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The issue of whether Affirmative Action will survive during the 21st century has been widely debated. This program was designed in the 1970’s to combat discrimination in the workforce and promote equality for all people regardless of race, color, creed, gender or national origin.
The system that has evolved since the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s is a misapplication of its original intent. Laws have been passed, quotas have been established and seemingly everything has been done to prevent discrimination, but these new laws and quotas are only discriminating against a new group of people–the qualified white male. The affirmative action system originally may have had a just intent, but I sincerely believe it has been counterproductive in practice. Affirmative action by design was intended to help minorities and women reach the same levels of opportunity as the so-called majority, but in the process, reverse discrimination has taken place.
Graglia believes “affirmative action” has become simply a deceptive label for racial preferences (31). This discrimination transgresses the basic American ideal that all people are equal before the law and must be treated as individuals. With the mass media rarely recognizing quotas much less portraying white males sympathetically, Peter Lynch, a sociological researcher, states, “white males have been silently victimized one by one” (quoted in Brimelow and Spencer). Now, in order to be employed, qualifications do not always matter as much as the color of a person’s skin or his ethnicity. Race and gender-based preferences have no place in an affirmative action program. Race preferences were originally reserved for the approximately twelve-percent of Americans who are black (O’Sullivan 22).
Today their beneficiaries of racial preference include Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Alaskan natives and immigrants who belong to the “protected classes.” A whopping one-third of the population is currently covered by race preferences–a figure that is predicted to inflate to about fifty-percent by the year 2050 since immigration from Third World countries is primarily responsible for transforming America demographically (O’Sullivan 22). These statistics essentially mean that a white male is now almost three times as likely to suffer officially imposed negative discrimination as he was thirty years ago (O’Sullivan).
Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Affirmative action will never fulfill Martin Luther King Jr. dream unless the program undergoes some reform. Is discrimination the solution to resolving past discrimination? No, I don’t believe so when it hurts others. Some people believe that affirmative action is justified as a way of making up for past discrimination. Although discrimination still exists in the United States, as it does in the rest of the world, most blacks entering the job market today were born after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and have suffered little prejudice when compared to their predecessors.
In my opinion, affirmative action was a feeble attempt to correct a long history of racial and sexual discrimination that seems to incite rather than ease feelings of racial hostility. Secondly, affirmative action promotes the hiring of less skilled workers. Affirmative action sometimes forces employers to choose the best of the minority applicants, regardless of whether they have the required skills, education or experience.
Many colleges and universities frequently also have quotas for how many blacks it is necessary to admit to “round out” their class enrollments. Today’s affirmative action can call for a college admissions officer faced with two similarly qualified applicants to choose the minority over the white, or for a manager to recruit and hire a qualified woman for a job instead of a man. “Qualified” as defined by affirmative action means minimally qualified (Koch 66). This guideline when applied in the real world, means that whites and Asians–no matter how economically disadvantaged or educationally deprived–may not compete equally in programs intended for blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women (Koch). Affirmative action decisions are not supposed to be based on quotas, nor are they supposed to give any preference to unqualified candidates.
The Supreme Court and other courts have drastically reduced the scope of affirmative action, and recent polls have shown that a majority of blacks dislike the fact that it is being used to help less qualified people get jobs, promotions, and admission to college (Zuckerman 88). The 1964 and 1991 Civil Rights Acts explicitly banned government imposed quotas, but nevertheless, quotas immediately spread through the economy (Brimelow and Spencer 80).
In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled that employers could be prosecuted if the racial makeup of the employees was not similar to that of the community. “Proportional representation rather than social justice became the watchword” (Zuckerman 88). Some people claim that whites owe blacks for what was taken from them in the past. I don’t believe that society owes any compensation to blacks that are entering today’s workplace or colleges. Where should a line be drawn; how much should society repay people for past wrongdoings? Is it enough to give them equal rights, or will we give them extra opportunities to make up for those our ancestors took away?
