The World Book Encyclopedia has the following definition for “Affirmative Action”: “Affirmative Action refers to policies aimed at increasing the numbers of people from certain social groups in employment, education, business, government and other areas.”
It is interesting to note that this widely read reference book is attempting to be politically correct by referring those who have been disenfranchised and discriminated against in employment and education as “social” groups.
Make no mistake, diversity in the work-place, the school room or the production line is not usually done by popularity poll or the kind heartedness of the majority. It has had to be mandated. Primarily the supposed recipients of the law were blacks and women.
Affirmative Action, or as some proponents think of it “A leveling of the playing field of human rights” began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Lyndon Johnson was pressured to submit to Congress, as a memorial to JFK. The idea was to redress the discrimination and the unconstitutional treatment of African Americans in the United States. “It was also designed to prevent future discrimination.” (Van Dyke) But, the Act really did not go far enough, according to some critics, since it did not require employers or universities to give any sort of preferential treatment to an applicant, employee, or prospective employee based on race or sex. “In other words, the Act is not a quota or a ‘set aside’ system. It is simply designed to prohibit discrimination in the work place and educational environments.” (Pendergast) So, there was a need for an executive order, which Johnson produced in 1965 which was designed to be a sort of amendment to the act, and which was specifically aimed at ending so-called “inequality” in schools and at the workplace. This was the birth of what we now call “Affirmative Action”. “Affirmative Action is a policy designed to create a nondiscriminatory environment for the management of human resources and the distribution of economic benefits…It means taking a second look to be fair to everyone who applies for a job or admission to college.” (Anderson, p. PG) What stirred up many people was not the previous blatant unfairness, whites favored over blacks or Hispanics, bosses hiring friends instead of the best qualified for the job. It was the imposition of the “second look” principle, whereby those favored prior to the Act now were feeling deprived of fairness by being forced to compete with those mandated by law to be looked at twice (i.e., tacitly preferred).
In 1991 another Civil Rights act was passed .The purpose of this act was to strengthen some of the 1964 Act’s provisions which the conservative-leaning Supreme Court had overruled. Included in this new act were sections that were designed to insure that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin do not impede employment, training, or promotion practices.
However, all this really did was to bring the discussion and argument about the effectiveness of Affirmative Action out into the open. The State of California is a perfect example. In 1995 the Board of Regents of the University of California combined with the Roper Organization to try to determine the opinions, and the effectiveness of Affirmative Action. They “conducted a two-week telephone survey of 1,001 University of California faculty, chosen at random. Subjects were asked about their feelings concerning the University of California’s adoption of a policy that would ignore ethnic background and gender preferences in cases of admission or employment in the university system.” (Roper Org.) They got 80% cooperation, and while critics of the results claim that some of the questions themselves were biased (the use of the word “preference” in the phrase “race and gender preference”), the results seemed to indicate that it was time for the University to go its own way and restrict that “double look” at prospective students and employees. The Regents used this somewhat tainted survey to change most of their guidelines for admission. On July 20, 1995, the University of California Board of Regents adopted two new resolutions changing their affirmative action policies, The first of these, called SP-1, became effective January 1, 1997. It states “the University of California shall not use race, religion, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as criteria for admission to the University of California…” (UC)
While it seems to be a true proponent of Affirmative Action, upon closer reading of some of the sections, Affirmative Action is literally abolished as a principle of admissions: “Because individual members of all California’s diverse races have the intelligence and capacity to succeed at the University of California, this policy will achieve…a population that reflects this state’s diversity through the perpetuation and empowerment of all students in this state to succeed, rather than through a system of artificial preferences (italics mine)” (UC, Sect. 9) The result has been fewer black and minority admissions.
But worse yet was Proposition 209 in California. This proposition reads much like the federal Civil Rights bills of 1964 and 1991. However, the intent of 209 is very different from the two federal Acts. For example, the 1964 Act reads: “It shall be unlawful…for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual…because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
The wording of Proposition 209 sounds the same, at first glance, but it is actually very different. It says “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” The sticking point is that phrase “or grant preferential treatment to”.
What the framers of this Proposition have done is two-fold. First, they are almost claiming that prior legislation has resulted in reverse discrimination. (To some degree, it had.) As a matter of fact, instead of strengthening affirmative action policies, it will “allow for vast discrepancies in hiring and promotion because it does away with one very powerful tool: affirmative action.”
