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Affirmative Action Research Paper Essay, Research Paper

Affirmative action is a term used to describe federal initiatives that require people responsible for providing economic and educational opportunities to consider a candidate’s race, sex, or disability, especially if the individual’s minority affiliation has suffered past discrimination (Affirmative Action 1). These special considerations are seen as reparations, payments made to people by the government for past mistreatment (Mizell 169). The laws that established affirmative action were initially intended to abolish discrimination in the job market and education (Mizell 164-5). They were further elaborated upon when employers and educators were given the option to correct past discrimination by giving preference to minorities (Mizell 164-5). Affirmative action was established with the altruistic intent of providing equal opportunity in a racially unequal society whereby impartial judgment of ability is dissipating (Lewis). In the long run, affirmative action is expected to instill in society an ability to reconsider the validity and consistency of the qualifications deeming the integrity of educational and vocational opportunity (Lewis). Although affirmative action seemingly violates equal rights beliefs, it continues to be necessary for minorities to receive equal opportunity in the work force, education, and society.

The need for affirmative action did not occur overnight. The history of the United States clearly exemplifies the necessity for this act through its history of discrimination, oppression, and hostility toward minority groups such as women and African Americans. Benjamin L. Hooks, author of Affirmative Action Benefits Minorities, believes it is just to offer minorities who have been victimized for centuries equal opportunity in modern society (Dudley 129). Historically, one often recognizes the decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that removed the legal limitations on labor opportunities for blacks (Lewis). This case was an addition to segregation, and therefore an addition to the new black “arena of competition” was necessary (Lewis). This addition was not formulated until the 1960’s, when affirmative action legislation took place (Lewis).

Opponents of affirmative action are quick to point out the negative effects and results of the legislation, though they often overlook the factors that have made it a necessity, “racism, oppression, and discrimination” (Dudley 132). In fact, many affirmative action advocates believe that past repression of minorities has lent a hand in the rapid advancement of the white population (Dudley 140-44). This belief theorizes that because blacks were repressed, job availability, housing, living standards, and wages were elevated for the white population because fair competition was lacking (Dudley 140-44).

Former president Lyndon B. Johnson used his executive order in 1965 to establish affirmative action, which at the time covered government contracts and legalized minority consideration if institutions chose to enact it (Dudley 127). In 1972, the Equal Employment Act further applied affirmative action to education (Dudley 127). The positively progressing effects of affirmative action are evident from the 1960’s until 1980, before President Reagan’s term, whereas the overall minority economic position improved (Dudley 141).

When Reagan became president in 1980, affirmative action and numerous other civil rights legislations began to suffer the consequences of Reagan’s policies. Because of Reagan’s opposition to issues such as affirmative action, civil rights legislation, and anti-discriminatory measures, he made many appointments that increased the number of partisan federal employees (Mizell 163). The results of these actions are evident in the increasing wage gap between African American and white college graduates since 1979 (VanSlambrouk 3).

The two primary advantages of affirmative action include increasing minority employment opportunity, especially in high paying jobs, and helping to tear away racially imbedded stereotypes that exist in the mind of society as a whole (Dudley 145). According to writer Rene A. Redwood, affirmative action “symbolizes positive steps toward inclusion.”

President William Clinton supports affirmative action and its implications, as evident in his response to anti-affirmative action advocates, ” do they want a strict, if imperfect, meritocracy that will worsen segregation?” (Enda). The nation’s president also states, ” I think our society has a vested interest in having people from diverse backgrounds” (Enda).

The centuries of repression of minorities has undoubtedly hindered the people in many ways. The attempt to establish a society of “neutral principles” would be “unethical and immoral” (Lewis). The competition between races has never had a fair starting point; therefore, affirmative action is necessary to achieve this equality of opportunity (Lewis). According to Princeton University student Brian Lewis, “Any cursory look at the history of this country should provide a serious critique to the idea of a level playing field.”

