Affirmative Action Essay, Research Paper
Few social policy issues have served as a better gauge of racial and ethnic divisions among the American people than affirmative action. Affirmative action is a term referring to laws and social policies intended to alleviate discrimination that limits opportunities for a variety of groups in various social institutions. Supporters and opponents of affirmative action are passionate about their beliefs, and attack the opposing viewpoints relentlessly. Advocates believe it overcomes discrimination, gives qualified minorities a chance to compete on equal footing with whites, and provides them with the same opportunities. Opponents charge that affirmative action places unskilled minorities in positions they are not qualified for and violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Since its inception, the definition of affirmative action has been ever-changing. Prohibiting discrimination in hiring, expanding the applicant pool to include more minorities, compensating for past grievances, and setting quotas have all been part of the definition. In theory affirmative action helps integrate minorities better into society and puts them on equal footing with whites; however, in reality affirmative action is widening the racial gap in America and therefore should be discontinued.
When the Civil Rights Law passed, minorities, especially African-Americans, believed that they should receive retribution for the years of discrimination that they endured. The government responded by passing laws to aide them in attaining better employment as reprieve for the previous two hundred years of suffering. To many, these laws made sense. After all, the white race was partly responsible for their enslavement. However, the individual white male is not. It is just as unfair and suppressive to hold many white males responsible for past persecution now as it was to discriminate against many African-Americans in the generations before. Roger Wilkins, a member of the editorial board at The Nation, concedes, “Affirmative action, as I understand it, was not designed to punish anyone” (Wilkins 330). It is also unrealistic to believe that giving preferential job treatment to African Americans compensates them for the years of oppression their race has had to endure. In a article about affirmative action, Shelby Steele, a English professor at San Jose State University, stated, “The concept of historic reparation grows out of man‘s need to impose on the world a degree of justice that simply does not exist. Suffering can be endured and overcome, it cannot be repaid” (Steele 326).
One of the main goals of affirmative action was to help minorities improve their social standing. To some extent, affirmative action has succeeded in this endeavor. Today African- Americans and other minorities hold more high paying jobs and positions of power than when affirmative action went into affect. However, a number of recent studies and numerous experts on the subject point out that affirmative action is more detrimental to blacks than helpful. Shelby Steele, a expert on the friction between whites and blacks, states in a essay, “After 20 years of implementation I think that affirmative action has shown itself to be more bad than good” (Steele 223). The original intent of affirmative action was to put minorities on equal footing with whites; however, today there is a larger gap between whites and blacks than ever before. Despite the best efforts of affirmative action to shrink the economical gap, recent studies conclude, “…only 26 to 28 percent of blacks graduate from college. The fact is that after 20 years of racial preferences the gap between median incomes of black and white families is greater than it was in the 1970’s” (Steele 325). Affirmative action has been successful in giving the minority population of America the idea that they will receive better treatment because of the color of their skin. This conception, which by the way was one of the stigmas that affirmative action set out to eradicate, has lowered minority self esteem. According to Steele, “Affirmative action nurtures a victim-focused identity in blacks and sends us the message that there is more power in our past suffering than in our present achievements” (Steele 326). To many minorities, affirmative action has become another hurdle for them to overcome.
Affirmative action supporters make one large assumption when defending the policy. They assume that minority groups want help. This assumption, however, may not always be true. According to Migdia Chinea-Varela, a minority screen writer, “There’s something almost insulting about these well-meaning affirmative action searches” (341). To many minority men and women like Migdia, the acceptance of special treatment is an admittance of inferiority. The preferential treatment that all blacks receive, not just those who need it, causes some blacks to actually perform worse and acts as a hindrance to them getting promotions. According to Steele, “The effect of preferential treatment puts blacks at war with an expanded realm of debilitating doubt. … that undermines their ability to perform, especially in integrated situations” (Steele 326). Because of affirmative action many qualified blacks who do receive high ranking jobs question if they would have earned them without government assistance. Migdia latter states, “But the truth is that I’ve never felt good about it. I’ve asked myself the obvious questions. Am I being picked for my writing ability, or to fulfill a quota” (Chinea-Varela 342). Minorities like Migdia want to be treated as equals, not incompetents.
Affirmative Action was an essential part of the desegregation that occurred thirty years ago, but it has become outdated and is no longer part of the solution. It was a temporary plan to improve the conditions for minorities, but it is now more of a hindrance than a help to them. Affirmative action lowers standards, causes unqualified workers to be hired, places a stigma on minorities, lowers their confidence, and gives them the opportunity and encouragement to idle. Affirmative action has not fulfilled its goal of assisting lower income minorities with a history of discrimination, but instead has been exploited by middle-class minorities, the lower income groups still remaining uneducated and unsuccessful.