Affirmative action is one of the most debated political issues when it comes to race and equality. In the United States, it refers to “a set of laws, policies, guidelines, and administrative practices intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination.” For many Americans, affirmative action mostly impact their daily lives through higher education and at workplace.
While the meaning of affirmative action varies from one jurisdiction to another, to understand its implementation and controversy in today’s America, it is hard to ignore the historical backdrop:
The liberal movement of 1960s landmarked President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Right Act to prohibit racial discrimination in employment and education, and outlawed segregation in public facilities.
During the Nixon era, a number of civil right legislative acts were expanded and implemented, including integration in southern schools, the famous “Philadelphia Plan” signed into Executive Order 11246, as well as the Equal Right Amendment to outlaw any forms of discrimination of sex.
While affirmative action policies intend to help African Americans and the extended minority groups to achieve socioeconomic equality, the effectiveness of these policies is still widely debated. The controversy centers around two subjects of “education mismatch” and “reverse discrimination”:
One of the unintended consequences is a lower graduation rate among minority college students, especially the African American students, who are admitted based on racial preference rather than academic accomplishments. Many argue that an admission process, based on racial preference, forces these students to unfairly compete with those who are better prepared for the advanced curriculum in elite schools; thus, these students tend to drop out early. This is the so-called “mismatch” effect.
Others argue affirmative action at workplace creates “reverse discrimination”, a situation where a more qualified candidate or employee is not hired or promoted, and demoted in some cases. Other side-effect includes artificial inflation of labor demand of a target race, negative sentiment such as resentment, stigmatization, and a “stereotype threat”. “New research even finds that those who benefit from affirmative action programs also are viewed as less likable people.”
While the civil right movement has accomplished to bring equality to the minority groups from various fronts, implementation of affirmative action in today’s American has deviated from the indigenous purpose of the 1964 Civil Right Act, which is treating all citizens in a gender neutral, race neutral fashion.