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Citizens of America

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Affirmative Actions: History, Critics, Majorities vs. Minorities, and Current Issues

Citizens of America hear it all the time even as early as pre-school when they as kids would gather and rise up out of their seats every morning to say the nation’s pledge:  “I pledge allegiance…to the republic [United States of America]…for which it stands…one nation…with liberty and justice for all.”   Even before the pledge of allegiance was officially recognized by congress as our nation’s creed in 1942, America (post-revolutionary and presently) has always strived to contour socially, politically, and morally to what the very essence of this pledge stood for, as written by Francis and Edward Bellamy in 1892: united American nationalism and trust in its government (Longley, par.1-2).  However, America, being the socially diverse and multi-cultural creature it is, it’s no surprise that such national creeds like the pledge of allegiance will inevitably be interpreted differently amongst citizens (all from a plethora of different backgrounds) even dismissed and disapproved by others, no matter how patriotic they claim to be.  This especially holds true for the controversial dogma created only by the pledges last two words:  “For all.”  After all (though still amended a couple of times before what it states now) the original pledge was supposed to include the words equality and fraternity but the Bellamy boys were smart and omitted the words for knowledge that their primary distributors, as well as many post-civil war readers, were against equality for African Americans and women and for fear that their piece would not be published (Baer, pg.63).  Today when comparing other nations from around the globe to theirs, most Americans like to think that everybody is included in every aspect of its nation’s dream, that since the U.S. runs on a democracy and its  society is divided by class and not caste systems, that everybody has a chance at reaching the high points of success stigmatized by the culture of the times.  And while this ideal holds true, that every citizen in the U.S. does have a running chance at becoming whatever they want to be in accordance to social standards, it definitely does not mean that every citizen was placed initially on the same starting line as others.  This is because even though citizens proclaim things like “…liberty and justice for all” American society as far back 1600’s has penalized individuals’ opportunistic ventures for a better life, job, education, etc. based on things like race, gender, religion, sexual orientations, etc.  But as stated before, American society has always tried to contour itself to its early proclamations (e.g. the pledge’s, “…for all” and the Declaration’s, “…all men are created equal”) of being an immigrant founded country in which anybody from anywhere can live to pursue happiness and be free from stifling persecutions found in other countries.  However, what about persecution that was initialized domestically?  Monumental historical events such as the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, for example, were both domestic struggles that sought to equalize the American individual racially and push for a new society in which a white, male persecution would be absent and those of minority status can begin to enjoy benefits once previously denied to them.  From these events originated other struggles for equality such as America’s Affirmative Action policy and the movement it created in the late 80’s (Rubio, 114). The fight for affirmative action is one that, in itself, is also becoming a bit of an American historical movement.  This is because affirmative action is basically doing what both the Civil War and Rights Movements aimed to achieve: the suppression of white male supremacy, however, condensing the fight down to workforce sectors and their employment opportunities and hiring regulations while also including other public domains for personal-advancement, such as higher education institutions.  As with almost all social movements, affirmative action has been met with vocal proponents and opponents harvesting very conflicting views on the subject.  The numerous clashing of such oppositions has made Affirmative Action a continually evolving social movement even today. But even given its long history of intensive social and legal battles, Affirmative action’s overall mission was/is always to fairly and gradually bring minorities up to that same starting line that white, male Americans have pushed off of for so long. 

The essence of modern Affirmative Action movements can be traced as far back as past American historically significant events like the slave trades, The Civil War, and the Reconstruction era.  Though it is really the period beginning from 1945 to the early 70’s and the social, political and legal events that occurred during these years that best represents the most noteworthy evolutionary steps that shaped affirmative action to what it is today. 