I agree that diversity in the workplace is essential because it coerces people of different cultures, backgrounds, colors, and race to work side-by-side in harmony. I believe the more one learns about another, the less likely he/she will discriminate against that person and others of the same race. On the other hand, it can also create animosity due to the fact that a minority may replace one who has had a particular job for a long period of time. It would only be natural for one to become bitter and dislike the minority who took the already filled position only because of his/her ethnic background or gender. If at all, race-based preferences should only apply in limited cases when two applicants are roughly similar in nature except for their race or gender.
Another problem with affirmative action is that it places a stigma on groups that receive preferential treatment, especially for individuals who earn their positions strictly because of their ability or qualifications. For example, an employer hires a member of a minority group for a high position on the basis of merit, not for affirmative action reasons. Other employees are likely to assume that it was an affirmative action hiring, as are many other minority hiring’s. This is not fair to minorities who earn their position based on qualifications or ability. Treating an individual like an affirmative action case, even if he/she is not, can be very insulting to a person who has made it to the top on his/her own talent. As an individual passes the initial point of entry and moves up to the top in one’s field of interest, the arguments of preference vanish; it is time to stand with pride on one’s own merit (Carter 386-387). According to Koch people like E.R Shipp (Pulitzer Prize winner), Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell have every right to be insulted (66). To eliminate the stigma on minority groups, the agenda of affirmative action should focus the racial aspect on the recruitment of minorities. This statement means that schools should not absolutely give preferential treatment to minorities, but schools should encourage minorities to apply for jobs in which they are underrepresented (Koch 66). Even if some of the minority applicants fail to qualify for a specific position, they can at least find out where they stand and what they need to do to qualify. From this point on it will be up to individuals to gain the qualifications they need. A positive attitude and a little self-motivation can go a long way.
Lastly, I would like to point out that affirmative action focuses on race rather than economics. In some parts of the country the playing field is not level because of income and economics, only partly due to race. “It is preference on the basis of race that arouses anger and a sense of injustice among whites, just as it arouses such feelings among blacks” (Glazer). When a poor child is offered petty curriculum choices and third-rate teachers by his school district, it is not because of his color, but because of his socioeconomic status (Brimelow and Spencer). Every child in this country should be afforded the same opportunity for a quality education until the completion of high school. Upon graduation from high school, the responsibility lies on the young adult to further his education. In my opinion, race has not been the major barrier to children obtaining a quality education. Lack of money has been the barrier; therefore, the government should focus on trying to increase the equality in the quality of our public schools. I believe affirmative action is fundamentally flawed, good in principle, but drastically needs to be reformed. There should be no special treatments, and no special preferences given to people because of race, creed, color or national origin. Society should try to live up to Martin Luther King Jr. dream of leaving people to be judged solely on character. Then and only then will the issues of race and gender disappear. Everyone has an opportunity to advance in this country; one just has to take the initiative and have the desire to succeed.
King 6 Works Cited Brimelow, Peter and Spencer, Leslie. “When Quotas Replace Merit, Everybody Suffers.” Forbes 15 Feb. 1993: 80-102. Carter, Stephen L. “Racial Justice on the Cheap.” Elements of Argument Text 1997: 382-387. Glazer, Nathan. “Race, Not Class.” Elements of Argument Text 1997: 389-392. Graglia, Lino A. “The Affirmative Action Fraud.” Washington University Journal of Urban and Contemporary Law (Summer 1998): 31-38. Koch, Ed. “Be Fair to All the Disadvantaged.” The American Enterprise (Nov/Dec 1998): 66. O’Sullivan, John. “Preferences For (Almost) All.” National Review 17 Apr. 2000: 22-24. Zuckerman, Mortimer B. “Piling on the Preferences.” US News and World Report 28 Jun. 1999: 88.