The importance of California in all the Affirmative Action hullabaloo cannot be overstated. “A state with a high Hispanic and Asian population, as well as a black population measured, in 1990, at 7.4%, California is also the state where racial preferences have been woven most deeply into the fabric of public life.” (Zelnick, p. 349) It seems that, even without Affirmative Action legislation, California’s public agencies have been setting aside 15% for minority contractors and another 5% for women. Some local California governments have such precise measurements for minorities and women that some jobs are specifically designed and tailored to be filled by them.
While Republicans prepared to fight for the Amendment, liberals and Democrats were prepared to wage a struggle against it. As now-San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, then the speaker of the California State Assembly said: “It’s Racist!” And, as has been pointed out, the idea of “preference” does make it appear so. But, in time, the entire Proposition was declared Unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court was not alone in its dissent. “I think it is fundamentally divisive to have Americans judged on their ethnic group, rather than on their merit,” said Senator Phil Gramm (R.TX) Bob Dole chimed in with “If affirmative action means quotas, set-asides and other preferences that favor individuals simply because they happen to belong to certain groups,. That’s where I draw the line.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated: “Government cannot make us equal; it can only recognize, respect and protect us as equal before the law.”
Affirmative Action- “no aspect of the modern civil rights movement has generated so much heat and so little agreement as affirmative action. Its advocates claim that setting goals for the admission of minorities and women into colleges, training programs, and employment will eventually move these groups out of second-class status and give them true equality in American life.” (Urovsky, p. 15)
What has Affirmative Action done for eliminating gender bias? According to the latest figures,. Beginning in the year 2000, women, minorities and immigrants will account for 80% of labor growth in the U.S. (Allen, p. 1) Yet, while women are increasingly visible at the workplace, in general, they still earn less than their male counterparts. This is especially true of those few women who have managed to break through the so-called “glass ceiling” and become top management in large corporations. Perhaps the plight of women under Affirmative Action can best be summarized in one specific court case. “In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that an employer could give preference to women while making promotions.” (Steiner, p. 150)
What brought on this new case was based on that. A woman had been hired as a road maintenance clerk. When she applied for a promotion, she was denied because it was ruled she did not have the necessary experience. So, to get the experience, she passed the test for road maintenance worker. She had the third-highest score among 87 applicants and was hired. “Joyce was the first woman ever to hold that job classification and she was subjected to ostracism, humiliation, and harassment.” (Steiner, p. 151) She worked that job for five years, and when a promotion to road dispatcher came up, she applied. Her chief “rival” for that promotion was a white man, Even though he had actual on-the-job experience, she got the job, and he sued. It turned out that the County Department had to follow Affirmative Action guidelines to promote more women, and the man felt that was unjustified. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the affirmative action decision to hire a woman was upheld. “Justice O’Connor (in scolding the majority)…suggested that job categories should not be compared with the number of women in the general population, but the number of women qualified for those jobs.” (Steiner, p. 168)
While women’s organizations hailed this verdict, the fact remains to this day that it gave employers the right to consider sex as a “plus factor” in their hiring and promotion decisions. The question is- is this fair? Is the idea of “making up for what has happened historically” not in fact, reverse discrimination?
There are now more women working. TME Magazine even featured a story about a woman now commanding a U.S. warship. Two wage-earner families are no longer rare in this country. Single mothers need to work, and are expecting to earn the same pay as their male co-workers. But, there is still an “out” for the employer who wants to attempt to discriminate against equal pay for women: pay according to experience. Since most of the white males have been on the job longer, the excuse often is- experience is worth a few more dollars an hour. Suits are continuing to be brought under various Titles of the Fair Employment section of the Affirmative Action laws.
In his office at Stanford University, Professor 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.”
There are many politicians and business leaders who feel that present affirmative action guidelines magnify the racial and gender differences in our society, promoting racial and gender tensions and divisions, in part because the affirmative action programs were set-aside programs that promoted women and minorities at the expense of white males (who now constitute only about 45% of the U.S. work force). And yet the most important element of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its various amendments since that was to guarantee, by act of Congress equal opportunity for employment. Those who still oppose some of the Titles within the act point to the word “opportunity: as if it meant that women and minorities would be given as little attention as possible once the “opportunity” to apply for a job has happened.
