Skin Deep Guide

Affirmative Action

contributed by Hugh Vasquez

Affirmative action is meant to respond to past and present discrimination of “minority” groups. Without it, on-going, ingrained societal prejudice would impede efforts of minority groups to rise on their own. It attempts to guarantee that education and jobs are accessible to qualified persons. Affirmative action originated in 1961 with an Executive Order by President Kennedy. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, or nationality.

Generally, there are three types of affirmative action(1) Recruitment of minorities, (2) Making sure qualification criteria does not exclude certain groups and (3) Establishing goals for bringing in those from underrepresented groups. There are many myths about affirmative action including Affirmative action violates color blind acceptance based on merit; beneficiaries of affirmative action are less qualified; whites and men are the victims of reverse discrimination and affirmative action damages self esteem.

Some believe that affirmative action has been a very small bandage on a gaping wound that it was never designed to really work. Attacks on it generally come from believing the myths or misinformation circulated throughout society. One needs to keep in mind and be educated on the institutional realities where preferential treatment continues to be given to whites and men. For exampleUnemployment rates continue to be higher for Blacks and Latinos than for whites; poverty rates are higher for women, Blacks and Latinos than for men and whites; whites are more likely to hold management positions than people of color or women and white high school dropouts earn more than black males with two years of college.

If everything is equal in society, the above conditions would not exist. If societal discrimination is the explanation for these conditions, then a societal cure is needed that involves the educational, economic and employment institutions. Affirmative action is one attempt at this cure.

For further reading: Wise, Little White Lies

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