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Affirmative Action: A Means to End Inequality

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Affirmative Action: A Means to End Inequality

Throughout the United States, many types of inequality can be identified. What exactly does this statement mean? First, defining inequality would help one best approach this matter. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines inequality as "the quality of being unequal or uneven" through" a lack of evenness b: social disparity c: disparity of distribution or opportunity d: the condition of being variable" (Merriam Webster). Now the question is clearer, as identifying types of inequality is equivalent to recognizing the different groups that exist within the boundaries of the U.S. For instance, people can be grouped based on income, the level of education, or their position in their workplace. Inequality shown as such is easy to identify and falls nicely into categories.

However, understanding such inequalities in the context of race and gender is not so simple. The median income of a white male full time worker in 2002 was near 41,000 dollars, a black male full time worker under 32,000, and a Hispanic male full time worker around 25,000 (Race: Fact File). These numbers also drop significantly for women in each category (Race: Fact File). Unemployment rates, home ownership rates, high school and college graduation rates, and even health care coverage all show inequality in America, especially in the context of race and gender (Race: Fact File).

The government has taken steps to try to eliminate these inequalities through the implementation of affirmative action programs. This leads to an important issue, namely, is affirmative action a fair and an effective method of eradicating inequality? To understand and answer this question, the origins of affirmative action leading up to today must be understood. Then, the arguments about the effectiveness of affirmative action policies be properly analyzed and a "resolution" reached.

The concept of affirmative action formally appeared when president Franklin D. Roosevelt called on governmental defense departments "not to discriminate against any worker because of race, creed, color, or national origin" (Roosevelt 1941). In 1961 President John F. Kennedy created Executive Order 10925 and coined the phrase "affirmative action," a policy that emphasized themes that were analogous to Roosevelt's (Wilcher 1). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination by large employment agencies and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs were created to implement "civil rights laws in employment" (Skrentny 1). Several moderately effective legislative measures have been taken since these executive orders such as President Jimmy Carter's Executive Order 12138 which created a National Women's Business Enterprise Policy (Wilcher 1). Today, affirmative action has specifically come to be regarded as those policies which are aimed at correcting inequalities that exist because of past discriminatory practices.

Even today, affirmative action remains a hotly debated topic. In early 2003, groups of college students held rallies and protests, in support of and opposing affirmative action, leading up to legal briefs concerning the University of Michigan's admissions policy were due to the U.S. Supreme Court in the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz and Hamacher v. Bollinger (Anonymous 26). It is obvious that there is much conflict about issues relating to affirmative action, and many arguments exist about whether or not it is effective in eliminating inequality.

Many argue that affirmative action is not a fair policy to adopt because it goes against the principle that people should be treated in the same manner without regards to race or gender (Hoffman). Opponents of affirmative action claim that because race or gender becomes a factor in admissions and hiring, just as merit or ability is a factor, this is reverse discrimination (Tummala 3). Reverse discrimination that to "prefer a minority in order to undo previous discrimination perpetuates discrimination, even though it is now being practiced on a different group" (Tummala 3). Thus people with the best qualifications, and who are not of an underprivileged race, are discriminated against because others may be hired before them. However, this would only be reverse discrimination if everyone had been presented with the same opportunities for their entire lives. This is not the current case in America as the

"educational attainment of minorities (especially among Hispanics) continues to lag behind that of whites...These shortfalls in average qualifications might reflect past discrimination in the labor market or current discrimination in the housing market, either of which could lead to lower schooling attainment of young people through their effects on family incomes or neighborhood quality" (Holzer 3).

A merit based system can only be applied when everyone can develop their talents with equal resources. Otherwise, the most "merited" are those with the best past resources or education, not the most capable of doing a job. Economically underprivileged races are unable to afford the same resources as wealthier races, so hiring systems completely based on merit will remain discriminatory until inequality is deconstructed.

Thus, many minorities feel that a policy such as affirmative action is necessary because of unequal resources (The Polling Report). However, others see society as unequal in many other ways that have historical roots. These include the existence of race as a social construct and the propagation of male-dominated systems. To correct such inequalities, unequal or preferential treatment must be given to disadvantaged groups in order to allow equality to spread throughout society. This view was taken on in the 1978 Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in which a portion of the judges favored "affirmative action to remedy societal discrimination" (Anderson).

In discussing race, people see race as a social construct that is "used by social scientists to refer to distinctions drawn from physical appearance...race is also a socially defined, politically oppressive categorization scheme" (Frable 142). The idea of race did not always exist but gained popularity in the U.S. during the period of the American Revolution when the concept of freedom was introduced. The use of slavery "created a moral contradiction: how could a nation that proclaimed equality and the natural rights of man hold slaves?" (www.pbs.org). The government needed a solution. "The idea of race helped resolve the contradiction

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