Affirmative Action Research Paper

2892 words - 12 pages

In 1960, African-Americans enjoyed neither the economic nor the social standing of the rest of America. They had no access to high-level employment and received about two-thirds the pay of whites for doing the same work. Additionally, the small number of blacks attending colleges or universities lent little optimism for the future. Socially they fared no better. "Black only" restrooms, drinking fountains, and schools reflected the harsh reality that, in America, all men are not equal. Since the time of the founding fathers, this fact has haunted the American conscious, but has unfortunately, never been fully addressed. Finally, the old American policy of avoiding the race issue came to an end with the arrival of the civil-rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and for the first time, meaningful changes would be made towards the fulfilment of the truly democratic nation envisioned over two-hundred years ago. However, such a dynamic change would inevitably spark altercation and would not come easily.Arguably the most significant reform of the civil-rights movement was brought by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which inspired the highly controversial program known as "affirmative action," or the effort to provide qualified blacks with economic opportunities that legalized discrimination denied them. However, despite the simplicity of this definition, interpretations of the act's implications and the methods to be used in order to achieve its purpose have often conflicted. This paper will examine the arguments both of five scholars who support "affirmative action" as a necessary tool to "level the playing field" and reverse the social and economic misfortunes created from past discrimination, and the arguments of five scholars who find "affirmative action" unconstitutional, immoral, and detrimental to American society.Wilbert Jenkins is a professor of history at Temple University who defends the reasons for "affirmative action" in a 1999 USA Today article . Second, Nancy Stein edits the scholarly journals CrossRoads and Social Justice in which she refutes many of the arguments against preferential treatment. As a white male in the South, Auburn University professor James Buford makes the case that "affirmative action" still applies today, despite the elimination of most direct racism. Law professor Jamin Raskin also supports the continued use of "affirmative action" to eliminate the noticeable financial gap between whites and minorities. Finally, long time civil rights promoter Jessie Jackson tells why race-consciousness is still necessary today.On the other side, Congressman and leading advocate of the Civil Rights Act of 1997, Charles Canady explains why "affirmative action" is inconsistent with the beliefs of its creators and an illegitimate program in American society. Carl Cohen, philosophy professor at the University of Michigan, conveys his observations of preferential treatment in college admissions. American history expert Herman Belz argues that current practices which give privileges on the basis of group identity are unconstitutional. As an African-American and chairman of the California Civil Rights Initiative of 1996, Ward Connerly suggests that "affirmative action" was meant to be temporary and no longer serves beneficial purposes. Lastly, author Steven Yates traces "affirmative action's" transformation from a moral venture into a system of quotas and compromised standards.The first topic of debate argues the question, "Is affirmative action an un-American system of reverse discrimination that departs from its original sentiment, or is the idea of color-blindness a fantasy that ignores the necessity for preferential treatment?"Opponents unanimously agree that the original form of "affirmative action" spelled out in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which provided qualified blacks with opportunities denied by Jim Crow and pronounced preferences on the basis of race invalid and unlawful, was a morally sound initiative. However, some doubted whether this was enough -- whether blacks had the resources to fully take advantage after being subjugated for so long. The Nixon Administration reevaluated this subject and conveyed their conclusions in the Philadelphia Plan which legalized racial preferences for federal contracts, setting the precedent for a new "affirmative action" (Canady, 4). Supporters praised the change as a decisive step to undo the effects of systematic discrimination. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "One cannot ask people who don't have boots to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" (Jenkins, 1). Now the Philadelphia Plan gave the push-start many blacks needed to being reaping the benefits of new legislation.Others did not view the Philadelphia Plan so favorably. To begin with, they claimed preferential treatment contradicted nearly two-hundred years of American principles dating back to the Declaration of Independence's proclamation of "natural rights" and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal treatment before the law (Belz, 1). Further, Canady noted that these ideals recurred in Justin John Harlan's dissent to the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson. Harlan declared concerning the Constitution, "The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the Supreme law of the land are involved" (Canady, 3). The Supreme Court again professed this opinion when Thurgood Marshall in 1947 announced, "Classifications and distinctions based on race or color have no moral or legal validity in our society. They are contrary to our Constitution and laws" (Canady, 3). Ward Connerly can testify first hand to the evils of segregation and racism, but nonetheless arrives at the same conclusions of Harlan and Marshall that evils of the past do not change the bottom line: discrimination is wrong and "has the potential to fatally damage the most fundamental values of our democracy" (Connerly, 