Should Affirmative Action be overturned?
In Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous speech, “I have a dream”. He says “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.” What would Reverend King think of the methods used to level the racial playing field in our country today? As more minorities seek to obtain equal footing in the current racial climate, affirmative action has caused us to digress in racial equality. It’s a program that should be overturned, because it brings about unneeded litigation, generates racial bias and social unrest. Its good intentions of yesterday have become outmoded and obsolete today. Has Reverend King’s dream of a colorblind society been pushed aside for faster quicker political and social means of acquiring racial equality?
In the 1960’s affirmative action was created for the purpose of making sure blacks were able to receive the same opportunities as whites in collages, universities, and work places. According to an article by Zack Burgess titled, “Scales still unbalanced with affirmative action”. In 1961 affirmative action was begin by President John F. Kennedy, to end discrimination by federal contractors. Making it possible for minority applicants to get equal consideration and not be discriminated against in by possible employers.
During President Lyndon Johnson term in office the Civil Rights act expanded upon President Kennedy’s policy. Affirmative action was not extended to women until 1967.
In 1971 affirmative action became official policy under the President Richard Nixon. At this time it became policy throughout the U.S government. Afterwards, it made its way into the job market, colleges, and universities. In preceding years Affirmative action has been redefined and amended. What was simple and straight forward in the beginning has now become complex, bloated, and unrecognizable.
For over 40 year’s Affirmative action has been used to achieve racial equality for minorities in America. Some states like Nebraska and California have passed new initiatives that ban affirmative action. In these states new alternatives and strategies have been taken to ensure that minorities achieve racial equality. In the case of California, it was noted that after affirmative was overturned university admission of minorities stayed the same. Each instance where affirmative action was challenged these actions were promoted in part by African-American anti-affirmative action activist.
It can be debated that minorities have made great strides in a lot of fields and hold high positions in businesses, politics, education and the media. For instance there is Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman and CEO of American Express or Ronald A. Williams who is the Chairman and CEO of Aetna Inc. Did these individuals at some point look beyond race and just strived to get where they are today by getting an education, setting goals, and working hard to achieve them?
What was the purpose of affirmative action in the first place, and do we really need it now? Affirmative action began in a time when minorities were greatly under represented in universities and respectable professions. Unless one was racist, most
would agreed with the need of affirmative action in college admissions and in the workplace.
But during this time our political and social leaders thought that the wheels of racial change were moving too slowly. Society needed an active law that enforced equality during a period when civil rights bills were only effective in name only.
With so much of America’s work force spawned from de-segregation, some may question whether racism really is the problem anymore, and many college students might answer yes. They see it on college campuses, and they are not sure why. Subconscious prejudices, self-segregation, political correctness, reverse discrimination, and ignorance all wade in the pool of opinions surrounding affirmative action and racial animosity. With racial tensions ever present in this country, one might question whether the problems can be solved by affirmative action.
Columnist Larry Elder pointed out in his article, “How to make an un-level playing field more un-level”. UCLA found that minority students that were admitted under affirmative action policies suffered academically. 51 percent of the minorities admitted would be in the lower 10 percent of their class. Where as, only 5 percent of white students would suffer the same academic struggle. This is because they were admitted with lower SAT scores, unprepared for the rigors that the university demands
and they fail because of it. So this raises the question of have minorities become dependent upon this policy of affirmative action? If this is true, then by doing so we are sitting our own selves up for failure.
I personally experienced this first hand. Back in the early eighties I was employed this electronics business. They had a great policy for promoting from within the company. While working there many employees were promoted out of stores rather than hiring management and supervisory personnel from the outside. They also had a disproportionate number of minorities in management and supervisor positions compared to whites. With the advantage that affirmative action gave me I took over the management responsibilities of my own store. Needless to say, I crashed and burned in a short time after I took over. Because of this fast track approach I did not have the knowledge of handling the day to day business needs. Afterwards I blamed everyone for my failure except myself. Then I came to my senses some time later. The realization was I neglected the most important part of the process. This was to prepare myself for the position and the responsibility.
According a poll conducted by The Rasmussen Report, 41 percent of Americans believe that Affirmative action should be overturned, 31 percent being African-American. Also, according to this report in 2009 55 percent of blacks believe that society is fair and just. This was a 15 percent increase from the previous month when this poll was taken. This shows a paradigm shift with African-Americans regarding affirmative action.
For most minorities the definition of affirmative action according to economist and writer Walter Williams means a “policy of non-discrimination”. Meaning it should be a blanket process in the recruitment, admission or hiring. This is archived by recruiting and advertising in minority schools, organization, and media. But the hiring or admissions of the individuals is treated equally by race.
