Why Is Affirmative Action Such a Divisive Issue?

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“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. ” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King stated this in his famous “I have a Dream” speech in Washington, D. C. in 1963. Is affirmative action still necessary in United States? (Wikipedia, 2007)

In order to even begin to understand the underlying principle behind affirmative action, there need to be a clear grasp of what is being discussed. It is important to first define the intentions and the foundation of affirmative action. Affirmative Action is a term that has been applied to many public and private agendas designed to address problems of discrimination or exclusion in employment, education, and contracting. The policies were developed to convert American social justice from an unequal playing field to an equal one.

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However, they are misguidedly perceived as a tool used to subjugate whites. (Bergman, 1996) In truth, the policies merely constitute a “good faith effort” by employers to eliminate discrimination. These good faith efforts ensure that specific, results-orientated procedures are employed to balance competing interests and make certain efforts are put forth to provide equal access in educational and work field for all people. The efforts were positive steps to end discrimination, so that every qualified women and minorities have a fair chance at job, educational and business opportunities.

When those steps involve preferential selection, which is selection on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity than affirmative action generates intense controversy. (Bergman, 1996) Affirmative action programs for minorities and women are a very small part of U. S. preferential policies.

College draft deferments, selective allotments for refugees, re-entry programs for GI’s, the Marshall Plan (billions of dollars for free training of former European enemies denied to Black GI’s in the U. S. , birthright systems, and geographical preferences are but a few of the programs tricked in the name of inclusion and considered worthy of preferential treatment. (Bergman, 1996) President John F. Kennedy Executive Order 10925, which established the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, built the overall foundation of affirmative action in March 1961.

The order used affirmative action for the primary use to instruct federal contractors to take affirmative action. It purposed was to end discrimination by the government and its contractors. (Dept. f Labor, 2002) Every federal contract was required to include the pledge that, “The Contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. However, affirmative action is widely considered to mean preferential treatment for certain groups. This signified the first time the government called for Affirmative Action with a mission for equal opportunity in employment. (Wikipedia, 2007)

The U. S. Department of Labor describes affirmative action as the “banning of discrimination and requiring of contractors to take …. ction to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity for employment, without the regards to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a Vietnam era or special disabled veteran. ” (Dept. of labor 2002) In the United States, affirmative action is the most contentious and divisive issue. The proponents of affirmative action generally advocate it as a means to address past or present discrimination or enhance racial, ethnic, gender, or other diversity. Those who are against affirmative action argue that by definition, it opposed the ideal of personal rights.

Affirmative action proponents propose that the purpose and the logic behind affirmative action is not reverse discrimination or compensation for years of slavery and oppression. Nor is it government sanctioned racism, sexism, or a rejection of American principles. (Clayton, 2003) However, opponents of affirmative action argue that it is based on collectivism and merely form discrimination because it can result in qualified applicants being denied entry to higher education or employment because they belong to a particular social group, regardless of social standing or financial need.

They contend that affirmative action is discriminatory and that in result in the promotion of under-qualified individuals over higher qualified individuals on the basis on race, ethnicity, and gender. Those supporting it state that it is necessary for impartiality and fairness. (Clayton, 2003) The controversy surrounding affirmative action is directly related to public perceptions or misperceptions. The lack of specific guidelines for the implementation of affirmative action has led to difference in actual practice.

The points of controversy both for and against affirmative action includes the following:

  • Opponents of affirmative action claims that it divides society along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality by creating groups whose membership is determined by those labels. (Fish , 2000)  However, the program cannot simply be eliminated because it makes people aware of racial conflicts. Supporters argue that labels serve to place achievement in contexts of cultural strengths and that minority status is a framework for the determination of what constitutes achievement (Butler, 1996).
  • Opponents would argue that affirmative action is corrupting to minorities by sending them the message that they are “not capable enough to be considered on their own merits” (Fish, 2000). Supporters argue that affirmative action is effective in increasing diversity within institutions and organizations that it’s outweighs such imperfections (Butler, 1996).
  • One of the most common moral arguments against affirmative action is that it violates our societal value of individualism and merit. Affirmative action, they argue, eliminates this concept of individuality by placing people in different groups according to certain characteristics such as race or gender (Butler, 1996). Those arguing in favor of affirmative action claim that sex and race are often taken into account whether affirmative action exists or not. The reasons for the imbalanced are due to the broad and complicated background of opportunity, which range from the environment in which the minorities grow up to the family life and educational experience, to household income.

Affirmative action applies primary at the transition points in a person’s life such as applying for employment, enrolling for education, or seeking housing. Thus affirmative action has the greatest impact on younger individuals verse the little direct effect on the lives of older, more established individuals. (Hanmer, 5)Affirmative action is still necessary because United States does not have enough equality and diversity in work places and universities. First, affirmative action is still necessary because of lack of equality. Throughout history white males typically earn more than women and minorities.