4). It was amoral in the past, and the same remains true if the races are reversed because the system is "intrinsically unfair (Cohen, 2).Affirmative action supporters claim that such an idealistic America where race was never an issue, unfortunately, does not correspond with reality. Even after the most overt discrimination has disappeared, Janin Raskin notes on race, "it is impossible not to take these factors into account" (Raskin, 3), suggesting that unconscious discrimination still hobbles the black community's rights to equal opportunities in employment. Because of this, the goal of affirmative action must be to "level the playing field," and to do this requires that the issue of race be addressed (Stein, 4). Thus a color-blind approach to eliminating the effects of racism cannot succeed; blacks need a push-start to climb out from the deep hole they have been forced into. In the words of Lyndon Johnson, "You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him to the starting line and say you are free to compete with others" (Jenkins, 1). This communicates the same idea as the saying, "you have to have money to make money." However, the race-consciousness evident in affirmative action is distinguishable from the claimed reverse discrimination of opponents (Jackson, 2). In the words of Jessie Jackson, "After 250 years of slavery, 100 years of apartheid, and 40 years of discrimination, we cannot burn the books and start anew...by instituting a 'color-blind' code of justice" (Jackson, 1). Simply forgetting such a central aspect of this nation's history hinders future progress, and as opposed to calling affirmative action "preferential treatment," a more accurate definition would be the effort for a "race-inclusive and race-caring society" (Jackson, 2). These collective views in favor of some form of race consideration naturally produce further areas of disagreement among affirmative action critics.The second key topic surrounds the question of equal opportunity vs. equal results. For understandable reasons, affirmative action lobbyists were deeply dissatisfied with the sizeable educational and economic gaps between whites and blacks and eager to find a solution to this problem. Raskin came up with two possible explanations as to why black students statistically produced lower test scores than white students. Either the "Bell Curve" theory that different ethnic groups have varied intellectual ability is correct, or black students have the same capabilities as white students but have not developed in environments conducive to utilizing them (Raskin, 2). He chose the second explanation and therefore believes that once minority students receive the educational attention of whites, the test scores will even out. Therefore, educational institutions should make a concerted effort to obtain a diverse student body by taking extra steps to recruit minorities.Similarly, activists were concerned with statistics showing blacks as being under-represented in many of the more lucrative occupations. This fear gave way to the "theory of disparate impact discrimination" or "covert discrimination"which found that an unbalanced representation of minorities in hiring constituted legal discrimination, regardless of the employer's intentions (Belz, 2). According to James Buford Jr., "Most overt discrimination against blacks has ended" but still "minorities...continue to be under represented in many types of jobs and concentrated in others" (Buford, 1). He provides three possible causes for this: job recruiting might focus on predominantly white colleges; employers might rely heavily on recommendations which would come exclusively from white males; and finally, interviewers tend to hire people most like themselves which would put blacks at a natural disadvantage (Buford, 2). However, Raskin is not concerned so much with the answer to Buford's hypotheses. Statistical disparities lend him to profess a bottom line statement: "If we believe in the equal potential of all human beings and we therefore cannot justify the dominance of the 'white race' over all others" (Raskin, 2). "Disparate impact discrimination" then must be the underlying cause, and therefore, employers must commit to the active and aggressive recruitment of qualified minorities until a balanced representation is achieved, signifying a true equality of opportunity (Stein, 1).In the view of the critics, this approach which focuses on statistics and judges equality in terms of outcomes is unconstitutional and inconsistent with American values (Belz, 2). Author Steven Yates believes these practices "have replaced individual rights with group entitlements, and the concept of equal opportunity with demands for equal outcomes which in turn have produced quotas" (Yates, 1). This is wrong because it violates America's long history of treating individuals as individuals without placing them in superficial categories (Cohen, 2). It also displays an improper understanding of the "American Dream" where by design, men will not all obtain the same levels of success or failure (Belz, 1). When group entitlements outweigh individual rights the "inevitable result is the award of advantages to some who deserve no advantage, and the imposition of burdens upon some who deserve no burden" (Cohen, 2). In effect, it creates a system based upon inherently unfair principles. In addition to the inconsistencies with tradition, Charles Canady believes that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which largely inspired "affirmative action," explicitly forbids any use of preferential treatment to create an ethnically balanced workforce. He cites Section 703(j) of the act which says nothing "shall be interpreted to require any employer...to grant preferential treatment to any individual or group because of the race...of such individual or group" in order to maintain a racial balance (Canady, 4). Clearly, the use of race consciousness as a means of promoting equality was an issue which the authors of the legislation specifically addressed and rejected. For these reasons, the judgement of equality in terms of racial statistics cannot be tolerated and has no role in American life.In 1955 forty-three year old Rosa Park was arrested and taken to jail for sitting in the "white only" section on a city bus. In 1957 after a mob of one-thousand protesting whites prevented nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, President Eisenhower ordered one-thousand paratroopers and ten-thousand members of the National Guard to escort them. