Affirmative action is probably the most misunderstood civil rights issue of our time.
Opponents believe that it is misguided social engineering that uses quotas and
preferences to replace qualified white males with unqualified Ethnic minorities and women.
In reality, affirmative action is a tool to promote diversity and remedy inequities
in the workplace, higher education, and government contracting. Affirmative action
clearly helps African, Hispanic (Latino), and Asian Americans.
What is affirmative action?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination unlawful in the workplace,
federally-funded programs, and privately-owned facilities open to the public. In
1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which gave the U.S. Department of Justice the
power to take "affirmative" steps to eliminate discrimination. Also during
that year, President Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, which gave the U.S.
Department of Labor affirmative action enforcement responsibility. A department
under the DOL, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, began requiring
government contractors to analyze the demographics of their workforce and take proactive
measures to remedy any inequality. Over the years, affirmative action has been used
as a tool to fight discrimination in other venues, including government employment,
corporate America, and admissions to public universities. More recently, affirmative
action has come under fire in the courts, mostly because opponents believe that it is a
form of reverse discrimination that unfairly penalizes white males for the "sins of
Affirmative action vs. quotas
Perhaps the most controversial issue about affirmative action is whether it uses
"quotas". Affirmative action programs should: a) verify that
inequities exist, b) set goals to eliminate the inequities, c) set timetables to meet the
goals, d) disband the program after the goals are met. Opponents of affirmative
action argue that setting a goal is the same thing as instituting a quota, meaning that a
specific outcome is mandated rather than highly desirable. For example, if an
employer knows that it has a large disparity between the proportion of Hispanics in its
workforce versus the general population, it might use affirmative action to target its
recruiting efforts toward the Hispanic population in hopes of increasing Hispanic new
hires. It should identify a goal of how many Hispanics it wants to hire, at what
levels, and in what timeframe. If the employer mandates that a specific job must go
to a Hispanic, or that a specific number of Hispanics must be hired, that is a quota.
If affirmative action were just about quotas, you would find that: a) a
significant percentage of hires and promotions would go to under-qualified Ethnic
minorities, b) the goals of all affirmative action programs would be met, and within the
set timetables, and c) they would be sunsetted. While there are instances in which a
more-qualified non-Ethnic minority is passed over for a less-qualified or even
under-qualified Ethnic minority, these cases are few and far between for one simple
reason: to institute such a policy makes no business sense whatsoever. The
main reason is that the punishment for not meeting the goals and timetables does not
justify promoting a lesser-skilled workforce. Employers and agencies can typically
comply with affirmative action programs through their efforts more so than their results.
That is why although progress continues to be made, most affirmative action
programs fail to meet their goals and timetables, and end up continuing rather than being