Now, that is a little different from what has been stated before. The reason for that is, you guessed it, and there is more than one definition. According to Mr. Williams there are three. The one just stated is what Mr. Williams refers to as “Affirmative action I”. There is a affirmative action II that deals with racial preference. If both candidates are equal in qualification, preference should be given to the minority applicant. Affirmative action III which is known as the “racial spoils system” is defined where consideration and privileges in any way is based entirely on the race of the individual. This is the one I took advantage of in my previous reflection.
In looking at the different interpretation of affirmative action we can see how it is not motivated toward equality but more toward racial bias and inequality.
From the University of Michigan history web site, it gives account of the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. Barbara Grutters a white applicant had all the qualifications for acceptance into Law school but her application was rejected. Why? To answer that question we need to look at University of Michigan’s rules for admission. According to the article By Walter Williams, perfect GPA is worth 80 points; scholarship athlete, 20; perfect SAT, 12; outstanding essay, 3; minority, 20; other bonus points account for social, economic, and other categories. Those 20 points for minority status was the cause of Barbara Grutters rejection.
Her case was brought before the Supreme Court. Surprisingly the High Court ruled in favor of the University Of Michigan Law School. A quote from that ruling state:
“Major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints”.
In another surprising twist of fate the second case heard before the Supreme Court was Gratz v. Bollinger. Here the Court ruled for the plaintiff. These are situations where we have two cases argued in the same year, both arguing that the University of Michigan was in violation of the 14th amendment which forbid race from being a discouraging factor. But the outcome of each case was different. The only difference between them was Grutter was a Law student and Gertz was an undergrad. If our own Supreme Court cannot come to a consensus on Affirmative Action how can we expect others to?
Proponents of Affirmative action counter argue that these policies were put in place to ensure equality for minorities in America. W. Avon Drake stated in his article, “Affirmative action at the crossroads: Race and the future of Black Progress”. That without them minorities would have to fight for access to educational opportunities and economic benefits. It is also stated that we must have these initiatives in place to counter the attack on the foundation of minority advancement.
However, since affirmative actions inception over 40 years ago, unemployment among minorities has worsened. According to writer Zack Burgess from the article, “Scales still unbalanced with Affirmative Action, the percentage of minorities in professional positions (medicine, law, business, and science), according to labor department statistics have been in steady decline over the last 15 years. Part of the problem is that most minorities do not understand that there are many different programs and initiatives to aid them. Unfortunately, they are never discussed in either in debate or in the main stream media.
Employers are constantly monitoring there hiring processes. Keeping a close eye on the amount of minority applicants that pass through there doors. A friend who retired from the rail road and now owns a coffee shop related to me one of his experiences with affirmative action and the corporate process.
At the time he was managing about 700 employees. He was contacted by upper management who informed him that he had to heir more blacks because he had a disproportionate number of “non-whites” on his payroll. Being located Montana there just was not a large black community. He was told that regardless of the situation he would have to find a solution to “his” problem. His solution was to go to the local collage and hirer the entire graduating basketball team which was mostly black. He was able to fulfill the corporate requirement but also he was able to acquire a winning basketball team for his department.
Further study is needed to find alternative means to reach racial equality other than affirmative action. Even after the passage of the Civil Right Act, De-segregation and the Equal Right Amendment the stigma of “the man” has not gone away. Why are still using these old excuses for why we do not succeed if affirmative action works?
According to the Jacksonville Free Press “The never ending assault on affirmative action” Texas, California, Washington and other states, universities have replaces “race based” portions of there criteria for admitting students with a color blind admissions policy.
The article also points out that after the Supreme Court ruling in 1989, affecting affirmative in Richmond, “it became open season” on affirmative action programs. White businesses begin to claim that affirmative action programs discriminate against them. The court system agreed and these challenges have been upheld in Miami, Detroit, Jacksonville, Fl., New York and a number of other cities.
In California businessman Ward Connelly, an opponent of affirmative action claim that affirmative action went against Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a “color blind society.” The Jacksonville Free Press does point out that opponents including
Connelly, do not have an explanation for the disproportionate number of blacks holding key positions in businesses. But regardless of the litigation cities have found creative ways to aide minority businesses.
With all the battles that are brewing over affirmative action, cities such as Los Angles and Chicago has managed to keep strong affirmative action programs in place. But as long as Connelly and other critics remain affirmative action will remain under fire.