The 1940’s was a shaping decade for the United States.  After WWII struggles, America during this time was in a state of political and social content and the nation could finally consider itself as a world power and presence (Rubio, 114).  The U.S. government now had the responsibility of building itself up domestically.  This was primarily through legislation that helped establish new while expanding previous public entities like schools and education, housing, and jobs/employment (Rubio, 114). However the policies that helped enforce this type of funding greatly benefited whites and denied blacks several of their privileges.  These unfair government regulations and ordinances is what stirred the first pre-civil rights movements, leading the next decades into a national fight for social/racial equality and opportunistic uniformity.  For instance, the regulating of the Federal Housing Administration G.I. Bill (or formally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) was preferential to white veterans only it did not explicitly say it (Rubio, 117).  Instead the bill’s guidelines were constructed in a way that only adhered to the needs of white vets while dismissing black veteran needs as unnecessary disallowing the huge beneficial advantages this piece of litigation gave to men returning home from war and their families (Rubio, 117).  Black men were not the only ones omitted from the benefits of the G.I. Bill.  Women as well felt the discrimination as they too were denied the bill’s education and employment benefits (Rubio, 118).  Of all the disadvantages FHA regulations brought to minorities (more so black men and their families) the most notable would probably be housing aids and the polarity of race in neighborhoods of working and middle class families that came from it.   This was due to the G.I. Bill’s housing financial aid it gave to white veterans which gave them the chance to live in the growing suburbs of America.  The growing American dream of the 40’s and 50’s was pictured as a white, financially stable family residing in a peaceful suburb (Rubio, 120).  The FHA’s ordinances help to spur this American dream notion and slowly more white families felt influenced to move out of the cities, where the danger of nuclear disaster (Cold War scares) and the cohabitation with blacks were absent, and into the suburbs (Rubio, 122).   In the end, the FHA (as well as racist contractors who denied their services to black Americans) successfully created homogenized residential areas where entirely almost all of America’s black population lived in the city and whites predominately lived on the peaceful outskirts of it (Rubio, 122).  The differences in residency not only showed blacks that their race was not a part of the overall American dream, but it  also effected them in other aspects, like job opportunities which in turn effected their income making opportunities as well (Rubio, 122). Even after the popular Shelley v. Kraemer (in which a black man was denied living in an all white neighborhood after buying a home because 30 out of 39 owners signed a restrictive covenant which stated no blacks could be able to purchase residence there) FHA discriminatory practices lingered up till 1955 (Shelley v. Kraemer, par. 1)(Rubio, 123-124).

Because of governmental administrative injustices like that of the FHA and the social polarity they created against black and white cultures, America during the 50’s and 60’s was met with black opposition against the unchallenged control of the white man in almost all aspects of American society.  These acts of opposition collectively created what Americans know today as the African American Civil Rights Movement.  The African American Civil Rights Movement was a definite foundation of modern day affirmative action’s practices, “…the combined sum of Black movements against white privilege produced the compromise with the status quo known today as Affirmative Action” (Rubio, 140).  Major legal battles, protests, marches and strikes of the Civil Rights Movement helped to bring down barriers created to keep the black American behind the curve.  There was the Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 in which parents and community groups, backed by the NAACP, filed suits challenging segregation of public schools.  The case was successful in striking down the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and mandating the desegregation of schools across America (“Brown v. Board of Education”, par. 3).  The decision of Brown led to a racial uproar in the south, where bitter white southerners enacted more measures to distance themselves from black Americans.  On the other hand, it gave black southerners the confidence to question the constitutionality of all forms of social/public segregation, not just public education (“Montgomery Bus Boycott”, par.10).  This led to the challenging of southern segregation laws like the Montgomery law, which required racial segregation on all buses (“Montgomery Bus Boycott”, par.8).  The fight for bus equality ignited when one woman, Rosa Parks, was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to abide by the ordinances of the Montgomery law which states all black bus passengers must give up their seat to accommodate white passengers ().  Rosa Parks arrest prompted monumental Civil Rights leaders, such as Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King to organize what will be later known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most collectively participated movements of the time.  After over a year of legal battles, protesting, boycotting, and picketing the massive boycott was successful and in 1956 Browder v. Gayle district court ruling overturned litigation such as the Montgomery law and stated that segregation of white and negro bus passengers deprives citizens of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“Montgomery Bus Boycott”, par.16). 

