Affirmative action refers to the act of providing equal employment to all individuals regardless of their sex, religion, sexual orientation, race, or origin (Cosson, 2010). Employers are required by law to adopt measures that facilitate access to equal employment opportunities by all citizens. The measures adopted aim to eradicate discrimination mainly in employment and education. The United States Department of Labor plays an important part in promoting affirmative action. The department accomplishes this role by conducting outreach campaigns, employee management, employee development programs, and support programs (Cosson, 2010).
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The National Conference of State Legislators defines affirmative action policies as guidelines that are implemented by organizations in order to facilitate equal access to opportunities by minority groups. These policies mainly focus on critical matters such as education and employment. Women and ethnic minority groups are subjects of discrimination and exclusion especially in the labor and education sectors. Affirmative action aims to eradicate this exclusion and offer minority groups access to opportunities and resources that are necessary for economic prosperity.
History of affirmative action
Affirmative action dates back to the Reconstruction period in the 1800s (Anderson, 2004). During that period, many slaves lacked the skills and resources that were necessary for sustainable living. General William Sherman presented a proposition that aimed to facilitate the division of resources among people of color in order to improve the quality of their lives (Anderson, 2004). This proposition morphed into the famous “40 acres and a mule” policy (Anderson, 2004).
The proposition was strongly opposed by politicians and therefore not implemented fully. The tenets of the policy were revived a century later when laws to assist minority groups were implemented after great advocacy efforts by the Civil Rights Movement. In Executive order 10925, President John F. Kennedy affirmed that employers should desist from giving preferential or discriminatory treatment to employees based on their color, sex, race, creed, or national origin (Cosson, 2010).
The order expressed the government’s readiness to offer equal opportunities to everyone in America regardless of their color or origin. The order was later amended and improved to illegalize discrimination in organizations based on sex, religion, race, color, and origin. Before Executive Order 10925 was signed by President Kennedy, minority groups were discriminated and segregated. For instance, women were barred from taking jobs in professional, managerial and technical fields. Minority ethnic groups were not allowed to enroll in certain learning institutions and were denied access to certain jobs. African Americans lived in slavery and were not allowed to pursue education. During the Roosevelt administration, affirmative action was furthered by policies such as the Wagner Act (Anderson, 2004).
This act gave employees freedom to join unions in order to fight for their rights without the fear of victimization by employers. The act also created a committee that would hear all cases involving employee discrimination or mistreatment by employers. Affirmative action programs and policies that were implemented aimed to tear down barriers that prevent the creation of a level playing ground for all individuals in American society (Anderson, 2004). For instance, one of the successes of these programs was the participation of African Americans in elections. Affirmative action elevated ethnic minority groups from poverty and ignorance into important economic classes that contributed towards the development of the American society.
Pros of affirmative action
Ethnic minority groups
Affirmative action counterbalances the historical inequalities that affected the development of certain ethnic communities. For more than 250 years, African Americans lived in slavery and experienced exploitation that prevented them from pursuing education. The introduction of affirmative action abolished this lack of access to education and gave minority groups an opportunity to advance in society and contribute to the development of America (Babkina, 2004).
According to proponents of affirmative action, the policy is discriminatory and promotes inequality because it favors certain individuals and groups. This argument ignores the number of years that African Americans suffered in slavery and exploitation at the hands of other ethnic groups. Counterbalancing historical inequalities is an important aspect of creating a just society that values all people (Tomasson et. al, 2010).
Ethnic minority groups have primarily been favored especially in the education sector. They are able to exploit their potential by pursuing education and getting jobs that help them to improve their lives (Babkina, 2004). Certain programs and policies promote diversity in schools and workplaces (Babkina, 2004). In contemporary society, diversity is inevitable and plays an important role in creating harmony and promoting peaceful co-existence. Affirmative action promotes peace by eliminating stereotypes and eradicating oppression as well as discrimination (Tomasson, Crosby & Herzberger, 2001).
Women have benefited significantly from affirmative action policies and programs. For instance, there has been an increase in the number of grants, graduate fellowship programs, and scholarships awarded to women. These have increased women’s participation in fields that were previously dominated by men. In that regard, there are more females in the fields of engineering, sciences, mathematics, management, and leadership (Anderson, 2004). Affirmative action encourages young girls to explore fields that were traditionally reserved for men. In business, government policies have contributed towards increasing the number of businesses owned by women. These policies encourage business interactions between women and government agencies, contractors, and financial institutions (Anderson, 2004).