Various reasons exist supporting the necessity for affirmative action. The most popular, though, is that affirmative action provides equal opportunity for minorities in an unequal society. When viewed from the perspective of discrimination victims, it provides opportunity for minorities and upholds the objective of fair competition (Hammond 28-32) in jobs, education, and business opportunities (Redwood 136). The companies that are supportive of affirmative action policies claim they have experienced success in hiring, promotion, and performance (Mizell 164-5). Other supporters of affirmative action claim that without it, qualified minorities do not receive the chance to earn more and advance themselves (Mizell 164-5).

Anti-affirmative advocates argue that equal opportunity presently exists, and because of this presence, it is evident that a minority’s low levels of achievement are a result of genes, culture, and lack of focus (Hammond 28-32). People who share this view often rehash the case Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education (Mizell 164). In this incident, an African American teacher sued the Michigan Public School system for not abiding affirmative action standards (Mizell 164). The court ruled that affirmative action policies are unable to take precedence over seniority in employment, exemplified through tenure (Mizell 164).

The problem of racial tension often views affirmative action as an element that has encouraged it and discouraged it. Many see affirmative action programs as weak, though it has been proven that they have lessened racial bias in the workplace and education (VanSlambrouk 3). Affirmative action advocates strongly feel that racial tension is actually caused by the bitterness of whites that deny minorities a sense of belonging in the workplace and education (Lewis). In reality, what affirmative action opposition ignores is the fact that racial tension existed centuries before the equal opportunity legislation was introduced (Lewis). Despite many people’s beliefs, dominant racial groups are not significantly suffering because of affirmative action (VanSlambrouk 3). Actually, affirmative action can possibly reduce racial tension by forcing people of different origins and backgrounds to cooperate and work together on a professional and intellectual field (Lewis). A 1990 Roper Survey concluded, “the US population is not as prejudiced as it was in 1978″ (Mizell 142). By considering neighborhood living conditions, housing opportunity, education, and jobs, the survey concluded that there is increased tolerance of minorities by whites, and both groups generally appear to be more content (Mizell 142).

Also debatable are the possible psychological effects of affirmative action on its benefactor and victims. Anti-affirmative action advocates argue that the failure of preferentially hired workers will reinforce negative stereotypes (Dudley 146). Other negative results incurred upon recipients of affirmative action’s benefits include effects such as an implied inferiority complex (Dudley 136). This is a species of demoralization; it is a debilitating doubt that is detrimental to an individual’s performance (Dudley 136). Another negative result is reverse discrimination, which many believe discriminates against whites by hiring less qualified minorities (Mizell 164). Also notable is subtle discrimination. This is often evident through the ‘glass ceiling’ effect in the business world, whereas preference backfires and holds back minorities (Dudley 137). This barrier held to minorities is often referred to the point at which the deciding factor is converted from color to competence.

Other’s view that affirmative action gives minorities the opportunities to defy such negative stereotypes that have labeled them seemingly since the beginning of time (Lewis). The reinforcement of stereotypes can be avoided by hiring minority candidates that are promising toward success (Dudley 146). Opponents of affirmative action policies fail to recognize the preferential treatment given to athletes and legacy students through college admissions and the possible inferiority complexes addressed in that area (Lewis).

Without affirmative action, it has been proven that minorities are discouraged from attempting to achieve their goals. Anti-affirmative advocates claim that the immense drop of 80%-83% in applicants to law schools in California and Texas as a result of abolishment of affirmative action is merely a “corrective process” (Coleman 30-37), though the numbers prove this to be much more serious. Anti-affirmative action advocates also found that the 8.4% drop in applications to US medical schools is a normal fluctuation, though the decline in the amount of minority applicants is appalling (Affirmative Action 1). “Applications by Mexican Americans, for example, fell 13.8%, by mainland Puerto Ricans 16.2%, and by African Americans 10.4%” (Affirmative Action 1). The first class admitted to University of California-Berkeley without affirmative action policies being used has observed a “50% decline in underrepresented minorities” (Kleffman). The decline in minority applicants to educational institutions is extremely detrimental to society in that the cultural distribution of professionals to the population is unbalanced; African Americans make up 11% of the US population comprise only 2.9% of the doctors in America (Affirmative Action 1). The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that nearly half of today’s physicians would not be in practice if it had not been for affirmative action’s policies (Affirmative Action 1). President William Clinton feels that the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison is a result of equal opportunity in education being unavailable to minorities; they therefore seek alternative lifestyles (Enda).