And what about fair employment and non-discrimination policies for the handicapped? “The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and provides comprehensive civil rights to 49 million Americans with disabilities…local governments were to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in all areas of employment, transportation, public accommodation, and communication.” (Cochran, p. 1) The definition, according to this act, for a “disability” is one “who(1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, and (3) is regarded as having such an impairment” (Jasper, p. 5) This is a broad-ranging law which may cover people who are deaf, or blind, or partially sighted, even people with severe arthritis as well as mental illnesses. The law applies to all employers with 15 or more employees.
Employers can now get tax benefits for hiring the disabled. But, there are some “catches”. For example, a disabled person “must disclose that he or she has a disability which is covered under the statute, and requires a ‘reasonable accommodation’.” (Jasper, p. 8) An employer also does not need to hire a disabled person who “poses a direct threat to his or her health and safety and safety for others.” (Jasper, p. 8) However, employers must provide reasonable accommodations, which may include such items as ramps or elevators instead of stairs, and bathroom fixture accommodations as well. (Drug Use, incidentally, is not considered a “disability” under the ADA) Equal pay for equal work is also mandated,
There are more women and minorities working today. There continue to be screams of “Unfair” and “Reverse Discrimination” among white male workers, in particular. They believe the government is playing “racial and gender politics”. To some, the Clinton victory in 1996, supported by the so-called “soccer moms” now makes it necessary to give more attention to the employment opportunities for women, at the expense of men.
Thirty-five years after the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, much still needs to be done. Of course, affirmative action is still being practiced at the work-place. Millions of women are now employed, but hold only 48% of all managerial jobs, and earn about 72% of what men earn. Minorities, however, have not made as great leaps in the workplace. “56% of blacks polled by the Los Angeles TIMES felt that affirmative action has not gone far enough in promoting the interest of minorities. It is interesting to note, however, that black women hold twice as many managerial jobs as black men. We are left with one major question- what will become of equality of opportunity for minorities, the disabled and women
The idea of affirmative action is not to EXCLUDE anyone, but at the same time not to INCLUDE someone simply because of race or gender. While it would seem logical that affirmative action opens doors for admissions or for hiring in the workplace, it is just as logical that previous discrimination should not now become the basis for inclusion. What affirmative action cannot and must not do is to imply that there should be quotas set to make up for “lost time” among minorities, women, and the disabled.
It would be ideal to live in a color- and gender-blind society, one that gives equal rights and not blank stares at the disabled. Human nature being what it is, that is an impossible dream.
acceptance into school, or a woman is not hired for a specific job, it must be because there are other people (of any race or gender) more qualified. That’s the law.
Allen Jeffrey G.: “Complying with the ADA” John Wiley & Sons, 1993
Anderson, Bernard E. “U.S. Still Not Colorblind, Gender-Neutral Society”, The Philadelphia Tribune, Aug 20, 1996
BAMN, accessed via www.netscape.com
Civil Rights Act of 1964
Clarke, Jonathan: “Proposition 209 Is a Fraud and Business Knows It” LA TIMES, Nov 1, 1996
Cochran, J. Thomas: “Implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act” US Conference of Mayors, April 1995,
Jasper, Margaret C, Esq. “The Americans with Disabilities Act” Oceana Publications, 1998
Loevy, Robert d. (ed.) “The Civil Rights Act of 1964” State University of New York Press, 1997
Long, Robert Emmett (ed.) “Affirmative Action”, The H.W. Wilson Co., 1996
Lynch, Frederick: “Invisible Victims: White Males and the Crisis of Affirmative Action” Praeger Publishers, 1991
Parker, Emanuel “Judge Rules Words Must Clarify State Anti-Affirmative Action Bill”
LA Sentinel, August 6, 1996
Pendergast, Erin: “The Civil Righrs Bill of 1964, Affirmative Action and the Civil Rights Bill of 1991” Washington State University-Vancouver, 1997
Proposition 209 comments, accessed via www.altavista.com
Roper Organization, 1996 http://www,webcom/zurcher/misc/roper/html
Steiner, John F.: “Industry, Society, and Change” McGraw-Hill, 1991
University of California: “Guidelines for Implementation of university Policy on Undergraduate Admissions” July 1, 1996
Van Dyke, Vernon: “Ideology & Political Choice” Chatham House, 1996
Wilson, Pete: “The Minority-Majority Society” humanitas.ucsb.edu/projects/aa/docs/wilson.html
Zelnick, Bob: “Backfire: A Reporter’s Look at Affirmative Action” Regnery Publ, 1996