Affirmative Action Process
In essence, the term “affirmative action” refers to the process of promoting equal opportunities to the people from traditionally disadvantaged social groups. These groups include African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans, which were severely discriminated in such areas as education, voting, and employment. Apart from racial discrimination, women and aged employees also require help getting equal opportunities. The process of affirmative action implies legal obligations for employers, government agencies, and educational institutions to promote the rights of disadvantaged groups and to compensate for the past persecution.
Both before and after the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate de-jure discrimination, disadvantaged groups had to fight for their rights. Historically, civil rights granted by the Constitution were often neglected. Racial prejudices and traditional attitude of white Americans toward the colored people secured the most attractive job positions for the dominating social group. There were no coordinated activities aimed to hurt the minorities deliberately; therefore, the situation known as de-facto discrimination has resulted from historical segregation. This type of discrimination was (and still is) caused by cultural biases and social conditions. The very structure of the American society has contributed largely to the de-facto discrimination.
Affirmative action policy promotes the racial, gender, and age balance in order for the traditionally disadvantaged groups to achieve full equality. There are no firmly defined quotas for the disadvantaged people to be employed or admitted to universities, because such an approach would be illegal. However, both disadvantaged and traditionally dominant groups often claim the existence of admission quotas, disguised by the number of procedures and policies. It is an unavoidable result of the affirmative action strategies, as there is no policy that would completely satisfy all participants of this extremely complex social process.
The Supreme Court as a highest legal institution has played an important part in facilitating the struggle of disadvantaged Americans for greater rights. It is important to mention that one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions that have initiated the affirmative action process in the U.S. was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case in 1954. The court has outlawed the existence of separate public schools for the white and black students. This Supreme Court ruling has started the integration process within the American society and encouraged further civil rights movement. However, de facto discrimination could not be simply banned by the court decision and therefore, remained to be eradicated in a course of affirmative action practices.
Along with the Supreme Court, numerous civil rights groups actively support the affirmative action policy at all levels. Such activities sometimes lead to white Americans’ complaints about the “reverse discrimination”, which allegedly benefits traditionally disadvantaged applicants over the better-qualified whites. The first legal dispute against affirmative action was held in 1978 at the Supreme Court hearing of the University of California Regents v. Bakke case. Furthermore, the University of California had twice denied admission to Alan Bakke, whose test scores were higher than those of some minority groups’ representatives. As minorities’ applicants were eventually accepted, Bakke has sued the University for having a quota admission system. It is important to mention that being a white man, Alan Bakke has accused the University’s authorities of discrimination against white male. The Supreme Court has ruled that Bakke should be admitted into the University, though did not qualify the situation as reverse discrimination.
Two other relevant Supreme Court cases concerned the University of Michigan, where controversial admission policies provided unequal opportunities for the applicants. One of the policies has automatically awarded 20 of possible 150 points to applicants from minority groups. This policy was outlawed by the Supreme Court decision in Gratz v. Bollinger case. The decision was rather obvious, as the university’s practice was not only unfair, but also has humiliated minority applicants in a way that suggested their weaker abilities compared to the dominant group. Another admission policy has assigned an extra weight to the race of applicants, openly favoring the minorities. However, the Supreme Court did not agree to strike down this policy in Grutter v. Bollinger case, ruling that the measures were aimed to diversify the student body and were applied sensibly.
Currently, all American citizens have gained a significant level of equality as a result of affirmative action. Moreover, they are provided with equal access to housing and accommodations, equal voting rights, as well as equal treatment under the law. American government’s politics prohibit any form of religious, sexual, racial or ethnical discrimination. However, there is a high inequality level in practical terms. “The legal gains of disadvantaged groups over the past half-century have not been matched by material gains… Compared with non-Hispanic whites, other Americans lag behind in levels of education, income, and health care” (Patterson 187). Partly, it is a result of de-facto discrimination, still present in the American society. The main reason for this situation, however, is the cultural and social legacy within the minorities’ groups. An accumulated poverty and its consequences require time to overcome, and the effectiveness of affirmation action is limited by these circumstances.
Nevertheless, the affirmative action policies were necessary to initiate the social changes. The general public demeanor would have remained rather inactive with regard to the discrimination issues, but for the affirmative action practices. As a matter of fact, many aspects of American social life have changed as millions of individuals have shifted their perspectives on the racial and gender inequality issues. However, it is still too early to cease the affirmative action activities in the United States. Although the objective has been reached in general terms, there is a risk that the situation will reverse without any government and legal support.