Affirmative action is necessary to uphold the diversified cultural experience of educational institutions. One reason affirmative action was originally established was to increase minority population in colleges and graduate schools (Mizell 167). President Clinton stated in his third national talk on race that “diversity is a virtue in and of itself-even if it means sacrifice for some” (Enda). According to Gwen Fitzpatrick, a Spanish professor at University of California-Berkeley, in response to the abolition of affirmative action policies, “Affirmative action had been effective in having greater representation of groups that had been excluded. The University of California has to be more representative of the population” (Kleffman). Rafael Perez-Torres, an English professor at University of California-Los Angeles argues, “This is seriously affecting the quality of education that we as professors can offer. It diminishes the variety of experiences that students can bring to the classroom. We want to make clear to the people of California that diversity is an issue that is important to the mission of the University of California” (Kleffman).

The necessity of affirmative action is imperative because minority educational opportunities are scant in comparison to those offered to the white population. The United States is a competitive economy, and economic success is dependent on productivity (Dudley 142-3). Productivity is most commonly a result of knowledge, education, and upbringing (Dudley 142-3). Children primarily gain these qualities from parents (Dudley 142-3). Therefore, children with parents of poor income and limited education will be at a disadvantage (Dudley 142-3). The poor, limited educational opportunities offered to blacks during post-slavery years just recently ceased to affect the latter-born generations (Dudley 142-3). Also, because of past treatment minority communities are often of a lower quality. This further influences the child’s limited ability to increase her/his human capital (Dudley 142-3). Most importantly, though, society has control over the education that minority students receive (Hammond 28-32).

The unequal education offered to minority children is often a result of the unequal access to educational resources, such as quality teachers and an appropriate curriculum (Hammond 28-32). Minority baby boomers were educated in segregated school systems where the funding was considerably lower, and thus where educational standards were inferior. The effectiveness of affirmative action, however, has been proven through the observance of SAT scores; those of African Americans have climbed fifty-four points between 1976 and 1994, as white students’ scores hardly fluctuated. Through the analysis of school finance cases in various states, it was found that schools serving large populations of minority students were under financed on nearly every level (Hammond 28-32). According to the 1991 report to Congress by Taylor and Piche,

Inequitable systems of school finance inflict disproportionate harm on minority and economically disadvantaged students. On an inter-state basis, such students are concentrated in states, primarily in the South, that have the lowest capacities to finance public education. On an intra-state basis, many of the states with the widest disparities in educational expenditures are large industrial states. In these states, many minorities and economically disadvantaged students are located in property-poor urban districts that fare the worst in educational expenditures (Or) in rural districts which suffer from fiscal inequity.

Jonathan Kozol’s studies in Savage Inequalities discovered that public schools accommodating students of color in an urban setting, on the average, spend half as much as similar schools in suburbs for children with special needs (Hammond 28-32). Studies have shown that factors influencing student achievement include school size, class size, curriculum, and the qualification of teachers. Studies further indicate that minority students are less likely than white students to receive these resources. According to Oakes, a University of California-Los Angeles professor, and Orfield, a Harvard professor, in multi-racial schools minority students are often placed in lower level courses of larger class size, along with less qualified teachers and a lower quality curriculum. It has been concluded that differences in teacher qualification and class size are just as, if not more, influential than the influence of parents and family life (Hammond 28-32).

A Tennessee study of elementary schools found that minority students are twice as likely to be assigned to the least effective and least qualified teacher (Hammond 28-32). The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found that new teachers who were hired without certification were assigned to teach underprivileged, often minority students who required expertise instruction. Research has concluded that although grades and test scores may be up to par, black students are often assigned to simpler, less competitive, often non-academic courses. Through the analyzation of various studies, the High School and Beyond Surveys and the National Educational Longitudinal Surveys have shown that minority and white students who take similar courses consistently perform similarly. According to Robert Dreeben of the University of Chicago, high-ability minority students in the first grade who performed considerably inferior to their white counterparts are experiencing the detrimental results of an unqualified instructor (Hammond 28-32).

