Timing is Everything
Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” While this is a law of motion, it applies to almost everything else as well. The Civil Rights movement during the late 1950′s demanded action from the government. Those participating in the movement made it clear that if the government did not intervene on the injustices minorities were faced with, they would take matters into their own hands. The United States required a fast acting, strong program to help with this matter. The result was Executive Order 10925 which promised “affirmative action” would take place to ensure equality in places of employment and higher education.
In March of 1961, President of the United States, John F. Kennedy signed the Affirmative Action Act. As an attempt to the eliminate discrimination in the work place and in places of higher education, the policies that defined affirmative action (and still do) established guidelines for the recruiting process. These guidelines require that decisions on acceptance not be made with regard to race, religion, or gender. For the time that affirmative action was created, it provided the necessary balance that minorities needed to establish themselves as equals among a predominantly white nation.
The point in history that affirmative action was signed into existence, which came as a result of the racial tension of the late fifties, helped spawn a revolution. The Civil Rights Movement was on the rise, but as soon as the government stepped in, it exploded. Without recognition from the government, the United States could have continued to be a nation of bigotry and racism for much longer.
An essential component of affirmative action is the quota system that was been implemented by institutions to ensure their cooperation with the government policies. This system holds that in a place of employment or higher learning, all races be “proportionally” represented. This does not necessarily mean that the number of caucasians must match that of black and hispanic; however, it means there must be adequate numbers of each depending on the population of each minority group in the country. To the creators of affirmative action, if admissions and hiring was altered so that race, gender or religion did not determine acceptance, they had successfully given everyone an equal opportunity for a position(s).
So many years of affirmative action saw the increase in minority acceptance nation-wide. The government mandate to look closer at race in order to achieve greater diversity, caused establishments to become cognizant of every person’s race that applied for a position. Unfortunately, even though the United States is a far more progressive nation than it was in the 50′s and 60′s, the affirmative action policies remain in most states.
People who understand the law Isaac Newton produced, in a social situation (or any situation for that matter), will many times attempt to act on a prediction of the possible outcome. Unfortunately, society can be unpredictable, and that was the phenomena witnessed here in the United States. The action taken was affirmative action. It was required to be strong to combat the intensity of the national racial tension. However, the policies were “too affirmative,” and the reaction now has swung in the opposite direction in which now the majority is being discriminated against. The policy makers “over shot” their mark. A simple comparison to this failure can be made with a boat sailed by a captain. It does not take a lot to put a boat in motion. Instead, it takes careful planning to stop the boat at the proposed destination. If the necessary planning, or “throttling back” is not implemented, the destination will be missed and the captain must move in reverse.
For affirmative action, the captain of course is the government, the distance to be traveled is the time societal corrections will take, and the destination is eventual UNFORCED equality and diversity. The government never took the essential steps in throttling back to arrive at the final destination. Instead, the destination was passed, and as a result the country is experiencing a phenomena known as reverse discrimination. Now the nation must reverse the propellers to get back to the plan.
An obvious question to be asked is “whether the affirmative action policy makers intended to ever throttle back on affirmative action?” The obvious answer is yes, because they knew how extreme the policies were, which is made clear by the title, AFFIRMATIVE action. Extreme measures always result in extreme consequences. The next question is then, “If the government planned to throttle back, than why have they not?” Again, this answer is simple. The process has begun, though way passed the optimal time. Since so many people grew to rely on affirmative action, attempting to change it has encountered great resistance. While the original destination has now come and gone, more people are realizing a mistake was made, and it must be corrected.
Initially the policies of affirmative action sought to eliminate discrimination, but instead has created discrimination of a different group of people. It is now common to hear the term “reverse discrimination,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Before affirmative action, for example, an employer could very easily reject an applicant for simply being black. Now that employers are required to hire specific numbers of minorities, but there is still a majority looking for the same position, it is possible to see a white person eliminated from the hiring process for not being a minority. Arguing the fairness of reverse discrimination over the fairness of regular discrimination is the tricky part. Which is more unfair?
Perhaps the correct question to be asked is whether affirmative action actually does more good than harm?
Not only has the view of affirmative action changed greatly over the last fifty years, but the United States of America as a whole has changed dramatically. There was well defined need for affirmative action at its time of birth, being at the center of the civil rights movement. Since then, we have seen racism decrease significantly, and it is arguable that without five full decades of affirmative action, the United States could have already been a truly “color blind” nation. Making applicants specify race brings skin color to the surface, where in the absence of affirmative action, it could have been irrelevant. Those that believe the nation would go back to its old ways without affirmative action are ignorant to the changes the country has seen.
According to Kansas State University professor, Krishna Tummala, affirmative action has effectively brought minorities into the mainstream seeing as they are, socially, far more accepted. Since affirmative action countered decisions based on race, and now race is obsolete in society (partially with the help of affirmative action), it stands to reason that affirmative action is no longer needed (Potucek).
