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 
becomes unclear. 

 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.

Works Cited

"Affirmative Action at the University of California at Berkeley" 

October 28, 1996.

"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
Civil Rights.

Private Sector Affirmative Action: Omaha. Washington: 1979.


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