Affirmative Action Policy in the United States


The so-called affirmative action is the policy, pursued by the government of the United States, which is primarily aimed at providing equal chances to the representatives of all ethnic, racial, or cultural groups, living in the country (Horne, 1992). The word equal is crucial in this case, one should bear in mind that this word can be easily misinterpreted. Traditionally, it is argued that affirmative action is designed to alleviate the consequences of racial discrimination, however, in my opinion; such strategy only conceals racism and even makes it worse.

First, it is worth mentioning that in 1961 President John Kennedy tried to promote ethnic and cultural diversity in federal and educational institutions. According to his order 10925, every person must be treated in an impartial and objective manner, according to his or her knowledge, but with no regard to the gender, ethnic origin, color of the skin, or race (Cahn, 2002). Certainly, it is hardly possible to argue with such suggestion, because it corresponds to the principles of a democratic society. However, the implementation of this program leaves much to be desired.

In the vast majority of cases, it only creates another form of racial discrimination. The major problem is that very often many governmental officials carry out this policy at the cost of qualified employees or applicants. Under some circumstances, the preference is given to people belonging to the racial groups, which are historically underrepresented in American society, whereas a skilled applicant may be easily rejected. Probably, this strategy only aggravates the effects of racism, though it is supposed to curb it. The affirmative action indicates American community is still divided according to racial characteristics.

The question arises, whether affirmative action is prudent or not. Perhaps, for a certain time, it may yield some results, and American workplace or college classroom will become ethnically diverse, but the relations will remain rather tense because US citizens will be perfectly aware that this diversity is artificial or imposed on them.

Furthermore, it is counter-productive, because any governmental agency, any educational institution, or any firm wants to accept only those candidates who best meet the requirements for the position. It turns out that sometimes one has to take into account race, ethnicity, or gender. It is hardly permissible for us to say that such an attitude is impartial or unprejudiced. We can observe a very curious paradox: the American government tries to cure the effects of racism by discriminating against white people. As a result, the animosity between them is only intensified.

In this regard, we may note that even some African-American object to this attitude of the American government. They claim that it only downgrades their efforts. Indeed, it creates an impression as if these privileges are granted to them, while actually; many African-Americans have to fight against insuperable odds to achieve a position in a leading company or to be accepted to a prestigious college. Probably, it is of crucial importance for us to adhere to the principles of impartiality and objectiveness, as was suggested by John Kennedy. Nevertheless, we can hardly presume that his ideas were put into practice. Over the last forty years, the racial discrimination in the US has taken a new form, but it has not ceased to exist. It has just become less conspicuous.


Affirmative action policies and implementations, as required by law or not, serve as a socially corrective measure to long-held patterns of oppression and discrimination. These measures help to guide the development toward proportional social representation and place the burden of proof as to why it is not possible to achieve equality within institutions regarding learning, employment, and position on those institutions. Another argument by those opposed to affirmative action is that it disproportionately benefits middle and upper-middle-class minorities, not the poor and working-class people of color who need it most. A more careful examination of this criticism shows that affirmative action programs have benefited substantial numbers of poor and working-class people of color. “Access to job training programs, vocational schools, and semi-skilled and skilled blue-collar, craft, pink-collar, police and firefighter jobs has increased substantially through affirmative action programs. Even in the professions, many people of color who have benefited from affirmative action have been from families of low income and job status” (Ezorsky, 1991, p. 64). By their skin color, middle-class minorities have indeed benefited from affirmative action but then people of color in all socio-economic classes have experienced the effects of racial discrimination for a lifetime. While experiencing financial success buffers some of the most extreme effects of racism, it doesn’t guard minorities from everyday racial discrimination.

Opponents also point out that affirmative action is patently unfair to white males because they are having to pay for the past discriminations of people of a different era and mindset and may not get the jobs they might be more qualified for. These opponents are correct in that specific white people may be passed by for some job opportunities because of affirmative action policies and that they and their families suffer as a result. The lack of employment opportunities is unfortunate and its causes are what the debate should be about, not whether affirmative action should exist or not. Millions of specific people of color have also lost specific job opportunities as a result of racial discrimination. Affirmative action is the counter effect, the balance of societal oppression – not just an attempt to atone what did exist, but also to balance the continued discrimination that exists still.