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Affirmative action has assisted many members of minority groups in creating equal opportunities in education and employment. Who could object to assisting these minorities, who suffered years of discrimination, in getting the equal opportunity they deserve? The problem is, affirmative action promotes racial preferences and quotas that cause mixed emotions. One-time supporters of affirmative action are now calling out “reverse discrimination”. If we want a stronger support for affirmative action we need to get rid of the preferential treatments. The backbone of affirmative action began with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on December 18, 1865. The amendment abolished slavery and any involuntary labor (“Federal laws,” 1998). This showed there was a calling for equal opportunity for all Americans. When the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, there were opponents who were skeptical of the amendment. Because of this they came up with two separate bills of their own: the civil rights bill, and an amendment to the Freedmen’s Bureau Act. The bills covered all citizens, not just blacks. The civil rights bill moved on to become the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Dorsen, 1994). The Act states that “all persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws…” (“Federal laws,” 1998). The turn of the century saw a minimal amount of legislation regarding discrimination. However, come the mid part of the century, an upheaval of civil disobedience and violent protests would spark what would come to be known as The Civil Rights Movement (Dorsen, 1994). This was an all out effort, made by many, to abolish the segregation and discrimination of black minorities. In 1961, President Kennedy enacted Executive Order 10925 (Lugg, 1997, p. 11). The order directed employers to take affirmative action to ensure a “color blind” method of hiring and promotion in government contracts. This began a concerted effort to abolish discrimination. With Executive Order of 10925 came the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (PCEEO). The Committee was given the authority to enforce affirmative action mandates by being able to cancel or suspend government contractors. Kennedy, mostly endorsing a “race conscious affirmative action,” kept away from racial preferences and quotas (Lugg, 1997, p. 11). On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Federal laws,” 1998). Title VII of the act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Title VI prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation. Title VIII is the original “federal fair housing law,” later amended in 1988. However, even after this and other legislation, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans were still underrepresented in employment and education (Dorsen, 1994). President Johnson also put through Executive Order 11246 which ended coerced non-specific minority hiring and adopted “hard and fast” quotas (Lugg, 1997, p 13). Under this order came the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The OFCCP was required to make annual reports on the progress of the goals and timetables obligatory of the federal contractors for hiring women and minorities (Burns, 1996, p. 3). Under the democratic congress of Nixon came a firm support of civil rights. However, Lugg (1997) suggests it was a “camouflage support of racial preferences” (p. 14). This meant Nixon merely enforced, and gave support to the existing laws rather than expanding on Johnson’s “hard and fast” quotas. Nixon, as many presidents had, shied away from supporting the preferential treatment of racial preferences and quotas. Johnson was the exception. Through Nixon and the following presidencies, anti-discrimination legislation slowed down. Most of the attention went to refining the existing laws. As Lugg (1997) mentions, “the Reagan administration did little more than rationalize the use of affirmative action, thereby legitimizing and strengthening the underlying policy” (p. 16). While in office, Reagan also condemned the idea of quotas and racial preferences, although it was in his power to abolish Johnson’s Executive Order 11246. The order used a de facto system in racial hiring, meaning that while there was no official approval of using quotas, they were actually in existence (Dorsen, 1994). The Bush Administration added to the provisions of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, establishing the 1991 Civil Rights Act that created new remedies and rights for plaintiffs in discrimination cases by authorizing compensatory and punitive damages (“Federal Laws,” 1998). This was a major move in acquiring equal opportunity in education. It would also lead to “reverse discrimination” lawsuits and an unjustified number of people claiming discrimination. However, during the 70’s racial preference and group proportional equality emerged in addition to other types of affirmative action. Some of these included special minority training, special financial aid and admittance