The black struggle for equality during the Civil Rights Movement not only led to desegregation of public entities (school, transportation, etc.) but it also helped spur “colorblindness” within the private sectors as well, like the workforce.  This was mostly because black activists’ efforts were both diligent and highly contagious to public opposition which was, at times, very violent.  Being in a time when Cold War fears were high as well, and domestic anarchy a constant worry, America took its first steps to crafting anti-discriminatory litigation and push to make African American “full citizens” (Rubio, 144).   The 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, was congress’ initial push for nondiscriminatory practices regarding employment and education and is viewed to be “the basic statutory framework for [modern day] affirmative action” (Dale, par. 2).  The act’s Title VII created equal opportunity regulations for public and private employers with 15 or more employees (Dale, par.2).  Title VII also for the first time gave judicial power to give relief funds to those deemed as victims of workforce discrimination (Dale, par.2).  Though these regulations were created to remedy past discriminatory practices of an employer, they were hardly ever strictly enforced (Dale, par.2).  Title VI of the act prohibits “…racial or ethnic discrimination in all federally assisted programs and activities, including public and private educational institutions” (Dale, par.2).  It also required schools and colleges to take affirmative action to attain a more diverse student body (Dale, par.2). 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was viewed by activists as a good start in integrating races in the work place and schools while also providing some sort of resolve for past discriminatory practices (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.4).  But white backlash and riots of the mid-1960’s convinced civil rights leaders  that there needed to be more extensive measures to “ensure blacks could compete equally with whites” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.4).  After making his historic speech endorsing the need for affirmative action before Howard University, Lyndon Johnson issued Executive order 11246 which “… [required] firms under contract with the federal government not to discriminate and to use affirmative action so that applicants are employed fairly and employees are treated without regard of their race, creed, color, or national origin” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.4).   Even presently, Executive Order 11246 requires all employers with 50 or more employees and those with federal contracts of up to $50,000 to file written affirmative action plans that include minority and female hiring goals and timetables (Dale, par.5).  The order also helped create administrations like the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC) to help enforce this policy (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.5).  

Although Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 was a clear and definite step towards racial opportunity equality in America, the order’s initiative was often too vague to uphold it in court while also making it a bit difficult for the OFCC to enforce it (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.6).  Even though being such a vocal proponent of affirmative action, Johnson left office without any definite, long-term affirmative action (“History of Affirmative Action”, par. 7).  It was now up to the Nixon administration to pick up the issue of affirmative action and to “promote the first serious affirmative action plan “... that required government-determined, numerically specific percentages of minorities to be hired” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.8).  Nixon’s administration did this by reforming an old plan that the Johnson administration had set forth of hiring standards set forth the construction industry in the city of Philadelphia (“History of Affirmative Action, par. 8).  This plan became known as the Philadelphia Plan.  The most major revamping of the Philadelphia Plan by the Nixon administration was setting minimum standards, or “… specific targets for minority employees in several trades” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.8).  Overtime, the Philadelphia Plan survived an array of both legal and congressional battles before being viewed as a legitimate piece of legislation (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.10).  Eventually, the Philadelphia Plan was incorporated with Executive Order 11246 which in turn “… affected all federal government contractors, who were required for the first time to put forth written affirmative action plans with numerical target” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par. 10) . 

Soon after the Philadelphia Plan was put into action, legislation at the federal and state levels were passed creating new affirmative action plans/implementations using Nixon’s creation as “model” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.12).   This is because of the plan’s unique dynamic of “… [mixing] of numerical targets and [the] requirements of “good faith” effort [which] was a milestone in the history of affirmative action” (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.12).  The Philadelphia Plan has helped fuel modern day offshoots of affirmative action legislation which are still currently enforced today (“History of Affirmative Action”, par.12).         

Peoples Opinion, Critics, Majorities vs Minorities

Affirmative action was received differently by different groups of people within the United States society. At the inception of affirmative action in the United States of America the people were divided on the issue. Some supported it stating that it would help the American society deal with issues of discrimination. On the other hand, a group of people mostly made of the whites rejected affirmative action stating that it would introduce preferential treatment of a certain group of people especially blacks and women to acquire positions that they do not qualify for (CRS Report for Congress, 2005).

In the past the majority of US population was white. They enjoyed most of the opportunities while the other groups suffered. White males in the United States enjoyed unfair advantages in school and college admission, employment opportunities, and job promotions. The white community were favoured in places like health facilities and educational facilities because they enjoyed the advantages given to them as the majority. They also enjoyed the right to vote and took leadership roles that allowed them to make important decisions that affect the whole society. Therefore, they did not support affirmative action because they viewed it as an action that would threaten the opportunities they enjoyed. They opposed it completely. They viewed affirmative action as a move that had a preferential treatment for people who did not deserve it (US Census Bureau, 2003).

