The Failures of Affirmative Action
Once upon a time, there were two people who went to an
interview for only one job position at the same company. The first
person attended a prestigious and highly academic university, had
years of work experience in the field and, in the mind of the
employer, had the potential to make a positive impact on the company's
performance. The second person was just starting out in the field and
seemed to lack the ambition that was visible in his opponent. "Who was
chosen for the job?" you ask. Well, if the story took place before
1964, the answer would be obvious. However, with the somewhat recent
adoption of the social policy known as affirmative action, the answer
After the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act
in 1964, it became apparent that certain business traditions, such as
seniority status and aptitude tests, prevented total equality in
employment. Then President, Lyndon B. Johnson, decided something
needed to be done to remedy these flaws. On September 24, 1965, he
issued Executive Order #11246 at Howard University that required
federal contractors "to take affirmative action to ensure that
applicants are employed . . . without regard to their race, creed,
color, or national origin (Civil Rights)." When Lyndon Banes Johnson
signed that order, he enacted one of the most discriminating pieces of
legislature since the Jim Crow Laws were passed.
Affirmative action was created in an effort to help minorities
leap the discriminative barriers that were ever so present when the
bill was first enacted, in 1965. At this time, the country was in the
wake of nationwide civil-rights demonstrations, and racial tension was
at its peak. Most of the corporate executive and managerial positions
were occupied by white males, who controlled the hiring and firing of
employees. The U.S. government, in 1965, believed that these employers
were discriminating against minorities and believed that there was no
better time than the present to bring about change.
When the Civil Rights Law passed, minorities, especially
African-Americans, believed that they should receive retribution for
the years of discrimination 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 their race endured at
the hands of the white man. To many, this made sense. Supporters of
affirmative action asked, "why not let the government help them get
better jobs?" After all, the white man was responsible for their
suffering. While this may all be true, there is another question to
be asked. Are we truly responsible for the years of persecution that
the African Americans were submitted to?
The answer to the question is yes and no. It is true that the
white man is partly responsible for the suppression of the African-
American race. 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. Why should an honest,
hard-working, open minded, white male be suppressed, today, for past
injustice? Affirmative action accepts and condones the idea of an eye
for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Do two wrongs make a right? I
think mother taught us better than that.
Affirmative action supporters make one large assumption when
defending the policy. They assume that minority groups want help.
This, however, may not always be the case. My experience with
minorities has led me to believe that they fought to attain equality,
not special treatment. To them, the acceptance of special treatment is
an admittance of inferiority. They ask, "Why can't I become successful
on my own? Why do I need laws to help me get a job?" These African
Americans want to be treated as equals, not as incompetents.
In a statement released in 1981 by the United States
Commission on Civil Rights, Jack P. Hartog, who directed the project,
said: Only if discrimination were nothing more than the misguided acts
of a few prejudiced individuals would affirmative action plans be
"reverse discrimination." Only if today's society were operating
fairly toward minorities and women would measures that take race, sex,
and national origin into account be "preferential treatment." Only if
discrimination were securely placed in a well-distant past would
affirmative action be an unneeded and drastic remedy.
What the commission failed to realize was that there are
thousands of white males who are not discriminating yet are being
punished because of those who do. The Northern Natural Gas Company of
Omaha, Nebraska, was forced by the government to release sixty-five
white male workers to make room for minority employees in 1977
(Nebraska Advisory Committee 40). Five major Omaha corporations
reported that the number of white managers fell 25% in 1969 due to
restrictions put on them when affirmative action was adopted (Nebraska
Advisory Committee 27). You ask, "What did these white males do to
bring about their termination?" The only crime that they were guilty
of was being white. This hardly seems fair to punish so many innocent
men for the crimes of a relative few.
But the injustice toward the white male doesn't end there.
After the white male has been fired, he has to go out and find a new
job to support his family that depended on the company to provide
health care and a retirement plan in return for years of hard work.
Now, because of affirmative action, this white male, and the thousands
like him, require more skills to get the same job that a lesser
qualified black man needs. This is, for all intents and purposes,
discrimination, and it is a law that our government strictly enforces.
Affirmative action is not only unfair for the working man, it
is extremely discriminatory toward the executive, as well. The average
business executive has one goal in mind, and that is to maximize
profits. To reach his goal, this executive would naturally hire the
most competent man or woman for the job, whether they be black or
white or any other race. Why would a business man intentionally cause
his business to lose money by hiring a poorly qualified worker? Most
wouldn't. With this in mind, it seems unnecessary to employ any policy
that would cause him to do otherwise. But, that is exactly what
affirmative action does. It forces an employer, who needs to meet a
quota established by the government, to hire the minority, no matter
who is more qualified.
Another way that affirmative action deducts from a company's
profits is by forcing them to create jobs for minorities. This occurs
when a company does not meet its quota with existing employees and has
to find places to put minorities. These jobs are often unnecessary,
and force a company to pay for workers that they do not need.
Now, don't get the impression that affirmative action is only
present in the work place. It is also very powerful in education. Just
as a white male employee needs more credentials to get a job than his
minority opponent, a white male student needs more or better skills to
get accepted at a prestigious university than a minority student.
There are complete sections on college applications dedicated to race
and ethnic background. Colleges must now have a completely diverse
student body, even if that means some, more qualified students, must
be turned away.
A perfect example of this can be found at the University of
California at Berkeley. A 1995 report released by the university said
that 9.7% of all accepted applicants were African American. Only 0.8%
of these African American students were accepted by academic criteria
alone. 36.8% of the accepted applicants were white. Of these accepted
white students, 47.9% were accepted on academic criteria alone. That
means that approximately sixty times more African Americans students
were accepted due to non-academic influences than white students. It
seems hard to believe that affirmative action wasn't one these outside
Another interesting fact included in the 1995 report said that
the average grade point average for a rejected white student was 3.66
with an average SAT score of 1142. The average grade point average for
an accepted African American student was 3.66 with a 1030 average SAT
score. These stunning facts shows just how many competent, if not
gifted students fall between the cracks as a direct result of
affirmative action (Affirmative action).
Well, I believe that the problem has been identified;
affirmative action is becoming a form of reverse discrimination. It is
now time for the doctor to prescribe a potential remedy. Society
should work towards broad based economic policies like public
investment, national health reform, an enlarged income tax credit,
child support assurance, and other policies benefiting families with
young children. Widely supported programs that promote the interests
of both lower and middle class Americans that deliver benefits to
minorities and whites on the basis of their economic status, and not
their race or ethnicity, will do more to reduce minority poverty than
the current, narrowly based, poorly supported policies that single out
minority groups. However, if this, or another remedy is not taken
sometime in the near future, and affirmative action continues to
separate minority groups from whites, we can be sure to see racial
tension reach points that our history has never seen.
"Affirmative Action at the University of California at Berkeley"
October 28, 1996. http://pwa.acusd.edu/~e_cook/ucb-95.html
"Civil Rights" Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia. (1996). [Computer
SoftKey Multimedia International Corporation.
United States. Commission on Civil Rights. Affirmative Action in the
Dismantling the Process of Discrimination. Washington: 1981.
United States. Nebraska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on
Private Sector Affirmative Action: Omaha. Washington: 1979.