requirements, and other similar actions. This idea of preferential treatment split the idea of anti-discrimination into two different directions (Lugg, 1997, p. 12). On one end was compensatory justice and on the other what would later be called “reverse discrimination”, meaning that the discrimination was against non-minorities. These preferential treatments would also play a role in developing the idea of “reverse discrimination”. According to Lugg (1997), during the Kennedy Administration, “the government [was] forced to strengthen [the] efforts at equalizing opportunity, and aimed not solely at ending discrimination but remedying the effects of past discrimination” (p. 11). This is when affirmative action makes the mistake of trying to correct past wrongs instead of focusing on equal opportunity for all. Besides the court hearings stemming from “reverse discrimination” suits, the first bill to ban racial preferences and quotas was passed in California by a 54 to 46 vote. The bill is called the California Civil Rights Initiative which decrees the state of California cannot discriminate (notice the choice of words) against anyone, or grant preferences to any individual or group on the basis of race, gender, or natural origin in public housing, public school admissions; including colleges, or public contracting. (Williams, 1997). A similar bill, in 1995, was brought up by Senate Majority leader Robert J. Dole, and Rep Charles T. Canady. The bill would have banned programs that used goals or timetables to remedy discrimination (Lugg, 1997, p. 3). However, this bill was unsuccessful. Many people believe that bills like these, if passed, will keep black and other minorities from gaining admittance to colleges. However as the table shows below, not much has changed since The California Civil Rights Initiative bill was passed last year. Black Enrollments at University Of California Medical Schools 1996 1997 UC- San Diego 3 0 UC- Irvine 2 0 UC- Los Angeles 10 10 UC- San Francisco 11 12 UC- Davis 0 5 Total 26 27 Source: (Zinsmeister, 1997, p. 18) Efforts, like the bills mentioned before, have become hot on the agendas of many people. According to Lugg (1997), while some anti-discrimination methods are “viewed by some as more aggressive yet legitimate methods to increase minority participation” others believed “such seemingly preferential policies [stifle] competition and [commit] what was to be known as ‘reverse discrimination’ against non-minorities.” (p. 12) Many tend to agree with the “others”. Here are just a few: Lugg (1997), “Is it socially justifiable to provide…federal and/or state legislation preferences…?” (p. 16) Altman & Promis, “It is against American principles of justice to sacrifice the rights of individuals for the benefit of some group” (Noel, 1997, p. 3). Lamar Alexander, “We made a big mistake when we fell into the trap of supporting ‘reverse discrimination’ rather than discouraging discrimination. It doesn’t work; and if we want to be one country, we should enforce the civil rights laws. But we should never let the government make distinctions based on race.”(Landrigan, 1997). Are these not legitimate concerns? In schools and in the job market, non-minorities are essentially being punished for something they had no part of. For example, in Boston a white female student was denied admittance at Boston Latin High School even though she tested higher than eleven minority students who did get in. Is this right? Three judges from the 1st U.S Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t think so. They agreed that denying admission to one student in favor of other students, who tested lower, on the basis of skin color was unconstitutional. The judges remarked that, “while we appreciate the difficulty of the school committee’s task, and admire the values that it seeks to nourish, noble ends cannot justify the deployment of constitutionally impermissible means” (Bayles, 1998, p. 19A). This is just one of the many court suits regarding “reverse discrimination”. With “reverse discrimination” aside, the question is whether the minorities, subject to the affirmative action laws, are ready to benefit from them. General Powell states, “ The choice before us is either getting back to the task of building all children or just keep building more jails,” and “there is no point in creating [affirmative action] opportunities if we bring up children who can’t use the English language. If this generation of youth doesn’t take advantage of those opportunities, what’s the point?” (Shepard, 1998). General Powell’s concern is that minorities, getting into elite colleges by way of racial preferences, don’t have the educational background needed to be successful in those colleges. For an example of his concern; all students who enroll at the nation’s twenty-five top-rated universities, must score a 1291 or above on the SAT’s. An average of 650 on both math and verbal would have to be scored. Yet in the entire country, only 1523 black students scored above a 650 on math and only 603 scored above 650 on the verbal section. This