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Affirmation Action In Today Society:
Myths and Facts
As America nears the end of the twentieth century, we still face many lingering problems that stand unresolved. One of the most pressing and difficult problems is that of human relations, or to many, the trigger word race relations. For over 225 years America has been trying to fulfill the promise of the founders of this nation that “All Men Are Created Equal”, yet we still see institutionalized injustices and discrimination. Therefore, this paper attempts to look at one controversial issue that was implemented to correct previous human relation injustices of our nations. This issue is Affirmative Action. To examine affirmation action, this paper looks at the origin of affirmative action programs, U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action debate, employment and affirmative action, and finally myths and facts about affirmative action. I hope that through this paper these issues can be presented to gain a better understanding of affirmative action in today’s society.
Affirmative action is a policy assigned to increase representation of women and minorities in business, educational institutions and government. It origin lies in the legislation that came out of the civil right movement of the 1960’s. The Civil Right Act of 1964 was passed, which forbids discrimination unions, employment agencies, and business employing more than 25 employees. However, the tasks for enforcement of this law had been immense and extremely difficult. In an endeavor to redress the systematic discriminations of the past, especially against blacks, remedial programs often called “affirmative action” were undertaken by educational institutions, unions, and governments. These programs required a percentage of minorities – group (racial minority and women) representation goal and a timetable for accomplishment of that goal. The basic premise was to level to playing ground for minorities.
Almost, immediately from its inception affirmative action program has been controversy. The process of minority goals and percentages created a powerful” “white backlash”. Critics charge that the ratios are not goals but quotas and that affirmative action programs really call for reverse discrimination (discrimination against white males). Resolution of this conflict is difficult. While it is true that some minority group members were given preferential treatment and therefore some whites were discriminated against. However, white males must realize that they have benefited in countless ways from racism. For most of this country’s history, the nations top universities and businesses practiced the most effective form of affirmative action ever; the quota was for 100 percent white male. However, ever with affirmative actions programs in place, still minority-group members face far more discrimination than their white male counterparts. They still receive less pay and job opportunities than white males. Therefore, the legal controversy of affirmative actions programs continues.
Affirmative Action programs have met with varied fates in the Supreme Court. The first case involved a quota favorable to minority applicants. A man who had all the necessary qualifications but whom a state-run medical school rejected because the quota had filled all the openings successfully challenged it. But the Court upheld a private employer’s affirmative action program that preferentially hired minorities for new job openings. In 1980 the Court ruled that Congress could limit the use of federal funds in the construction industry to concerns that employed at least ten percent of workers from minority groups. “Affirmative action” is an area where the Supreme Court still seems far from achieving a stable consensus. In general, the Court has allowed the use of such programs based on race or gender in cases involving hiring, job promotion, and school admissions. But new issues have emerged involving seniority systems in employment. When the economy compels cutbacks in the work force, the last hired (usually minority workers) are the first fired, and the Supreme Court has grappled with the question of whether layoffs and firings may be made on the basis of race in order to maintain a balanced work force. The Court has held that minority employees may not be given artificially high seniority status when no actual discrimination had been directed toward them, and it has upheld employment seniority systems even if they result in a heavier burden to minorities, provided such systems were not created with discriminatory intent. In 1986 the Court invalidated an “affirmative action” plan that gave minority employees more protection against layoffs than it gave others. Nevertheless, where there is a compelling need to eradicate past discrimination, the federal courts have a great deal of latitude in creating “affirmative action” programs to rectify that injustice, and the courts can order a program that gives benefits to more than those who were the actual victims of discrimination. As of 1988, however, the Supreme Court was still divided in its approaches to this highly controversial area. However, public opinion polls show that even among whites about two-thirds of the people support affirmative action programs in employment.
Although both sex and race (employment) segregation have declined in the past 25 years, in the 1990s workers’ sex and race still affect the jobs they hold–with white men still over-represented in the best paying jobs,” writes Barbara F. Reskin in her report, “The Realities of Affirmative Action in Employment”. In her analysis of the labor market in 1996, Reskin, professor of sociology at Harvard University, found “almost 30 percent of white workers held managerial or professional jobs, compared with about one in five African-Americans and about one in seven Hispanics.”
Keep this in mind when debating affirmative action, which is designed to combat ongoing job discrimination. Critics of affirmative action often claim that it causes employers to hire less qualified and productive workers, resulting in inefficiencies in the workplace. Advocates contend that it has generally spurred the hiring of more women and minorities without compromising work performance. To determine which view is more accurate, economists Harry J. Holzer and David Neumark of Michigan State University analyzed the results of a survey of some 3,200 employers in the Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles areas from 1992 to 1994. Their findings suggest that affirmative action programs have little if any negative effect on worker productivity.
The survey results indicate that employers who stress affirmative action in their recruiting programs make extensive efforts to attract and screen job applicants. They also are more likely to provide training to those they do hire and to evaluate their performance carefully. While such efforts enable companies to hire more female and minority workers, the survey results indicate that aside from educational backgrounds, the qualifications and–more important–the work performance of such hires are on a par with other employees.
To be sure, those employers whose affirmative action policies are focused more directly on hiring and who don’t engage in strong “outreach” recruitment efforts do indicate that they are more likely to hire less-qualified females and minorities. But even these workers’ job performance does not appear to suffer– probably because their employers also tend to provide them with more training to bring them up to snuff.