Instead, the nation watches as the underrepresented majority misses out on job opportunities and admittance to universities. In an article by Amara Phillip, two such examples are outlined. In 2003 the University of Michigan was sued by multiple white students claiming they were unconstitutionally denied due to being white. In the one case, a well qualified white female sued the law school after being denied solely because there was not enough room for more white females. The Supreme Court upheld that admitting students with regards to grades, test scores, recommendations, and race was well within the legality of affirmative action. Thus, the plaintiff lost her case. In the second case, two white applicants were denied and as a result sued the school for the unconstitutionality of the point system used by the University of Michigan for admittance. This point system assigned a certain number of points to each part of the student’s application, where minority status earned more points than that of majority status. After the application had been fully assessed, students with sufficient points were admitted, and those that did not meet the mark were rejected (Phillip). Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled that this point system was unconstitutional; however, there is not much difference between the first case and the second.
The minority status is more “point worthy” than majority status because the university is required to fill seats with minorities even if it means denying better-qualified individuals.
Another example of reverse discrimination of those in the majority is outlined in a study done by two Princeton sociologists. The study they preformed revealed a very interesting fact about how elite schools weigh SAT scores for applicants. African Americans who scored above a 1500 (1600-point scale) were awarded an equivalent of 230 SAT points and hispanics were awarded an additional 185 SAT points. The study concluded that this was an attempt to “level the playing field,” but in reality, if a test represents academic ability, receiving extra points makes that person under-qualified for the final number they receive (Espenshade and Chung).
Recruiters use a variety of techniques to favor less-qualified minority students over better-qualified Caucasians, all to satisfy different affirmative action goals. Either admissions hopes to satisfy the government mandates, or they hope to achieve diversity. The reverse discriminatory factor here is simple. Caucasians are less “enticing” because they simply are not a minority.
Reverse discrimination now causes other problems in society, and whether or not hatred is directed at the correct people is irrelevant. According to Ernest van den Haag, racism can actually result from decisions based on affirmative action. If a well qualified person is denied a position so the recruiter can fill a quota with a minority, that rejected person may develop animosity towards the minority, which can lead to hatred (van den Haag). Sadly, the energy fueling that animosity could be used to attempt to change the affirmative action policies, but that is much easier said than done.
Another example of misdirected animosity comes from an article written by authors David Sacks and Peter Thiel, where admissions officers at Stanford have been unfairly labeled as racist for denying caucasians (Sacks and Thiel). These unidentified admissions officers, perhaps black men, perhaps white women, were unfairly accused of racism against caucasians for correctly following mandated affirmative action policies. Not only is rejection because of being caucasian unfair, but so is unjustly labeling someone as a racist for simply following regulations imposed by the government.
Allowing underprivileged people to reach just as high as those that are fortunate, is something that all governments should always promote. Unfortunately, the United States only considers minorities as the underprivileged in regards to affirmative action.
Clearly, the country must make some changes. Maintaining diversity is also an important goal of the United States’, so the solution cannot be too extreme in the opposite direction. The obvious proposal against affirmative action is to either change the people able to receive aid, or abolish it altogether. Less extreme methods include a better evaluation of individuals, rather than skin color.
In California, where affirmative action in public school admissions has been prohibited, they have found a different way to maintain diversity without such intense policies. New York Times writer Richard Pérez-Peña reports that California state colleges have implemented what they call a “holistic review.” With this system, rather than lump all members from one race together, they take a serious look at background and challenges the person has overcome (Pérez-Peña). This way minorities coming from “good” backgrounds are not given anymore assistance than those in the majority with similar backgrounds, and anyone that comes from a rough upbringing will receive aid regardless of race.
Immediately after the change in affirmative action policies, the state saw a decrease in minority admissions. However, this was countered by the implementation of the holistic review, which saw an increase in minority admissions without explicitly looking at race. This proves that admission offices elect to promote diversity, even without affirmative action.
The United States government clearly supports this advancement. According to an article by The Associated Press, found in the New York Times, a federal appeals court upheld this decision of banning affirmative action in California state public schools, after many tried having the ruling reversed (“California”).
This fact is offered to anyone like Dr. Bridget Terry Long and Adam Liptak who believe the country will backslide into a world of bigotry and racism without affirmative action.
Dr. Bridget Terry Long made it clear she does not believe in any affirmative action alternatives when she wrote, “the alternatives to affirmative action are unable to adequately address the impediments of college access for students of color…” (Long). This is truly a result of ignorance to what is realistically happening in California along with a few other states in which affirmative action has been abolished.
In a New York Times article, author Adam Liptak superficially dissects the topic of eliminating affirmative action from places of higher education. He said, “The consequences of such a decision would be striking. It would, all sides agree, reduce the number of African-American and Latino students at nearly every selective college and graduate school, with more Asian-American and white students gaining entrance instead” (Liptak).
