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The focus of this paper is on the history of affirmative action and its relevance to our society. Affirmative action focuses on the importance of equality and equal opportunity among all people in terms of education and employment. In coordination with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Employment Opportunities Act of 1972, the affirmative action policy was submitted by federal agencies. Is it not true that ethnic minorities do not have the same opportunities in life as whites, and that women should be entitled to the same opportunities as men? This act is only a means to help the less advantaged members of our society. In this case the less advantage would be those of color and women (www.infoplease.com).
The words “affirmative action” were first pronounced by President Lyndon Johnson’ Executive Order 11246 of 1965 which requires federal contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”(The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). In 1967, Johnson expanded the Executive Order to include affirmative action requirements to benefit women and in 1972 affirmative action was implemented for college admission. So originally “affirmative action” was a policy supposed to ensure equal opportunities for every citizen in the fields of employment and education. Initially “affirmative action” was synonymous with color-blindness.
The need for affirmative action was a concept noticed in 1865 during the passages of the Civil War amendments. During those years our country was still practicing in slavery and wrongful treatment of the black race. While blacks were being forced to comply to the rules of slavery, many individuals were denied their rights to food, clothing, shelter, employment, education and many other wants and/or needs. Similar acts such as these over time lead the law of affirmative action. Over the years, affirmative action plans and policies continue to merge to further in the efforts of benefiting the equality among historically disadvantaged ethnic groups as well as women. From our past to our present many people who are equally qualified and in need of jobs, services, assistance and/or necessities are denied due to their gender, race, religion, and/or ethnicity. Acts of discrimination are not just associated with employment but extend to educational opportunities, housing needs, contracting for small and large business and other public services. Affirmative action is the process that will help to eliminate these acts of discrimination (NASW, 2003).
There have been cases documented in the area of education and the affirmative action policy. These cases included the Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 and the early case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. These two cases were focused on the desegregation of the school system. Desegregation was implemented by President Eisenhower and President Kennedy, and required the help of federal troops. There was a significant increase in the numbers of blacks attending desegregated college in 1975 but the numbers dropped again in 1986 with more blacks attending segregated schools (NASW, 2003).
In the 1960’s there were different issues that caused presidents to take notice to the needs of those in our society. Again, affirmative action is a law that was implied with the help of Equal Opportunity and the Civil Rights Act. For example, in 1961, President “John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order (E.O.) 10925 used affirmative action for the first time by instructing federal contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin”(www.fairchance.civilrights.org). This was responsible for creation of the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity (www.fairchance.civilrights.org/). Also continuing with federal agencies they enforced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and two executive orders, which enforced that government contractors and educational institutions receiving federal funds must develop programs to ensure equal opportunities among all individuals. This act also requires public and private employers to establish voluntary affirmative action plans. This was landmark legislation prohibiting employment discrimination by large employers, whether or not they had government contracts. It prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. This act established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (NASW, 2003). President Johnson amended E.O. 11246 in 1967 to include affirmative action for women. Federal contractors are now required to make good-faith efforts to expand employment opportunities for women and minorities (NASW, 1995).
A good example of affirmative action would be a thirty-five-year-old white male, named Allan Bakke had applied for admission to the University of California Medical School two different times in 1978. Because of the college’s affirmative action policy, he was rejected both times. This university had reserved sixteen places out of each class year for equally qualified minorities. These sixteen reserved spots were out of one hundred possible placements in to the program. This served as the university’s affirmative action program. They held up the standard opportunities to minorities who have been excluded from many opportunities throughout history. Bakke’s college GPA was higher than any of the minority students admitted during the two times his applications were rejected. Bakke felt he was a victim of discrimination because he was not a minority and challenged the case in court. (www.oyez.org).
“Although the U.S. Supreme Court accepted such an argument in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), it let existing programs stand and approved the use of quotas in 1979 in a case involving voluntary affirmative-action programs in unions and private businesses.” Without these court interpretations, legislations and executive orders disparity among our society would continue. We would continue to cast out other races and women with employment, opportunities and pay rates. Changes to the Equal Employment Opportunities Act (1972) set up a commission to enforce such plans. The establishment of racial quotas in the name of affirmative action brought charges of so-called reverse discrimination in the late 1970s (http://infoplease.com/).
In three cases in 1989, the Supreme Court undercut court-approved affirmative action plans by giving greater standing to claims of reverse discrimination, voiding the use of minority set-asides where past discrimination against minority contractors was unproven, and restricting the use of statistics to prove discrimination, since statistics did not prove intent. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 restated a federal government’s commitment to affirmative action, but a 1995 Supreme Court decision placed limits on the use of race in awarding government contracts that affected government programs were changed in the late 1990s to help any person who was socially disadvantaged. In the late 1990s, in a public backlash against reverse discrimination, California and other states banned the use of race- and sex-based preferences in state and local programs.