On the other hand, minority groups in the United States comprised of women and racial groups, such as black Americans. These groups supported affirmative action because they viewed it as an action that would help them redress the discrimination and atrocities that had been committed against them. These included the denial of fair education, voting, and employment rights. It was through affirmative action that they would receive fair treatment and enjoy all the rights that were previously disapproved by other people. Affirmative action served as compensation and counterbalance for the tendency to underrate women, blacks, and other members of minority groups. These minority groups had been discriminated to the extent that they remained poor and could not access jobs to earn money to satisfy their basic life necessities. Affirmative action would help redress all these issues. Through civil rights movements and women’s rights movements minorities in America fought for the implantation of the affirmative action to ensure that their grievances are redressed amicably (Lader, 2010).

Critics of affirmative action oppose affirmative action stating that it gives preferential treatment on certain groups while discriminating on other groups. A notable criticism of affirmative action is the view that affirmative action policies that focus on helping black Americans violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution and civil right laws. Critics state that affirmative action destroys the ground that has been set up for all persons to compete and benefit from. This view is logical when considered in a context that overlooks historical injustices that black Americans and other minority groups including women were subjected to.

Other critics of affirmative action state that it stigmatizes and undermines the credentials of other minorities that are qualified in certain areas. They state that affirmative action degrades the effectiveness of qualified persons in minority status. However, this view does not make significant difference because it does not introduce stigmas that were not existent in the lives of the minorities.

Critics also state that affirmative action was introduced as a temporary program that was meant to start a process of redressing the injustices that minority groups were subjected to before the 1960s. For instance, former governor for California Pete Wilson considered affirmative action a program that gave preferential treatment on the basis of historical injustices not applicable in the present world. Therefore, the use of affirmative action in the present world where all people enjoy similar rights and have a level playing ground to achieve their potential is unfair (Bardes, Mack C. Shelley, & Schmidt, 2011).

Supporters of affirmative action state that it is the only way to achieve equality among all people in USA. They state that the society exposes people to many forms of inequalities that can only be solved through institutional help, for instance historical injustices. Therefore, affirmative action compensates minorities for the past injustices laid against them. Affirmative action also prevents majority groups from enjoying unearned privileges in education, employment, and other opportunities in the society. It also helps create a fair society discouraging systematic exclusion of people who would have been otherwise excluded from important societal decisions and opportunities. They also state that affirmative action provides all ethnic and racial groups an equal representation at all levels of the society. In addition, it improves group decision-making by discouraging single dominance of entities in the society.

There are also people and groups who did not and do not support affirmative action. They state that affirmative action is a type of discrimination in its own way. They state that affirmative action discriminates against non-minority groups by introducing institutional discrimination. They also state that affirmative action fills job places that could have been taken by productive people with less productive people. They also state that by preserving opportunities for minorities, affirmative action destroys the spirit of hard work in the American society (Lader, 2010).

President Richard Nixon led supporters of the affirmative action and gave the first forceful plan named Philadelphia Order that would ensure the implementation of the affirmative action. This was a test case that would guarantee fair hiring of people in construction jobs in Philadelphia. This was followed by a series of civil rights movements and women’s rights movements that led to the implementation of the affirmative action. All forms of discrimination were fought in job places and educational institutions. Universities such as university of Texas and university of Michigan implemented affirmative action programs in their institutions. All states in the United States of America implemented affirmative action programs. The White House also formulated its guidelines on affirmative action.

In response to affirmative action issues presented by the opposing sides the Supreme Court has always based its decisions on public opinion. For instance, in 1995 the public was equally divided in regard to affirmative action. The Supreme Court restricted affirmative action allowing some of its proposals while restricting on others. However, in 2003 the public support for affirmative action overweighed its opposition. Thus, the court permitted certain issues of affirmative action that were not granted in the ruling made in 1995 (CRS Report for Congress, 2005).

Current Issues

“In the 21st century, the United States will become a ‘mosaic of minorities’ as population dynamics continue to change the demographic landscape.” (Sterret, 2005) With our growing rates of immigration increasing steadily the more conflict arises on the issue of affirmative action. Also, with the continuous rise for minority power in the workforce the problem of affirmative action is still very much controversial, which many people choose to shy away from in choosing to speak about it. The use of affirmative action policies in government agencies have been banned by voters in the states of California, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and Arizona while Utah is on the brink of doing the same (“Not so black,” 2010).

