There is certainly no question of the injustices suffered by minorities and women in the United States. Slavery is no doubt the worst of these injustices. As a response to these inequallities affirmative action was created. Affirmative action as defined by Thomas E. Patterson is “a term that refers to programs designed to ensure that women, minorities, and others traditionally disadvantaged groups have full and equal opportunities in employment, education, and other areas of life” (Patterson G-1). While affirmative action programs have been born from the discriminatory history of our country, are these programs themselves discriminatory in nature? Here begins the debate of affirmative action. The purpose of this paper is to explore three different positions on affirmative action: those who support, those opposed to affirmative action and the views of the Supreme Court.
Affirmative action was established in the 1960s to ensure the fair treatment of minorities and women in all areas of society including but not limited to employment and education. Previous to these programs, discrimination in these areas, while illegal, was still largely practiced. Because the burden of proof fell upon the individual it was very easy for the employer to show the minority candidate unqualified. With the creation of this policy, the burden of proof fell upon the employer or the university to prove that they were not discriminating against minorities or women. Under these guidelines, the workforce and student bodies are to be as diverse as the community in which it exists. As a result of affirmative action, employers and universities have devised programs to promote diversity. These programs range from more intense recruitment of minorities and women to implementing a scoring system that gives points based on race and gender.
The support and opposition views were selected because of the contrast between them. The view of the Supreme Court has been selected to provide a legal backdrop so that the reader may see a neutral position.
Alec R. Levenson, a research associate at the Milken Institute and Darrell L. Williams, assistant professor of economics a the University of California at Los Angeles, are coauthors of “Affirmative Action Combats Unintentional Racism” published in Interracial America: Opposing viewpoints. The authors discuss the unintentional discrimination faced by minorities in the workforce. Levenson and Williams claim that three factors lead to unintentional discrimination: “de facto discrimination, the use of personal contacts as potential employee base and employment decisions which are disproportionately made by whites”(155).
The claim by Levenson and Williams that “de facto segregation of friends and family along racial and ethnic lines for noneconomic reasons” is a reason that unintentional segregation exists. De facto segregation is defined by Patterson as “discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, ethnicity and the like that results from social, economic, and cultural biases and conditions (Patterson G-5). The authors claim that because of de facto segregation, “the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time socializing with those of similar racial and ethnic backgrounds” (Levenson 163). The authors claim that socially there is little change in the integration of our social lives.
The second claim is that many jobs are being filled using personal contacts. The authors support this claim by presenting two statistics. The first statistic shows that 40 - 60 percent of job seekers use their family and relatives to find jobs. The second statistic presented in this article was conducted by National Longitudinal Survey of Youth which also supported this claim with results that approximately one third of job seekers felt that using relatives or friends “produced the best results”(qtd. in Levenson, Williams).
The authors’ third and final claim is “Employment decisions are disproportionately made by whites”. Once again, statistical information is presented to support this claim. The statistic was obtained from the Current Population survey of March 1993. This statistic reported that 92.6 percent of all managers in the private sector are white, and 53.3 percent of which are white males.
The authors conclude this article by simplifying these three claims. Because of de facto segregation white people will socialize with white people. Because whites are disproportionately making employment decisions and these white managers are using personal contacts as a base for potential employees, minorities are unintentionally being discriminated against. The author went on to state that “unintentional discrimination”, while not the only reason behind discrimination, is reason enough to keep affirmative action policies in affect (158).
As there is support for affirmative action polices there is also an opposition to the policies. One such opponent is Linda Chavez, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Linda Chavez is author of Out of the Barrio and “Affirmative Action Aggravates Racial Tension”, which has also been published in Interracial America: Opposing Viewpoints. In the article “Affirmative Action Aggravates Racial Tension”, Chavez’s opposition to affirmative action hinges on two key points. These two points are that the disadvantaged are not the typical beneficiaries of affirmative action programs and that affirmative action increases the importance of race in America.
Chavez supports the claim “The disadvantaged are not the typical beneficiaries of affirmative action” by referring to a study conducted by Berkley University in California. This survey showed that of the students admitted to the university as a result of affirmative action, many had a median income higher than the white students (qtd. in Chavez). Based on these results, Chavez concluded that the only thing that made these students disadvantaged was the pigment of their skin. Chavez also discovered that the minorities who received coveted top positions with major corporations as a result of affirmative action also came from middle to upper income roots, thus arguing that those who most benefit from affirmative action policies are not “disadvantaged” (160).
The second claim is that affirmative action creates racial and cultural divisions. The author claims that with the increased emphasis of diversity the people in this country will no longer see each other as Americans but as a different race with different cultures. Chavez proves this point in two ways. The first way she proves that affirmative action creates divisions within our country based on race is simple: affirmative action policies are predominately based on race instead of economics, hence symbolizing a difference between minorities and whites. By using race as the predominant factor of determining eligibility to affirmative action this is giving the message that “minority equals disadvantage”(160).
The author concluded the article by referring to a conversation she had with a group of minority students who were very much in favor of affirmative action. When Chavez spoke to these students they claimed they were victims of discrimination on a regular basis because of their race. Once Chavez further questioned the students they were unable to give any direct examples of the discrimination that they experienced. This conversation further proves that economics more of a disadvantage than race alone (160).
In addition to view points for and against affirmative action, the history of affirmative action within the judicial system can provide a neutral viewpoint. The position held by the Supreme Court on affirmative action has been questioned many times in the past 30 years. The First case heard by the Supreme Court was University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978). This case involved Alan Bakke, a white man who was denied admission to the university even though he had higher grades than minority students who were admitted under affirmative action guidelines. Bakke claimed discrimination and the Supreme Court agreed. Even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bakke, affirmative action programs continued. The court’s ruling was “rigid racial quotas could not be used in determining admission to medical schools” (Patterson 162). Later rulings by the Supreme Court upheld quotas stating that 10 percent of government contracts must be granted to minority-owned businesses (Fullilov v. Klutnick 1980). In 1995 the Supreme Court restricted the government’s authority over affirmative action programs. This case Adarand v. Pena ended the government’s quota system in awarding government contracts to minorities. The Supreme Court ruled in this case that preferential treatment of minorities must be as a result of direct acts of discrimination, not just historical discrimination in a general sense (Paterson 163).
No one can disagree with the social injustices endured by minorities in this country. There is no argument that discrimination remains today. Although affirmative action programs cannot use “strict racial quotas” in granting admission to higher education or jobs, there is no clear definition of this term. Currently companies and learning institutions are free to develop their own diversity programs.
Affirmative action destroys the merit system which is “intended to protect the public from the inept or discriminatory administrative practices” (Patterson G-13). The merit system is the foundation of a democratic nation. Affirmative action, although devised to protect, is a discriminatory practice. If the function of affirmative action programs is to promote equality how can these same programs provide preferential treatment to minorities? Affirmative action perpetuates the divisions within our country and promotes discrimination of white males in America.
Bender, David, Bruno Leone, and Bonnie Szumski, eds. Interracial America: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1996.
Chavez, Linda “Affirmative Action Aggravates Racial Tension.” Bender, Bruno and Szumski 159-164.
Levenson, Alec R. and Williams, Darrell L. “Affirmative Action Combats Unintentional Racism.” Bender, Bruno and Szumski 154-158.
Patterson, Thomas E. We the People: A Concise Introduction to American Politics. New York, New York: McGraw Hill, 2003.