Published April 26, 2013
An Ineffective System
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Affirmative action needs some work before it'll help.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of REPORTER.


James LeCarpentier

“We are an equal-opportunity affirmative action employer.” This is a message many job-hunting college students and graduates have encountered during the course of their applications. Though it is known by different names in different countries, “affirmative action” is a blanket term for policies designed to help alleviate discrimination based on ethnicity and sex. The affirmative action system in the United States originated via Executive Orders in the 1960s during efforts to make jobs equally available to African Americans, who would historically be denied jobs or wages afforded to their Caucasian co-workers solely on the grounds of their race.

To comply, federal organizations were forced to find ways to make the demographics of their employees reflect the current proportion of each underrepresented group in the workforce of the country as a whole. If a company did not comply, it could lose its funding. Several years later, this protection would be extended to women as well. In theory, affirmative action would finally make every job equally available to every citizen of the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union goes so far as to claim that, “Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination based on color and gender, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field.”

Over 50 years later, however, there remains no absolute equality in this country. Large proportions of ethnic minorities remain underemployed and undereducated compared to white counterparts. Women still make less money, on average, than men who do the same jobs. The initial problem with the current affirmative action system in the United States is that it only prevents discrimination in employment, higher education and government positions — basically anything you have to apply for. By its nature, this is not the true equality that civil rights advocates crave. Though it prevents employers and educational institutions from discriminating against minorities, it does not actually make those opportunities more available to everyone within the target groups. Even within minorities, differences in resource and education availability can result in domination of the job market by a few of the more privileged members of the minority. For example, a poor Latino woman raised in a bad area with poor education by the nature of her circumstances, is at a disadvantage when placed against a Latino woman with a better education. Thus, by focusing solely on gender or ethnicity, present affirmative action policy barely scrapes the surface of the discrimination problem.

To make matters worse, affirmative action is both poorly represented and poorly implemented. Misconceptions and rumors about the system are so wild throughout this country that I would put money on a bet that you’ve heard at least one person complaining about it. The reality of affirmative action is that it does not, in its purest form, advocate for reverse racism. It is designed to create a fair chance for everyone to compete, not for any one group to have an advantage over another. Due to poor implementation of the policy, however, an illusion of a better opportunity for minorities or women has been created. Racial quotas in particular have caused a large outcry due to the potential for reverse racism. The result may leave the majority bitter towards the program and, by extension, the minorities that the system is meant to protect.

In its time, affirmative action was a necessary response to the rampant racism in the United States. As a reactionary response, however, it has left plenty of room for improvement. Rather than strictly complying with the set-in-stone policy from the 60s, it would be far better to modify the policy to work in a world that has experienced and understands the flaws in the system. Perhaps a policy that made better educational resources available to minorities or made higher education more accessible to the poor would be more effective. Making race and gender neutral factors during consideration for employment or admission is also a plausible action, since it makes it impossible for anyone to make claims of reverse racism. Suggestions like these might not be the best solutions, but they are certainly a step in the right direction. As it stands, affirmative action is not a well-implemented system in the United States and needs to be modified if it is to truly accomplish its goal.

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