Proposition 209 came into law in November 1996, which banned every form of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity at any public entity in California. It was the first to come to action on banning affirmative action. ). In 1998, Initiative 200 passed a law in Washington with a 48.22% vote to stop affirmative action by state and local governments. Michigan Proposal 2 prohibits affirmative action programs in state agencies and institutions, which became law in December 2006, with 58% voters supporting to ban this practice (Chace, 2011). Initiative 424 was passed in 2008 in Nebraska with a 48% vote. The Arizona civil rights amendment Proposition 107 was passed in 2010 with a 59.5% to ban affirmative action (Chace, 2011).

Higher educational institutions must adapt ways that will create a positive opportunity for all students while achieving excellence. It is a constant struggle for colleges and universities to strive for greater diversity. There have been a lot of unanswered questions in dealing with affirmative action. According to Current Issues Involving Affirmative Action and Higher Education although many agree that the achievement of racial and ethnic diversity in both student bodies and faculties is a desirable goal, there is no agreement on the means that should be used to attain this goal.” (Sterret, 2005). In regard to colleges and universities, Sterret explains Arredondo’s discussion in a study in 2001. It was made evident that although colleges do not admit to using any quotas and separate admissions practices between ethnic backgrounds, it is still used today. However, there is a slow decrease in the use of affirmative action in higher institutional programs. Research shows that public 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. considering minority status in admissions have fallen from more than 60% to about 35% (Chace, 2011).

The Supreme Court was involved in it’s first affirmative action case in twenty-five years in the year of 2003.The cases involving the University of Michigan’s law and undergraduate programs stirred up some controversy. In the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger and Grutz v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court ruled that race can be taken into account in the admission’s process with an emphasis on individualized consideration. However, limitations were to be made in the admission’s criteria dealing with race. University of Michigan stated that, “we fought for the very principle that defines our country’s greatness. Year after year, our student body proves it and now the court has affirmed it: Our diversity is our strength.” (Peterson, 2003) Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in 2003, in 2006, 58% of Michigan citizens voted to restrict all of their universities from using affirmative action (Schaefer, 2011, p. 109).

Although the United States have seen a significant increase in diversity amongst colleges and universities, legal and political challenges have already limited affirmative action in California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Maryland, Washington, and Georgia (“The commission, affirmative,” 2003). Therefore, in place of these policies legislation have implemented “percentage plans” in California, Texas, and Florida. The emphasis is then placed on admission based on a set percentage of the student’s high school rank instead.

In dealing with affirmative action in the workforce, there has been an increase in female elected into office (Leiter & Leiter, 2011). There has been an increase from 8% of the state legislative seats to 24%; from 11% of statewide elective positions to 23%; and from 3% of Congress to 17%. These numbers still don’t account for the growing population of women however it is a start in the progress of minorities. There has been a shift in 57% of people that said that more women would be a positive change for government.

Throughout the past decade there have been a great increase in opposition to affirmative action. This is clearly evident in the various states today that have already went ahead and banned affirmative action policy. The issue on affirmative action has gone under major scrutiny for years and years and it seems that matters will not be completely solved any time soon. Many states politicians are making the move into banning the use of giving preferential treatment in relation to race to acquire various positions. Although the use of affirmative action is being shied away from there still remain numerous amounts of organizations that include race in their selection process.

“Research does show that there is a positive association between diversity and work-group performance. Diversity creates conditions that can inhibit group interaction processes and group effectiveness.” (Kellough, 2007) Although many view diversity as a positive the stance on affirmative action remains unclear. Affirmative action was created to help minorities and women have a place in society. It was created to help those that suffered discrimination in the past to apply for jobs or other opportunities knowing that they at least have a fighting chance. As a result, this topic has been misconstrued and turned into a negative, which causes tremendous controversy.

The debate about affirmative action is still one that has not been answered fully. It is only through an open-minded and honest discussion about the topic where a glimpse of achievement can start to shape. “Rather than prolonged controversy, citizens and institutions should be willing to engage in a sincere, open dialogue about issues to ensure that future generations also enjoy the American Dream.” (Sterret, 2005) 

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