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy was forced to send federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi when James Meredith became the first African-American to attend Ole Miss, and still, angry rioters left two dead. These glaring examples depict a general feeling of racism so overwhelming that it is impossible to imagine for anyone who did not directly experience it. African-Americans genuinely needed the federal government then; however, forty years later this is no longer the case.Affirmative action was meant to be temporary, and its creators determined it would be jettisoned when blacks had the same opportunities as the rest of American citizens. The demand for balanced representation in employment and college admissions cannot be justified by the American passion for fairness and equality which has long claimed an aversion to any kind of race-based preferential treatment. In addition to this reason, proportional representation fails in three more areas. First, equal opportunity implicitly recognizes that equal outcomes of all individuals is an impossibility. Thus the demand for equal results resembles more the philosophy of a Communist state than of a nation composed of self-made men. Secondly, by categorizing individuals by external features, this system punishes people who in no way contributed to past discriminatory practices while awarding others who have not been injured. Finally, civil-rights leaders of the 1960s and policymakers of the most impacting anti-discrimination legislation specifically declared any statutes requiring balanced representation invalid. Continued affirmative action in a generation when it no longer bears legitimacy can only exacerbate racial tensions and further contribute to the dissolution of the American way of life. Acknowledging the temporal nature of affirmative action and beginning a new period in United States history where, for the first time, discrimination has no place will produce the most beneficial results, both for racial unity and for the American character.Clearly, not everyone shares an opinion on affirmative action and the methods to eliminate discrimination, but all do share a passion for fairness and equality. Supporters continue to promote what they perceive to be a critical program to actualize the founding fathers' dreams. Although America has come a long way, there are still issues which she must address before the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow can be overcome. Statistical disparities in economic and educational wealth are clear examples of the current existence of racial inequality. Opponents, on the other hand, find any form of preferential treatment immoral, unconstitutional, illegitimate, and intolerable. The reasons behind the creation of affirmative action no longer bear authority in 2003, and to prevent an intrinsically unfair, detrimental, and divisive system, America must look to the future and set the foundations for a discrimination-free society. The debate over "affirmative action" directly confronts the most fundamental and emotionally charged aspects of what the United States of America represents to millions of her citizens. It encompasses key concepts professed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and inherent in the "American creed." In sum, affirmative action challenges and questions America's true commitment to universal equality on which all else is based and consequently deserves the full attention of each and every person who cherishes the unique way of life present in the United States.Works CitedBelz, Herman. "Affirmative Action Does Not Promote Equality." Equality Transformed: A Quarterly Century of Affirmative Action (1991): 235-37, 242-49, 264-65. Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 12 Sep. 2003. .Buford, James A. "Affirmative Action Benefits the Workplace and Economy." Commonweal (June 19, 1998). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 12 Sep. 2003. .Canady, Charles T. "America's Struggle for Racial Equality." Viewpoint speech. The Heritage Foundation, Washington D.C. 1 Oct. 1997. Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 12 Sep. 2003. .Cohen, Carl. "Affirmative Action in Admissions Harms College Students." Heritage Lectures. no. 611, April 29, 1998. Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 29 Sep. 2003. .Connerly, Ward. "Ending Affirmative Action Would Promote Equal Opportunity." Heritage Lecture Series, no. 560, March 8, 1996. Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 29 Sep. 2003. .Jackson, Jessie L. "Affirmative Action is Beneficial." World & I (November 1995). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 23 Sep. 2003. .Jenkins, Wilbert. "Why we Must Retain Affirmative Action." USA Today (September 1999). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 12 Sep. 2003. .Raskin, Jamin B. "Retaining Affirmative Action Would Promote Equal Opportunity." Z Magazine. (May 1995). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 10 Oct. 2003. .Stein, Nancy et al. "Affirmative Action Does Not Create Reverse Discrimination." Social Justice (Fall 1995). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 12 Sep. 2003. .Yates, Steven. "Affirmative Action Creates Reverse Discrimination." Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong with Affirmative Action (1994). Reproduced in Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. GaleNet. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. 29 Sep. 2003. .

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