According to the National Committee on Pay equality, women make 29 cents less than men. The minority men make more than non-minority and minority women, non-minority males make about $ 9,000 more than minority men, $14,000 more than non-minority women and $17,000 more than minority women according to Federal Civilian Workforce. (Dept. of Labor, 2002) Affirmative action is still necessary in order to insure equality among white men, women, and minorities. Can the United States live up to the statement “all men are created equal? ” Secondly, affirmative action is needed to create diversity in the United States.

Affirmative action would allow people of different races, gender, and backgrounds to interact in the workplace and universities. For example, discrimination was present in University of Pennsylvania; the university enrolled only 46 black students out of a 9,000 student body in 1946. In the traditional black colleges, there was not room for an estimated 70,000 black veterans in 1947. Under affirmative action there would be an active effort to make sure that the workplace and the university included people of all races and both sexes. Hanmer, 8)

Prior to affirmative action in the United States, the opportunity did not exist for all. Many people were denied housing, education, and employment. According to a professor at Columbia University of political science and history by the name of Ira Katznelson, the social programs such as Franklin’s New Deal and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal in the 1930’s and 1940’s, primarily only focus on the discrimination of blacks, but contributed to the widened gap between white and black Americans. (Katznelson, 2005) Discrimination is understood as the different treatment of individuals belonging to particular groups in society.

The three primary sources of discrimination include psychological, social, and historical reasons. Psychologically, discrimination is the reaction to race, values, like and dislikes, comparing to themselves to others. Social partially responsible for discrimination is stereotyping. People tend to label and group others, and to generalize what those members are like. Historical aspect of discrimination still exists and remains incompetent due historical factors. Racial minorities and women have been consistently discriminated against throughout history. Bergman, 1996) Katznelson argues that policy makers and judiciary failed to consider how unfairly blacks were treated by the federal by the federal government in the 30 years before the civil rights revolutions of the 1960’s. (Katznelson, 2005)

The Civil Was had ended slavery, but still many African Americans had never been granted full equality. Many states, mainly the South, passed laws “that were designed to segregate the white and black races and to keep African Americans in an inferior position in society. (Hanmer, 21) These laws were called the “Jim Crow laws”. Under these laws blacks were not allowed to drink from the same water foundation as the whites and denied blacks equal education. Blacks were also denied the opportunity to vote. In 1965, what is now touted as the greatest civil rights legislation ever passed, the Voter Rights Act, was signed into law by Pres. Lyndon Johnson. It gave people classified as minority groups a chance to vote without the restrictions of poll taxes, literacy tests or other rules that prevented many people from voting.

The act was directed mostly towards Southern states to bring about voter equality for blacks, but it also affected other minorities due to the language barriers. (Hanmer, 29-29) In 1975, an amendment of the act was passed that broke down the language discrimination by requiring states to provide interpreters and print voting material and ballots in the languages frequently spoken. As of 2007, the amendments and other provisions are due to expire this year and must be renewed in order for blacks and minorities to continue to vote. Wikipedia, 2007) Polls conducted by Gallup, showed that the support for affirmative action is between 49% – 54%. (Gallup, 2003)

Whereas some polls showed a decrease of about 3% in support in a period of 8 years, other polls show an increase of about 3% in 4 years (Gallup, 2003). These polls shows that there really not a support or oppose of affirmative action. The Associated Press Poll conducted in 2003 asked 1013 adults nationwide whether affirmative action was needed to help blacks and Hispanics overcome discrimination: 51% stated it was needed while 43% stated there was no need.

In the same poll, 59% stated there were not too close (35%) and not to close at all (24%) to ending discrimination. Although there isn’t a clear majority that supports affirmative action, there is a clear majority that believes that discrimination is far from being over. (Gallup, 2005) Conclusion By keeping affirmative action in the United States, we would be able to create equality and diversity throughout the country. If we continue to use affirmative action in the United States, we will be able to remove the chain of oppression from women and minorities.

Works Cited

  1. Affirmative Action, (2007), obtained from http://en. wikipedia. org
  2. Bergman, Barbara R. (1996). In Defense of Affirmative Action. Basic Books.
  3. Butler, Judith (1996). An Affirmative View. Representations, No. 55, Special Issue: Race and Representation: Affirmative Action, pp. 74-83.
  4. Clayton, Mark. (2003). One University’s Case for Race. The Christian Science Monitor.
  5. Fish, Stanley. (2000). The Nine Nifty Arguments Against Affirmative Action in Higher Education. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 27, pp. 79-81.
  6. Gallup Poll, June 2003, obtained from http://www. pollingreport. com/race. htm
  7. Hanmer, Trudy J. (1993). Affirmative Action: Opportunity for All. New Jersey: Enslow.
  8. Katznelson, Ira (2005). How Aid Became Affirmative Action for Whites. The Washington Post Company, Page A23.

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Why Is Affirmative Action Such a Divisive Issue?. (2018, May 15). Retrieved from


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