In many instances, affirmative action has shown its positive impact on the lives of students across the nation. Rene A. Redwood, author of “I’m an Affirmative Action Baby and Proud,” writes, “Because of my junior-high-school counselor’s commitment to inclusion and a private prep school’s effort to reach out to students from different backgrounds, I went on to a high-quality undergraduate education at Tufts University.” In addition to this, many prestigious educational institutions claim that affirmative action has helped them recruit highly successful minority students (Mizell 167).

Many feel the most horrendous results of affirmative action, and therefore the primary reason why it should be stopped, are quotas. Quotas sanction a predetermined number of jobs and educational opportunities for specific races, similar to a racial reservation. Many people’s views indicate that quotas were established because leaders were insincere when providing equal opportunity (Dudley 130). In fact, the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People never endorsed quotas, which were unnecessary until corporate and municipal leaders were unwilling to uphold the spirit of affirmative action (Dudley 129). A famous quote is often stated by affirmative action advocates, “Affirmative Action is good for America. Quotas are illegal” (Coleman 30-37). Others believe that quotas are necessary because of the intense opposition to affirmative action, and therefore courts must, though rarely, establish temporary conditions to correct the violation of affirmative action legislations (VanSlambrouk 3). When a court must mandate quotas, however, it is usually because employers are guilty on heavy counts of discrimination (VanSlambrouk 3).

Affirmative action has accomplished a great deal in the few decades it has been implemented. It has made extraordinary impacts on the work force, especially pertaining to the inclusion of minorities in society. Initially, it was gravely needed because of the failure to sustain the employment of minority workers. Because many have just recently come into the workforce, the “last hired, first fired” policy is a common reason that many are kept unemployed (Mizell 164). Affirmative action has also inspired internships and other work programs to connect the work force with education, therefore further easing the often-difficult transition (Redwood 136).

Evidence that affirmative action has greatly increased the amount of minority workers in occupation was discovered when Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Alliance for the Advancement of Colored People, concluded that affirmative action policies are responsible for the increase in number of minority politicians, doctors, and lawyers (Dudley 127). One of the most effective measures of affirmative action in this area is the requirement of government contractors to make goals and timetables exclusively for the purpose of hiring minorities, taking into consideration minority ratio in the job pool of a particular market (VanSlambrouk 3). All affirmative action candidates agree that the access to society and the job market of minorities must stay open, even if legal provisions are necessary for it to be upheld (Redwood 136).

It is evident in many cases that affirmative action has raised the standard of living for many minorities. It is shown that affirmative action is responsible for the exceptional growth of the African-American middle class (Redwood 136). From 1970-1987, “the percentage of black families earning more than $25,000/year increased 8%,” according to the United States Census Bureau (Dudley 127). Many believe the white race created race/class correlation. This is evident according to the Kerner Commission; ” white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it” (Dudley 130).

In addition to education, affirmative action also brings a greatly diversified view to many professions. Because of certain ethnic backgrounds, young minority doctors are “more likely to be knowledgeable of and sympathetic towards the economic, social, and cultural needs of minority patients; more likely to pursue careers especially relevant to the needs of such patients and far more likely than physicians from other groups to practice in undeserved minority communities” (Affirmative Action 1). Also, a black lawyer can bring valid, though different qualifications that would have otherwise been overlooked by our justice system (Lewis).

When Proposition 209, legislation abolishing affirmative action, was legalized in California, professors at all University of California campuses were prepared for protest actions (Kleffman). Such activities included teach-ins, rallies, and seminars in disagreement with the state’s decision (Kleffman). Many similar, highly protested legislations are being reviewed in numerous states around the country such as Ohio, Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, Florida, and Washington. Anti-affirmative action proponents are battling this, using statewide ballot initiatives, lawsuits, and federal legislation (Coleman 30-37). Landmark lawsuits are taking place in Washington and Michigan over admissions policies, and affirmative action has proposed heated debate (Coleman 30-37).

For these stated reasons, affirmative action continues to be necessary for minorities to achieve equal opportunity in the work force, education, and society. If abolished, minorities would suffer in innumerable different aspects, as previously demonstrated.


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