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Affirmative Action in the United States

Affirmative Action in the United States consists of the active efforts that take into account race, sex and national origin for the purpose of remedying and preventing discrimination. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government requires certain businesses and educational institutions that receive federal funds to develop affirmative action programs. Such policies are enforced and monitored by both The Office of Federal Contract Compliance and The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Lazear 37).

The most noteworthy criticism of affirmative action is that of the white male population who insists that such programs are forms of “reverse discrimination”. In contrast to their view, the United States Commission on Civil Rights argued until 1983 that only if society were operating fairly would measures that take race, sex, and national origin into account be “preferential treatment. ” After the commission on civil rights was reorganized in late 1983, however, it took the opposite position. By January of 1984, it approved a statement that “racial preferences merely constitute another form of unjustified discrimination”“.

In recent years, however, affirmative action has continued to grow, and the number of controversies surrounding its existence is consistently augmented. In 1978, in University of California Regents v. Bakke, the U. S. Supreme Court held (5-4) that fixed quotas may not be set for places for minority applicants for medical school if white applicants are denied a chance to compete for those places. The court, however, did say that professional schools may consider race as a factor in making decisions on admissions. More recently than the Regents decision, in United Steelworkers of America V.

Weber (1979) and Fullilove v. Klutznick (1980), the court continued to hold for affirmative action. The transformation of affirmative action over the years is generally considered a negative and socially unfair one. Although the original intention of such programs with regard to minority management was one of an undeniably just nature, my research has clearly indicated that over the years, various legal trends have drastically altered the socio-political implications of affirmative action often creating unfair situations for white males who are not part of the “guaranteed crowd”.

Managing Diversity” is one of the newest, most politically sound names for any such policies aimed at bringing minorities into the business mainstream through preferential hiring and promotion. Whatever the name, it is apparent that our contemporary society must come to grips with a sobering fact: We are some twenty-five years into a national drive and it has been about fifty years since the government first embraced the idea of giving blacks and other minorities a foothold in white, male-dominated Corporate America, yet the ideal of racial equality remains elusive, and the means of attaining it is increasingly controversial.

Affirmative action encompasses both race and gender. Indeed women have been among its’ greatest beneficiaries but the discussion of race stirs the fiercest emotions. The concept of affirmative action itself remains shrouded in ignorance, mistrust, and political cynicism. According to Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, “The term conjures up the vilest of connotations making it much like a four letter word”. (Fiscus 86). It was not always that way, of course. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in employment and ordered that all hiring be “colorblind”.

Affirmative action, established by a series of Presidential directives going back to Lyndon B. Johnson’s in 1965, was intended to socially compensate minorities for past injustices, to overcome continuing discrimination, and ultimately to provide equal job opportunities for whites and blacks. Unhappily, those aims sometimes contain a painful contradiction: Compensating for past discrimination against some people can create “fresh discrimination” against others.

When companies make extraordinary efforts to hire or to promote minority workers, they are both directly and indirectly penalizing white workers. (Graglier 27-8) Since the 1970’s, most major companies and many smaller ones have adopted formal written policies to recruit minorities. The result has helpfully produced major gains for black job-seekers. In fact, the percentage of blacks in the work force has risen by fifty percent in the past twenty-five years; a solid advance taking into account a significantly larger black population.

The largest of such gains were in the South by black women. Many jobs came in government itself, where as many as 850,000 blacks found jobs in the social welfare bureaucracy from 1960 to 1976. Huge numbers of blacks have moved into the middle class. (Graglier 28) In 1989, about five percent of all managers in the United States were black. That constitutes a fivefold increase since 1966 and a 30 percent increase since 1978. Still, there is a “long road” ahead.

Nearly 97 percent of senior executives in the largest United States companies are white. And while black males make up 12. 7 percent of the private-sector work force, only five percent of all professionals are black. However, overall progress seems to be slowing. After dramatic income gains in the 1960’s and 70’s, blacks have been losing economic ground for the past decade. The higher-paying manufacturing jobs that were once a doorway to economic security for working-class blacks are harder to come by in an increasingly service-based economy.

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