In short, claims that affirmative action entails costs in terms of lower worker productivity aren’t borne out by employer reports. To further examine Affirmation Actions, here are ten myths and facts that must be considered in the debate:
Myth #1: Affirmative Action is “reverse discrimination” — let’s stop giving special rights to certain groups while others are left out.
Fact: Affirmative Action is fair!
Affirmative Action levels the playing field so people of color and all women have the chance to compete in education and in business. White men hold 95% to 97% of the high-level corporate jobs. And that’s with affirmative action programs in place. Imagine how low figures would be without affirmative action. Of 3000 federal court decisions in discrimination cases between 1990 and 1994, only 100 involved claims of reverse discrimination; only 6 of those claims were found to be valid.
Myth #2: Affirmative Action isn’t necessary anymore because discrimination
Fact: Women and people of color still face discrimination.
Despite the enormous gains made by the civil rights and women’s rights movements, women and people of color still face unfair obstacles in business and education. An astonishing 70% of schools are not in compliance with Title IX, the Federal Equal Education Opportunity law. For every dollar earned by men, women on a whole earn 74 cents, African American women earn 63 cents and Latino women earn 57 cents. According to the Census Bureau, only 25% of all doctors and lawyers are women. Less than 1% of auto mechanics are women. And women are only 8.4% of engineers.
Myth #3: Women-owned companies get fewer contracts because there aren’t
very many of them.
Fact: Women-owned businesses don’t get their fair share of government contracts.
Less than 3% of federal contracts go to women-owned firms. In Washington, less than 10% of state contracts and purchasing dollars go to women-owned firms — even though women own 39% of firms.
Myth #4: Affirmative Action should be based on economic need.
Fact: Affirmative Action is necessary so that women and people of color of every economic class have the opportunity to enter all fields.
Women and people of color should, of course, have the chance to compete for jobs in the trades, construction, skilled labor — and they should have access to professional jobs in engineering, medicine and the law as well as policy-making positions in executive suites and on boards of directors.
Myth #5: Affirmative Action lowers standards in education and the workplace
by letting unqualified people get ahead.
Fact: Affirmative Action helps qualified candidates overcome racism and sexism.
Affirmative Action is an investment in the future. By the time today’s college students are at the height of their careers, one-third of the population will be comprised of African Americans and Latinos.
Myth #6: Affirmative Action lowers the education standards.
Fact: If half of the people of color who are admitted to schools under affirmative action programs were cut, the acceptance rates of white men would only increase by 2%.
Women still face barriers in schools. In Washington, women receive only 12% of doctorates in engineering, and women are substantially under-represented in computer science nationwide.
Myth #7: Nobody else gets special consideration when applying to a college
or for a job. Why should women and people of color?
Fact: Lots of people get “special” consideration when applying for jobs or to schools.
Veterans often get preferences in workplaces and on campuses – which usually benefit men more than women. The children of alumni get preferential treatment over others in admission to college. Friends help friends and acquaintances get jobs. Affirmative Action helps open doors for women and people of color who often don’t have those connections.
Myth #8: Affirmative Action won’t help me.
Fact: Everyone benefits when discrimination is eliminated.
The majority of families depend on the income of women. When Affirmative Action opens up education, employment, and business, families and communities have greater economic security. Business leaders understand that affirmative action is necessary to develop a strong workforce. Women and people of color have a lot to offer their communities. Affirmative Action helps insure that everyone gets the chance to contribute.
Myth #9: Affirmative Action = Preferences
Fact: Affirmative Action = Equal Opportunities
Affirmative Action programs merely acknowledge that hundreds of years of discrimination cannot be erased in a few decades and still hold women and people of color back. Affirmative Action is the bridge between changing the laws and changing the culture.
Myth #10: Things are different now, we don’t need affirmative action
Fact: Until women and people of color get equal pay and education, we need affirmative action.
The radical right wing would have us believe that woman and people of color earn less because we don’t work as hard or we’re not as smart. That simply isn’t the case. Laws have changed, but discrimination persists. Affirmative Action only opens doors; women and people of color have to walk through those doors by themselves.
In a perfect world program such, as Affirmative Actions would not be needed. Personnel decisions would be basis upon each individual’s abilities and qualifications, without regards to gender or ethnic group. However, we are far from a perfect world. As long as we have prejudices, hatred, and discrimination in society, programs of Affirmative Action will be necessary.
Coleman, James William, and Cressey, Donald R. Social Problem. 5th ed. Harper Collins College Publishers. New York. 1993. 188-190
Levenson, Alec R., and Williams, Darrell L. Interracial America: Opposing View, “ Affirmative Action Combat Unintentional Racism”, Greenhaven Press Inc., San Diego, 1996, 154-158
Bender, David and Leone, Bruno. Work: Opposing Viewpoints, “Affirmative Action Promotes Equality”, Greenhaven Press Inc., San Diego, 168-176
Collier’s Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. Sierra Home, 1998
Reflective in Race Relation, Online, www. Elibrary.com, 18 Feb. 1999
Coleman, Jonathan. Long Way To Go: Black & White In America, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 1997
Carter, Stephen L., Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, Basic Books, New York,
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