Affirmative Action: Society Needs It

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            Affirmative action has been a topic of heated debate. The main point of debate is whether affirmative action is still a policy that is needed in the current setting. Those lobbying against affirmative action also claim that the policy is unconstitutional. They argue that affirmative action does not guarantee equal rights to all which should be provided by the constitution. Despite all the clamoring, evidence indicates that that affirmative action is still needed. Moreover, it has not been identified as unconstitutional.

            To better understand the issue, it is important to get a clear understanding of affirmative action policies. According to the American Psychological Association (2009), the American perception of affirmative action is that it is setting “quotas, set-asides, and preferential treatment that benefit minorities and women at the expense of white males” but affirmative action is not about these things. Also, survey reveals that people barely understand affirmative action policies that are in place. A study has however identified that what the public hates are quotas, set-asides and “reverse discrimination”. When people are asked whether they are in favor of programs that set quotas to hire a specific number of women or minorities, majority (63%) bared that they are against such a practice. Inversely, when asked a general question such as if they favor or oppose affirmative action programs for hiring minorities and women, majority (58%) indicated that they support affirmative action while only 36 percent opposed the idea (Plous, 2003).

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Moreover, very few people are knowledgeable of the scope of the affirmative action policy and who really benefits or is hurt from the policy, thus the general opinion of the public on the issue is distorted. According to Bruno (1995), the main reason why the public remains divided on the issue is the lack of a proper definition for the policy (cited in APA, 2009).

            Thus, the American Psychological Association (2009) has come up with a definition They identified affirmative action as a “catchall phrase referring to laws, customs, and social policies intended to alleviate the types of discrimination that limit opportunities for a variety of demographic groups in various social institutions.” Particularly, it refers to individual efforts by the government, employers, schools and other institutions to promote equal opportunity for all.

            While many do not understand affirmative action, the opposition claims that affirmative action policies have not been effective in increasing the representation of women and minorities. However, this appears to be a false claim as numerous studies have documented an increase in the number of women and minorities in the workforce. According to the US Department of Labor, affirmative action is responsible for getting an additional representation in the workforce—5 million minority members and 6 million white and minority women. There are a number of other studies that document such cases like Bowen & Bok in 1998 and Murrel & Jones in 1996 (cited in Plous, 2003).

            While affirmative action has been effective in ensuring minority representation, it is not yet time that the policy is dumped since the playing field is not yet leveled. Bowen & Bok (1998) states that in the absence of affirmative action, black representation in many schools would drop to two percent. Murrell and Jones (1995) add that women in 1994 were only earning 72 percent of what men earn. In 1992, black men only earned 79 percent of the salary of white men even as they have the same jobs and the same qualifications. Comparatively, black women only earned 60 percent of the salary of white men at the same level. It was also discovered that white females and black males must work for 8 months to earn what a white male will earn in 6 months. Black females must work 10 months to compare to the salary of a white male. Also, fewer women and minorities are promoted to senior level positions. The graph below highlights on some other disparities even as affirmative action exists. It can be said that while affirmative action has helped, it has not yet done enough (cited in Plous, 2003).

            Moreover, experts have cited two reasons why affirmative action should continue. In a study by Clayton & Crosby (1992), it was indicated that almost all people find it hard to detect discrimination unless they are deliberately exposed to it or when they gain access to actual aggregate data. On the other hand, according to Murrell & Jones (1995), “biases against minorities and women that humans show in laboratory settings are reflected in the real world” (cited in APA, 2009).

            Additionally, because of the rise of more evident less overt forms of racism, there is a greater need for affirmative action policies. Dovidio and Gaertner (1995) identify these as aversive racism and symbolic racism. Aversive racism is classified as negative feeling that result in avoidance and is usually justified by some other reason. Symbolic racism on the other hand is characterized by the development of negative feelings towards minorities early in life that persists until adulthood. These feelings are associated with symbolic beliefs rather than overt beliefs (cited in APA, 2009).

            Furthermore, another strong argument hounding affirmative action is that discrimination cannot be cured by discrimination. This is often referred to as “reverse discrimination” (APA, 2009). However, affirmative action is not discrimination against white men. It is “an effort to overcome prejudicial treatment through inclusion”. White men are not being discriminated, what happens is a preferential selection between equally qualified or equally comparable candidates. A stronger case of preferential selection is selection among unequal candidates such as when a qualified minority member is chosen over a more highly qualified white male. While this is acceptable in affirmative action, giving preferential treatment to an unqualified minority over a qualified white male is prohibited by federal regulation of affirmative action (Plous, 2003).


            While affirmative action policies have been under fire, it has never been proven that affirmative action is unconstitutional. Affirmative action is not to be regarded as discriminations against white males. Its policies are put in place to ensure that there is diversity in an institution, whether it is at school or the workplace. The policy has only gained a negative image because the people fail to understand its policies and what affirmative action really stands for. While there are claims that the policy is ineffective, studies show otherwise. However, affirmative action has yet to realize its full potential since there is still great disparity between income of whites and women/minorities. Additionally, with racism growing, there is a greater need to adopt affirmative action policies. To better identify the term, it is not discrimination; rather, it is preferential selection. It does not mean choosing an unqualified candidate over a qualified candidate. It is choosing an equally qualified minority/woman candidate over an equally qualified white male candidate.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2009). Affirmative Action: Who Benefits?. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from

Plous, S. (2003). Ten myths about affirmative action. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination. (pp. 206-212). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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