Government reports show that the number of women working in fire departments, management, business, and engineering has increased significantly due to increased consideration of women during hiring and recruitment drives (Babkina, 2004). The implementation of affirmative action by technology firm IBM led to a tripling of its number of female employees in a period of ten years. Companies enact personnel policies that ensure that women get opportunities for training programs and other employee development incentives. Laws that support affirmative action require employers to adjust their recruiting, hiring, training, and career advancement policies and procedures to accommodate qualified women (Walsh, 2009).
People with disabilities
Affirmative action has helped people with disabilities greatly. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to help people with disabilities rise above discrimination because of their physical limitations (Anderson, 2004). The act reserves a certain number of employment opportunities for disabled people in government institutions. The act was passed to promote equal employment opportunities for everyone. This and similar acts have increased the number of disabled people under employment. Affirmative action has helped disabled people exploit their potential, earn a living, and contribute to the economic development of the United States (Babkina, 2004).
The Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) is a program that seeks to increase the number of employment opportunities available to people with physical limitations that prevent them from competing with able-bodied people. The advantages of the program include creation of diverse workforce, recruitment of people with disabilities, and promotion of disability-inclusive workplaces (Walsh, 2009).
Without affirmative action, it would be difficult for disabled people to exploit their potential due to widespread discrimination and limited access to resources (Anderson, 2004). The Office of Federal Compliance Programs (OFCCP) ensures that contactors and subcontractors fulfill the requirements of affirmative action policies. The Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act takes care of certain disabled veterans by ensuring that they get access to employment opportunities (Walsh, 2009).
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Cons of affirmative action
Ethnic minority groups
Affirmative action policies create reverse discrimination because they favor minority groups that have a history of discrimination (Babkina, 2004). In that regard, marginal groups gain access to resources and opportunities at the expense of majority groups. For instance, in the 1986 Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, reverse discrimination was evident (Spann, 2000). Nonminority teachers had sued Jackson’s Board of Education for their lay off that had favored minority teachers. The court maintained that the racial preference awarded to minority teachers was allowed in order to prevent discrimination. The Court of Appeal also maintained the ruling. College admissions might favor certain groups at the expense of others. This problem has been addressed through the eradication of affirmative action in many states through several court rulings in different states. In the Johnson v. University of Georgia case of 2001, the court reprimanded the University for including race as a factor in its admission policy (Spann, 2000).
The policy added a certain number of points that made admission difficult for non-white students. The ban of affirmative action in college admissions has resulted in a decline in the number of Hispanic and black enrollment in several states. The court’s ruling in a 1978 court case (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke) contributed towards the elimination of affirmative action policies and programs in college admission processes (Spann, 2000).
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to apply racial quotas during in college admissions. This ruling was based on the Equal Protection Act. The ruling also eradicated racial quotas and introduced a trend that involved the use of race as a strategy for achieving diversity in colleges. In a related 1996 case (Hopwood V. Texas), the court ruled that it was illegal to use race as a factor in issuing admissions (Spann, 2000). Studies have found out that certain policies favor African Americans and Hispanic Americans at the expense of other minority groups such as European Americans and Asian Americans. This revelation raised concerns regarding the effectiveness of government policies in the elimination of inequality and discrimination in America. Certain academic experts have used such findings to disparage affirmative action policies and programs for favoring certain individuals and ignoring others
Affirmative action promotes the stereotype that women are weak and therefore need government intervention to succeed (Tomasson et. al, 2010). The implementation of affirmative action policies shows that women cannot advance and improve the quality of their lives without legal intervention. This is demeaning and disempowering. Moreover, the success of women in certain careers is usually described based on such policies and not hard work, diligence and potential (Tomasson et. al, 2010). Another disadvantage is the hiring of employees at the expense of employers. For instance, some employees are compelled to overlook highly qualified male applicants in favor of female applicants because the law requires them to reserve a certain number of vacancies for female applicants (Tomasson et. al, 2010). Affirmative action impels employers to focus on gender related issues during hiring rather than the individual qualifications of applicants (Walsh, 2009).
