrimination against members of the group. In such a circumstance, proponents believe government action giving members of the group preferential treatment is necessary in order to achieve a proportionate distribution.
Though affirmative action in the U.S. is primarily associated with racial issues, the American civil rights movement originally gave as its purpose the correction of a history of oppression against all working-class and low-income people.
The inability of most people to define the term affirmative action is understandable in light of the fact that there exist in the current statutes, Executive Orders, and government regulations only a very few clearly delineated or comprehensive definitions of the concept. The Constitution of the United States contains no reference to affirmative action. Of relevance in the affirmative action debate is the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which provides that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
In the modern era, the concept of Affirmative Action was reborn in June 25, 1941, on the eve of World War II, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802 prohibiting government contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on race, color or national origin. This order is the first presidential action ever taken to prevent employment discrimination by private employers holding government contracts. The Executive Order applies to all defense contractors, but contains no enforcement authority. President Roosevelt signs the Executive Order primarily to ensure that there are no strikes or demonstrations disrupting the manufacture of military supplies as the country prepares for War.
It is the policy of the United States to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin, in the firm belief that the democratic way of life within the Nation can be defended successfully only with the help and support of all groups within its borders; and There is evidence that available and needed workers have been barred from employment in industries engaged in defense production solely because of considerations of race, creed, color, or national origin, to the detriment of workers' morale and of national unity:
The policy of the U.S. state that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and declare that it is the duty of employers and of labor organizations, in furtherance of said policy and of this order, to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin;
And it is hereby ordered as follows:
1. All departments and agencies of the Government of the United States concerned with vocational and training programs for defense production shall take special measures appropriate to assure that such programs are administered without discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin;
2. All contracting agencies of the Government of the United States shall include in all defense contracts hereafter negotiated by them a provision obligating the contractor not to discriminate against any worker because of race, creed, color, or national origin;
3. There is established in the Office of Production Management a Committee on Fair Employment Practice, which shall consist of a chairman and four other members to be appointed by the President. The Chairman and members of the Committee shall serve as such without compensation but shall be entitled to actual and necessary transportation, subsistence and other expenses incidental to performance of their duties. The Committee shall receive and investigate complaints of discrimination in violation of the provisions of this order and shall take appropriate steps to redress grievances which it finds to be valid. The Committee shall also recommend to the several departments and agencies of the Government of the United States and to the President all measures which may be deemed by it necessary or proper to effectuate the provisions of this order."
The term "affirmative action" first appeared in Executive Order 10925, which was signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961. The Kennedy Executive Order followed a series of orders issued by every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt that required government contractors to agree not to discriminate against employees or job applicants because of race, creed, color or national origin. The Kennedy Executive Order additionally mandated that these contractors agree to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin."
Affirmative Action Pros and Cons
Affirmative action is not the same thing as a quota system; quotas are "opposed in the United States vehemently.
Affirmative action involves much more than minority set-asides. It includes everything from enhanced recruitment of minorities to retention policies that encourage minority success in school and employment."
Some people think affirmative action is only for one or two minorities. In reality, the law does not separate one minority from another. Every minority is protected.
Affirmative action creates a constitutional paradox. "You do something unequal to create equality eventually." The constitution says we must treat all people equally, but affirmative action treats some people unequally, actually more equally. This creates constitutional tension."
This tension is just one of the reasons why many people have opposed affirmative action. Aside from arguments claiming reverse discrimination, affirmative action could stigmatize people and hurt a person's work environment.
Some people argue that you shouldn't extend affirmative action to an entire class of people. Just because you are part of an ethnic group, you should not get this preferential treatment. This argument, however, was not accepted by the courts.
Another argument against affirmative action is that the moment you protect a class in legal language, you put a stigma on them. People think it is demeaning. This is something that bothers Supreme Court Justice. he/she was once a recipient of affirmative action, and feels the frustration that people think; he/she is a member of the court just because he/she is black.
Affirmative action can hurt office work environments because a person who comes into an administrative position can get an inferiority complex. They believe the rest of the office will think they got there with help. This leads to unusual behavior.
Despite these drawbacks, affirmative action has merit. It is the primary legal tool to promote minorities who have been historically discriminated against, and there is a lot of evidence that minorities have been brought into the mainstream and accepted.
It does a good job in promoting diverse student bodies and workforces and providing equal opportunity for at least some minorities. There is a lot of value in diversity, especially in higher education.
As diversity increases in education and the workforce, we won't need affirmative action anymore.
It is impossible to put a date on it. People supposed the program would self-destruct, as everyone would become equal. But it's commonly known that once you create a government program, it's nearly impossible to kill. Once an interest group is created, they strongly defend their turf. Moreover, a society can never reach absolute equality to be able to say that there is no more need for affirmative action.
Affirmative action should protect economically disadvantaged people as well as minority groups.
We should bring in additional economic criteria. There are poor whites and poor minorities, and both are denied opportunities. Affirmative action may have to protect economic classes rather than races as more women and minorities advance socially and economically.
Why so many people don't like affirmative action?…