Those that make the opposition’s argument seem to be only concerned with white applicants who don’t get a job because of their race and not with the people of color who don’t get a job for the same reason. That in itself is an exhibition of slanted racial preference. If this argument that white people are losing jobs to affirmative actions policies is valid, it certainly hasn’t materialized into racial equality. “If one looks at the organization of various professions such as law, medicine, architecture, academics, and journalism, or corporate management, or higher-level government positions or if one looks overall at the average income levels of white men one immediately notices that people of color are still significantly underrepresented and underpaid in every category” (Sklar, 1995, p. 115). Proportionately, minorities do not represent the employment of near the proportions equal to their corresponding percentage of the population nor do they earn wages comparable to white men. “White men are tremendously overrepresented in almost any category of work that is highly rewarded except for professional athletics. According to a 1995 government report, white males make up only 29 percent of the workforce, but they hold 95 percent of senior management positions” (Sklar, 1995, p. 115).


The problem of racial discrimination has always been extremely acute in the United States, and affirmative action is one of the ways to resolve it, yet very often it may have adverse results, which only aggravate the relations between ethnic and racial groups. First of all, I would like to say that it is rather unpleasant to play the role of devils advocate and this argument is not directed against racial equality but it criticizes how this policy is implemented. It is often stated that this program has contributed to the promotion of historically underrepresented groups, but according to the sociological research, which has been conducted in this field, the overwhelming majority of African-Americans oppose these methods (Skrentny, 1996).

They suggest that there should be no preferential treatment, based on racial or gender criteria. Apart from that, a great number of women said that affirmative action only diminished the achievements of the feminist movement. It seems to them that racial or gender discrimination cannot be eliminated in this manner. Naturally, they do not deny the principles of equality but they suggest that this goal should be achieved by different means. It is often called meritocracy, which means that a person is assessed only according to his or her knowledge, skills, talents, and so forth. The situation that has recently emerged indicates that very often these vital characteristics may be disregarded.

Moreover, we cannot forget about the far-reaching consequences of affirmative action: at this moment a great number of people, currently studying in colleges or universities are very likely to drop out, because of their poor progress. Partly, it can be ascribed to the deficiencies of the US educational system, but sometimes, these high dropout rates are caused by the application policies; officials accept students, who do not meet certain academic standards, and they are hardly able to cope with the curriculum; (Cahn, 2002). The main problem is that sometimes many skilled applicants are rejected, just because the officials want to show that they are promoting cultural diversity. It seems that affirmative action indicates that racism in the United States has taken a different form, and now it is even more difficult to struggle against it.

The supporters of affirmative action argue it helps African-Americans to obtain a position in the community. This statement can be easily questioned: because, a person, who is hired just because of his or her racial characteristics, is almost bound to fail soon. If the government wants to eliminate racism, it is first necessary to change public opinion. Even now many Americans are firmly convinced that racial groups should be separated from one another. It stands to reason, that many institutions try to promote and even celebrate diversity but it is just a deceptive façade. Many African-Americans are constantly reminded that they are accepted for employment only due to the popular policy (Ezorsky, 1991).

Thus, we can conclude that affirmative action only intensifies the division of American society according to racial principles. This policy only proves that African-Americans or Hispanics are not equal to Western Europeans or white people, to be more exact. One cannot deny that at its core, affirmative action serves very noble purposes, but some of its aspects should be reconsidered. The primary importance should be to the persons professional skills, his or her academic performance but not to the ethnic origin or the color of the skin.


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Corliss, Richard; Ressner, Jeffrey. “True Colors” Time Magazine (1998). Web.

Ezorsky, Gertrude. (1991). Racism & Justice: The Case for Affirmative Action. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

History of Affirmative Action Policies (The). (2003). “The Supreme Court handed down its decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S.(2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S.

Horne, Gerald. (1992). “Reversing Discrimination: The Case for Affirmative Action.” New York: International Publishers.

John David Skrentny (1996).” The ironies of affirmative action: politics, culture, and justice in America”. University of Chicago Press.

Johnson, Lyndon B. (1965). “Executive Order No. 11246.” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Web.

Sklar, Holly. (1995). Chaos or Community?: Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics. Boston: South End Press.

Steven M. Cahn (2002). “The Affirmative Action Debate” Routledge.

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (1997). “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” United States Code. Web.

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