Affirmative action refers to policies that have been put in place to increase opportunities for education and employment to people or minority groups who have been historically excluded through discrimination within a culture. Affirmative action was adopted in the United States during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s. The goal of affirmative action is to achieve social equality and justice for minorities and women. Issues such as healthcare, education opportunities, and equal pay are core pillars in the implementation of affirmative action. The topic has elicited much-heated debates in recent times and attracted censure too.
The Origins of Affirmative Action
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which intended to provide equal employment and education opportunities to minority groups, acted as the precursor to the affirmative action. President John F. Kennedy was the first president to use the term ‘affirmative action’ when he signed an Executive Order directing government officials to take affirmative action in ensuring all employees are treated during employment. This was without regard to the race, color, creed, or national origin of the employee. The Executive order was important in the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which oversaw equal pay for minority groups.
Initially, affirmative action policies were mainly focused on improving the employment and education welfare of African Americans. However, this did not seem to contribute much considering the number of undergraduate students in Law and Medicine where African Americans were underrepresented. President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed an Executive Order in 1965, that required government contractors to hire more employees from minority groups. This would see a remarkable increase of minorities in the workforce.
The affirmative action was adopted by various institutions including colleges and universities where the enrollment number of Latinos, African Americans, and other minority groups increased over time. However, despite the increased efforts for equal opportunities there still exists a significant gap between minorities and white students. About 70 percent of white students graduating from high school enroll in university immediately compared to 63 percent of Hispanics and 65 percent of African Americans.
Debates and Criticism
Many critics and opponents of affirmative action echo that the policy is outdated and promotes reverse racism against majority students. For example, a white student who is equally or more qualified than his or her African American counterpart is more likely to be left out in admission in favor of the minority student.
According to the Equal Protection Clause, 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the practice of affirmative action may be violating the constitution by discriminating against majorities. Additionally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination according to race, national origin or color especially for students receiving federal financial assistance.
Critics argue that by lowering test score grades to accommodate minority students, the overall standards are lowered since the students will only strive to pass the score and not necessarily excel. This affects the overall quality and standard of education.
Contrary to the belief that affirmative action helps the economically disadvantaged students, various reports indicate that the middle-class and upper-class minorities are those who benefit the most. This further creates inequality.