is compared to 74,000 whites that scored above 650 on math and 23,000 that scored above 650 on the verbal (Noel, 1997 p. 5). Is this worth General Powell’s concern? However, some minority students might not need to worry about their academic achievements since a study done by the Brookings Institute found that being black or Hispanic counted in your favor by several hundred points on the SAT or a grade point higher in your GPA. The study done with 5,000 recent students found that a white student needed a 3.8 GPA to have the same chance as Black or Hispanic student with a 2.8 GPA in gaining admittance to an elite college (Zinsmeister, 1997, p. 18). Isn’t this discrimination, or are minority students considered higher achievers in academics then non-minorities? My GPA was around a 2.8 in high school, however I doubt I would have been able to tackle Harvard. I wish not to take the opportunity away from minorities to gain a higher education, however if they do not have the educational background, and are most likely to drop out because of that, what is the point? It is not just in the schools that concerns about preferential treatment and “reverse discrimination” arise, but in the job market as well. For example, in the beginning of the preferential actions, 25% of employed white male mangers lost their jobs due to restrictions affirmative action had on them. Another example, The Northern Natural Gas Company of Omaha, Nebraska, was forced by the government to release sixty-five white male workers to make room for minority employees (Williams, 1997). Now what kind of equal opportunity is this? Granted, the percent of mangers would fall to incoming minorities, but to fire someone because of his or her skin color? Is this not the act we’re trying to ban? Besides the charges of “reverse discrimination”, it has come to a point that anti-discrimination legislation has become so broad and powerful that people are taking advantage of the programs. In Buffalo, NY ten police officers were investigated for attempting to pose as Hispanics to qualify for minority hiring quotas (Michel, 1998). One man who was one-eighth Hispanic, was granted minority status. This allowed him to move ahead of 200 white applicants. Is this not discrimination? There needs to be some kind of qualifications to qualify for minority status, and it doesn’t mean being one-eighth (Hispanic), having a surname, or being able to speak Spanish. To understand the scope of people trying to take advantage of these laws, the EEOC received 91,189 complaints in1994 of alleged victims of discrimination. Out of the 91,189, they were left with approximately 4% of the original number after dismissing complaints that did not have substantial evidence of discrimination (Burns, 1996, p. 3). With America’s attitude that we must “[aim] not solely at ending discrimination but remedying the effects of past discrimination,” we will always have the problem of discrimination and endless numbers of people crying “discrimination”. We must never judge anyone on the color of there skin no matter how noble the cause. Anything otherwise is discrimination. For example, in a Recent letter sent out by the Assistant Director of Personnel, Judy Krok, from Greenwich, Connecticut Public School System, to all the Deans of the Schools of Education, Ms. Krok specifically asks for minority job applicants for positions as teachers or teacher internships (Krok, 1998). I along with Dr. Carolyn Hollman, who received the letter, questioned weather it was in adherence to any laws governing racial preferences and quotas. With a few double clicks of my mouse, I found that a similar case was deemed unconstitutional; n April of this year (1998) a US Court of Appeals voided a federal requirement that radio and television stations engage in recruitment and outreach efforts -but not quotas- to seek minority Job applicants. The case was Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod v. FCC (Loury, 1998, p. 12). Judge Laurence Smith, writing for a three Judge panel responded “ We do not think it matters whether a government hiring program imposes hard quotas, soft quotas or goals. Any one of these techniques induces an employer to hire with an eye toward meeting the numerical target. As such, they can and surely will result in individuals being granted a preference because of their race” (Loury, 1998, p. 12). I couldn’t have summed it up better myself. Hiring anyone or giving admittance to anyone on the basis of their race constitutes as discrimination, even if it’s in good faith. Racial preferences and quotas do just that, and that is why affirmative action has so many opponents. While affirmative action is trying to amend past wrongs, many Americans are trying move forward to a nation of equality. We should use affirmative action as an insurance policy in acquiring equal opportunity, not as a trump card for a particular race. If we want a firmer support for affirmative action we need to get rid of the preferential treatment of quotas and racial preferences.
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