The problem here begins with the assertion that “all sides agree,” but in the interest of brevity it can be overlooked. The other part of the problem is line claiming Asian-American and white students would gain entrance more so than current numbers show (to be clear, Asian-Americans are considered to be minorities, so they benefit from affirmative action…). This is insulting on a couple levels and can be interpreted multiple ways. One interpretation is that Liptak believes the abolition of affirmative action would allow for racist admission officers to “go back” to denying minorities due to some racial animosity. The other possible interpretation is extremely insulting towards minorities. Liptak is essentially saying that certain racial groups lack the ability to gain acceptance to elite schools. It can be agreed that intellects of present day come from every background possible. Therefore, with diversity in mind, but more importantly ability, anyone with the proper credentials will have the opportunity to earn acceptance, without the policies of affirmative action.
After fifty years of the indoctrination of affirmative action, it is easy to understand why so many people are hesitant to repeal the policies meant to do such good. With that being said, risks must be taken, and with the states that have already abolished affirmative action as a model, the nation will succeed.
A big problem on the front lines of this movement is The American Association for Affirmative Action, or the AAAA, which is an association focused on opposing any federal or state action that attempts to remove affirmative action policies (AAAA). According to their website, “The purpose of affirmative action is to give our nation a way to finally address the systemic exclusion of individuals of talent on the basis of their gender, or race from opportunities to develop, perform, achieve and contribute.” Other than the fact that saying in 2012 affirmative action is finally addressing something that the policies addressed in the 1960′s sounds silly, this organization is essentially saying that without affirmative action significant discrimination would be revived. This claim is based on no evidence whatsoever. In fact evidence supports that diversity would remain even without affirmative action.
Another Kansas State University professor, John Fliter, believes affirmative action promotes diverse student bodies and work forces (Potucek). While this claim is true, it does not mean affirmative action is necessary to promote diversity. The United States is made up of so many different people; while at first acceptance of others had to be forced, the nation has since evolved into a much more uniform people that would not function without acceptance of others. Even if this evolution can be attributed to affirmative action, that does not justify keeping its policies around.
Timing is everything and for its time, affirmative action did a great job producing diversity in an era run by the majority. Now, less extreme measures can maintain diversity, like those implemented in California state schools. These less extreme measures ensure that underprivileged individuals are assisted as necessary, but those in the majority truly deserving of acceptance also are not discriminated against.
Another possible alternative that can be used to correct the “over action” of affirmative action is the model used by the French. Danielle Ledford writes how instead of being based on race, France uses economic class to determine who needs assistance (Ledford). An argument against this in the United States is that many minorities are found to be impoverished, so there is no point in implementing a program like this, because they are covered by the current program. But what about impoverished caucasians? What kind of assistance do they receive? The answer is that they are denied the same assistance members of the minority receive. Therefore, using the economic based system would benefit impoverished minorities and caucasians, ultimately avoiding the concept of reverse discrimination altogether.
To summarize, the birth of the Civil Rights Movement caused affirmative action to be created. However, as a result of not “throttling back” on affirmative action, the policies have traveled too far and now cause reverse discrimination. As more citizens in the country recognize it is now time to move in reverse, the policies of affirmative action will continue to be replaced with less extreme, yet diversity promoting ones. To allay negative feelings of those that disapprove, this process must be watched closely.
It is certainly upsetting to see a program with such great intentions cause so much controversy. Unfairness is seen everywhere, from those qualified in the majority missing out on opportunities, to the legitimate minority accomplishments that are not taken seriously. Ultimately, a different approach to “leveling the playing field” should be considered. With the greater good of the American people in mind, the brilliant minds that govern this country should provide a better solution for the underprivileged. Using the holistic review process found in California state schools, or even a transition to an economic system (like that of France), a revised solution would work.
“About the AAAA.“ About the American Association for Affirmative Action. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
“California: Affirmative Action Ban Upheld.” The appeal of the ruling to ban affirmative action from public schools is denied. The Associated Press. The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 5 Apr. 2012.
Espenshade, Thomas J., and Chang Y. Chung. “The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities*.” Social Science Quarterly 86.2 (2005): 293-305. Print.
Ledford, Danielle. “Is Race Neutrality A Fallacy? A Comparison Of The U.S. And French Models Of Affirmative Action In Higher Education.“Texas International Law Journal 46.2 (2011): 355-378. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
Liptak, Adam. “Justices Take Up Race as a Factor in College Entry.” Editorial. The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
Long, Bridget Terry. “Diversity By Any Other Name: Are There Viable Alternatives To Affirmative Action In Higher Education?.“ Western Journal Of Black Studies 27.1 (2003): 30-34. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
Perez-Pena, Richard. “To Enroll More Minority Students, Colleges Work Around the Courts.“ Nytime.com. The New York Times, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
PHILLIP, AMARA. “The Diversity Imperative.“ Diverse: Issues In Higher Education 28.18 (2011): 16-17. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Potucek, Rachel. “Affirmative Action: Pros and Cons.“ Kansas State University. Kansas State University, Fall 2003. Web. 30 Mar. 2012.
Sacks, David, and Peter Thiel. “The Case Against Affirmative Action.“ The Case Against Affirmative Action. Web. 06 Mar. 2012.
van den Haag, Ernest. “Affirmative Action And Campus Racism.” Academic Questions 2.3 (1989): 66. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.