There are really two basic questions which need to be addressed and looked at: Has Affirmative Action really continued to benefit African Americans who may have been denied equal opportunities for jobs? And, secondly, does the historical problem of slavery continue to persist in today’s attitudes by both minorities and the majority of Americans?
No matter how many statutes are passed providing for “equality” that is still in doubt. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated: “Government cannot make us equal; it can only recognize, respect and protect us as equal before the law.” However, Thomas seems to be voting in the minority on the couort when it comes to fairness: “The proof lies in continued inequality. And the Supreme Court is making it more and more difficult for minorities in this country to get a fair deal. “In seven recent rulings, all decided by the same 5-4 margin, the court has rejected discrimination claims and narrowed the cope of civil rights law.” (Savage, A1)
At Stanford University, Professor Paul Sniderman has been doing research for more than a decade on public opinion, race, and affirmative action. His research indicated that 80 to 90 percent of white Americans believe deeply in giving black and other minorities an ‘even chance’. Most favor measures to help the poor, and 61% approve making an ‘extra effort’ to be fair through the sort of benign outreach efforts for minorities that used to be regarded as affirmative action before policy makers moved in the direction of race preferences. There is that word “preference” again, which seems to continue to make all the difference between normal equal true intent of Martin Luther King Jr..’s dream that his children will be ‘judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’ has been lost.”
The impact of slavery on Affirmative Action and fairness also impacts the recent effort to exact reparations for survivors of slaves. While this may never happen, there is proof that the effects of slavery still linger, physically. William Thompson, a professor of public administration at the University of Nevada, blames the history of slavery as causing some problems in the genes of today’s African Americans. He explains that, because African-Americans live from 6 to eleven years LESS than whites,
“If (an assumption) there have been ten million African-
Americans with full careers under Social Security since
1935 and they averaged lives six years shorter than
whites, and average benefits for African Americans under Social Security were $4,000 a year….then the collective African American community (vis-à-vis) whites) has been shorted $240 billion dollars.” (Thompson 2)
According to Roberts (56) Affirmative Action can be traced back to Reconstruction Days following the Civil War. There is also the foundation for Affirmative Action in the 14th Amendment which states “No state shall abridger the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (Roberts 56). However, one result of this Amendment turned out to be the theory of “separate but equal” (Plessy vs. Ferguson) something that continued under what were called “Jim Crow” laws until the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s.
World War II seemed to bring a temporary halt to discrimination in hiring. “Spurred to action by the black union leader A. Philip Randolph President Roosevelt subtly advanced the cause of nondiscrimination in public and private hiring” (Roberts 57). One might emphasize the word “subtly” here for two reasons: the U.S. was in a wartime economy, coming out of the Depression and needed every able bodied man to work in defense plants, and secondly the Democratic party was still headed for the most part by Southern senators and Representatives (white, of course) for whom “separate but equal” continued to be a rationalization fort lawful racial bias.
While the 1960s-= everything from the marches by Martin Luther King, Jr., the positive approaches to civil rights by JFK, culminating in Affirmative action as a law along with civil rights beginning in 1964- were seemingly a watershed; it might be argued that the supporters of Affirmative Action made a mistake in alienating the status quo. As Roberts states (59) the fact that supporters of Affirmative Action sought numerical goals “was seen as an important gauge of how effective this new policy would be” (Roberts 59). This seemed fair, especially once women and other minorities were added, and Affirmative Action reports were now to be mandated even for small businesses.
What seems fair to supporters of Affirmative Action is that past wrongs have to be addressed in the present. “American society must continue to right those evils from the past….because racism continues to exist- both in society generally and in specific situations such as hiring and college admissions-0 Affirmative Action must continue” (Roberts 64).
Arguments against Affirmative Action are really four-fold, according to Roberts (68). It “punishes” people whop were not responsible for slavery and/or discrimination in the past. It goes along with the idea of “slavery reparations, mentioned above. Opponents also argue that “affirmative action is detrimental to the important American tradition of merit based social and economic advancement” (Roberts 68). There is also the argument, which seems to find as much favor as any, that it stigmatizes the recipients by claiming that without Affirmative Action they could not get the jobs, or enter the colleges. Perhaps one solution might be Roberts’ comments about Shelby Steele: “By emphasizing the view that building a color blind, merit based society produces more economic and educational uplift for African Americans, Shelby Steele provides an excellent example of the modern arguments against affirmative action” (Roberts 70). Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to please and be fair to everyone.
Savage, David: “Bias Claims Get Same 5-4 Answer From Justices: No” Los Angeles TIMES, April 29, 2001
Sniderman, Paul: “Research on Scars of Racism” www.ercomer.org/training/announc_98.html
Roberts, Kevin D. African-American Issues Greenwood Publishing Group (2005).
Thompson, William: “A Conservative White Man Supports Reparations for African Americans” (accessed March 2006) www.tompaine.com/history/2000/10/23