According to the Jacksonville Free Press in 1993 after the court repealed affirmative action in the city of Detroit. Then Mayor Dennis Archer created a program that set aside 30% of contracts to be awarded to businesses in Detroit. In a city that has a 75% black population Mayor Archer gambled that minority contractors would still be in a good position to will city contracts. This was a gamble that paid off. Since 1994, minority companies have received more that $600 million in city contracts. This strategy also worked in Miami/Dade County by sitting aside 10% of public construction projects for disadvantage businesses.
With affirmative action requirement having to be recognized in workplaces racism is still present. It is not as blatant as it once was but it is still there. As Mr. Burgess points out, the work of a minority is not openly questions anymore. Now other terms are used such as “challenges to a person “qualifications” or questioning one’s commitment” is used.
In Manhattan recently Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis rules in favor of black applicant after it was found that the city discriminated against them. A.G. Sulzberger writes in his article, “Morgenthau to lead effort on minority firefighter”, that the Vulcan Society which is an organization of black firefighters lodged a complaint against the Manhattan Fire Department regarding its hiring practices. This complaint started fueled an investigation into the reason why minorities made up less than 10 percent of the department firefighters as of 2009. Judge Garaufis found that a test the city was using weeded out minority applicants. This was a direct act of discrimination on the part of the city of Manhattan. Judge Garaufis later ruled that 300 applicants who took the exam be given top priority and give compensation to 7400 other applicants.
In a case that almost mirrors the Manhattan case was Ricci v. DeStefano. As reported in the article by Adam Liptak and Dadid Stout “Supreme Court finds bias against white firefighters”. In 2003 New Haven, Connecticut Firefighters took an exam for advancement within the fire department. After the exams were reviewed the official saw that more whites scored higher than blacks on the exam. The exam was invalidated by the city and the high scoring white firefighter we denied advancement. This prompted a law suit being filed against the city by what is now known as the New Haven 20.
After being argued in the lower courts which ruled in favor of the city, it was brought before the Supreme Court in early 2009. In a 5 to 4 decision in favor of the plaintiff the High Court ruled that discrimination was a factor when the city overturned the outcome of the test scores in the advancement examination.
In the previous cases we have seen that racism still exist in our society and in places where we would not expect it to be. Affirmative action was originally put in affect to guard against such things happening in government. On the other hand we see in our second case where because of the interpretation of affirmative action we encounter reverse discrimination. Should our society spend its time in court rooms trying to decide what is right and what is not in dealing with affirmative issues?
From a political view, affirmative action has been strongly debated and challenged over the years. In the article appearing in, Black Scholar, titled “The affirmative action by way on the Bush junta’s joyless ride to economic ruin”, Written by John Woodford. Mr. Woodford impresses on us that affirmative action has been use as a blunt instrument. And, blacks are a handy and affective patsy on which the “rulers” can direct the anger of ignorant and insecure whites. Pointing out that “diversity” is basically an emotionless term that has no sense of fairness or justice. The word has little or no impact against the backdrop of racism in America. Mr. Woodford contends that right wing politico’s has distorted the language of affirmative action. Using affirmative action to sway white support other alternative programs and distorting affective ways to overcome racism in our country. This puts a new perspective on how a “Political hot button” like affirmative action can be used as leverage. Leverage used to steer the masses in whatever direction, using race as a motivator.
The effects of affirmative action on our inner-city youth was discussed when I interviewed Pastor E.D Mondaine’ head of the Teach Me to Fish program which provides youth and young adult with mentoring, job skills, and literacy training.
Pastor Mondaine’ was passionate about the needs for black to take responsibility for their own actions. He defines Affirmative Action as “an idea that perpetuates and tears down tolerance, because it becomes a forced measure”. This correlates with there program. By teaching and mentoring, and providing life skills they give the youth a firm starting point. Preparing them for future challenges in whatever path they choose. The root cause of the affirmative action’s non-effectiveness as Pastor Mondaine’ puts it is its leap fogging people that are not fully prepared. That being, blacks not ready for positions that affirmative action placed them into. He hopes some day that will all change.
So has Dr. Kings vision of a colorblind society has been or on the path of being achieved? Have minorities followed the beliefs that hard work and preparedness for the future is the solution for a more equal and just racial environment? These are question that minorities should be asking as they continue to move toward the future. Our society has endured the strain of bigotry, racism, and unrest for many years. These problems will not be solved overnight but affirmative action was a step in the right direction. That is why further study is needed to find alternative means to reach racial equality other than affirmative action. It was an invite to the party; it is now up to us to earn the right to remain there.