Initiated in the 1960s, the affirmative action is a collection of steps that defines the federal agenda developed to counteract the historic discrimination against certain minority groups such as women and ethic groups in the United States (Dye, 2005).
The government, pressurized by the impact of mass opinions against discriminations of the minority groups, sought to make affirmative action a national agenda under legislations.
In 1964, the congress passed the historic Civil Rights Act with an aim of eliminating discrimination against the minority groups. It created equal opportunity for these groups to participate in the national, state and local levels.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, issued the Executive Order 11246, which sought to cement the goals and objectives of the affirmative action agenda. According to various authors, this order is the foundation of the affirmative action programs in the modern times.
However, affirmative action has become a highly controversial issue, especially due to its long-term effects (Dye, 2005).
For instance, the long-term outcomes of the initiatives are analyzed by looking at the difference between the people who benefited from the program in 1970s and 1980s and their colleagues from the majority groups.
In essence, there are several issues demonstrating that affirmative action has yielded better results. For example, it has reduced the degree of discrimination by providing the minorities with equal opportunities.
Nevertheless, the initiative has equally produced negative results, affecting both the beneficiaries and the majority groups (Wu, 2010). Moreover, the modern and future context of discrimination has changed significantly, with other minority groups emerging.
The groups considered as minorities in 1960s have slowly but progressively become more of majorities than minorities. Therefore, it is necessary that the programs be maintained but undergoes various changes to fit the modern context of minority groups and discrimination.
First, one needs to determine the benefits of the affirmative action programs in the last four decades. Consider, for instance, the positive outcomes of the programs only a few years after the initiation of affirmative action plans.
According to Wu (2010), the blacks, women and other minorities felt that they had achieved at least some freedom from discrimination within ten years of affirmative action. Public opinion has also shown that the minorities are able to enjoy their rights, thanks to the impact of affirmative action.
For example, a 1999 study by Newsweek reported that both whites and blacks say that affirmative action has improved the lives and conditions of the black people (Sander & Taylor, 2013).
In addition, the report suggests that the whites appreciated the programs because “it reduced tension between them and their black neighbors” (Sander & Taylor, 2013).
In the job market, numerous reports and studies have shown that affirmative action has improved gender and racial balance by a significant margin over the last 40 years.
For instance, Dubnick and Gitelson (2009) indicated that over the last 40 years, the minority groups have made numerous gains in terms of employment opportunities.
These studies also indicate that the minority groups, especially women and the blacks, have accessed employment even in industries that were initially thought to be a “no go zone” for them.
For example, black people have equal opportunities to work in research institutions, institutions of higher education, the military, police, aviation and others. Equally, women have equal opportunities to seek employment in security and high risk jobs.
Nevertheless, several studies have portrayed the negative side of affirmative action or failures of certain programs or initiatives. The education system, for instance, is the most controversial industry when analyzing the negative outcomes of affirmative action.
Noteworthy, university and college admissions have strictly followed a number of guidelines that seek to implement affirmative action as much as possible.
While this gives the minority groups an equal chance to join the best and prestigious institutions of higher learning, it equally reduces the integrity of education, causes wastage of resources and denial of opportunities.
Some members of the majority groups are unable to join such institutions just because their places have been taken by less capable students from the minority groups (Crawford, 2005).
A 2012 report by CNN is a good example of some recent surveys that provide evidence of the problems associated with affirmative action within the modern context.
The report indicates that the affirmative action programs used in university and college admission in the country tend to “undermine the same goals and objectives they are meant for (Sander & Taylor, 2013).
It reports that students find themselves in a different and unfriendly environment, which often affects their educational outcomes.
For example, a student who would do extremely well at a state university is recruited to a member of the Ivy League, which makes him or her marginalized because he or she cannot cope with the educational demands in these institutions (Crawford, 2005).
On the other hand, a student who would do excellent at Harvard or Stanford is recruited away to a state university or college, undermining his or her capabilities just because he or she is a member of a majority group.
To justify the claim, the CNN report shows how some students from the minority groups are recruited into science and technology universities such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard but finds themselves in a group of students they cannot compete with (Sander & Taylor, 2013).
They tend to feel socially and academically isolated and develop low self esteem, which affects their achievements. Other studies indicate that such students tend to abandon these courses for “more fitting subjects”.
In this manner, the institutions loose the best brains (the students who lose their chances just because they are from the majority groups) and waste their resources (Hird, Reese & Shilvock, 2008).
These reports are mere examples of numerous studies that have provided evidence of the negative impacts of affirmative action (Crawford, 2005). The problems highlighted in these studies tend to indicate the need for changes in affirmative action programs in almost all industries.
In the education system, for instance, it is necessary to locate admissions based on the student aspirations and academic strength besides racial, gender and ethnic classifications (Hird, Reese & Shilvock, 2008).
A student from the minority group with strong capabilities to take courses in social sciences or business should not be forced to join Ivy League institutions or STEM.
The opportunity to join a state university should therefore be provided and based on the need to balance the racial representation at that institution (Hird, Reese & Shilvock, 2008).
Secondly, the increase in the number of black and Hispanic people in the middle income class as well as the increase in the population of the blacks means that such groups are no longer “the minorities”.
Therefore, the conventional method of selection of students and employees should be reconsidered. For example, new affirmative action should be based on the gap between the rich and the poor, regardless of their color or origin.
In this way, affirmative action will be maintained but with effective changes to make sure it fits the modern social and economic realities.
Crawford, C. (2005). Racial Promotion Through Racial Exclusion. Society, 37(5), 37-43.
Dubnick, D., & Gitelson, A. (2009). American Government Sixth Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Dye, T. R. (2005). Understanding Public Policy. Pearson Education: New Jersey.
Hird, J. A., Reese, M., & Shilvock, M. (2008). Controversies in American Public Policy. Thomson/Wadsworth: Belmont.
Sander, R., & Taylor, S. (2013). Keep affirmative action but reform it. The CNN. Web.
Wu, F. H. (2010). Op-Ed: Why Affirmative Action is Necessary. Web.