The major disadvantage of affirmative action in dealing with disabled people is the propensity to overlook qualifications and instead focus on an individual’s fulfillment of affirmative action standards. In certain instances, employers are forced to hire people who are not highly qualified because of the presence of legislation that requires them to create opportunities for minority groups (Tomasson et. al, 2010).
This affects employers because they forego highly qualified applicants who could have filled certain job positions satisfactorily. In addition, it creates the illusion that people with disabilities need the help of affirmative action to succeed. Women are major victims of segregation with regard to accessing employment and education opportunities. They are subjected to discrimination because of two main reasons namely physical disability and gender. Therefore, they face numerous challenges when compared to people without disabilities. Many affirmative action policies favor women with disabilities.
However, this preference compromises several standards that are applied in college admissions and recruitment processes (Walsh, 2009). One of the challenges that disabled people face is the effect of other people’s attitudes towards them. The perception that they are favored by certain policies and laws creates negative attitudes in people who compete with them for similar opportunities. These people consider them unqualified for certain jobs or college admissions. Therefore, they treat them inappropriately. People belonging to favored minority groups suffer because they are not wholly embraced by society. Common consequences of this phenomenon include depression, loss of hope, and depression. In certain instances, affirmative action affects people with disabilities negatively because of the attitudes it creates in people.
Affirmative action is a controversial issue that has elicited debates both in the academic and political fields. It involves the implementation of mandatory policies and guidelines that are aimed at promoting class equality and eradicating discrimination of individuals based on color, race, origin, sex, religion, or sexual orientation. Minority groups are subjected to inequality, segregation, and unfair treatment in the American society. In particular, they are denied access to education and employment opportunities that are available to majority groups. The government plays a key role in efforts to eradicate discrimination.
It enacts and implements legislation that provide opportunities to minorities in order to enhance equality, promote diversity, and compensate for historical injustices. Proponents and opponents present several arguments that fall on either side of the spectrum. Each side’s arguments either support or oppose the various actions taken by the government to facilitate the distribution and access to opportunities and resources by minority groups. Despite the prevalence of such debates, affirmative action is critical to the progress of society because of the role it plays in creating harmony and promoting justice. Affirmative action is an effective tool that is effectively used to address historical injustices that were meted on certain ethnic groups for years. For instance, slavery and discrimination against women are examples of injustices that plagued the American society for a long time. African Americans were traded as commodities and were forced to in slavery before its abolishment.
Despite its abolishment through the enactment of the 13th Amendment, inequality prevailed and minority groups were segregated. On the other hand, women were exploited, discriminated, and mistreated. Past movements such as the Civil Rights Movement played a key role in eradicating racism and sexism. However, the American society has not yet fully embraced the importance of diversity and social equality.
In contemporary society, racism and discrimination are still present in various forms especially in education and the labor market. For instance, African Americans are less likely to be employed by certain organizations because of stereotypes that describe them as violent and vulgar. Research has revealed that employment opportunities available to women are limited in certain careers because of stereotypes that describe them as weak and not as intelligent as their male counterparts. Men are given priorities over women in certain jobs such as engineering, medicine, and management. Men are considered as more intelligent and tougher than women. In order to eradicate stereotypes and inequalities, affirmative action policies are necessary. The American Dream is open to all individuals regardless of their gender, race, color, ethnic affiliation, or sexual orientation.
Certain groups have unfair advantages over others because of historical injustices that lasted for many years. Therefore, it is necessary to create level playing fields by implementing policies that advocate for even distribution of resources and equal access to education and employment opportunities. The main aim of affirmative action is to remove barriers that prevent certain groups from advancing and contributing towards the development of American society. The government and non-governmental organizations should fight for the enactment of policies that promote inclusion and diversity in different sectors. Societal development depends on the participation of all people through equal access to education and job opportunities. Affirmative action promotes justice and fairness, enhances social equality, and facilitates the creation of level fields in which everyone has an equal opportunity to attain the American dream.
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Cosson, M. J. (2010). Affirmative Action. New York, NY: ABDO. Web.
Spann, G. A. (2000). The Law of Affirmative Action: Twenty-Five Years of Supreme Court Decisions on Race and Remedies. New York, NY: NYU Press. Web.
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