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Essay on Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is one of the most controversial and important social policy decisions adopted by the United States in the past decades. It has been and will continue to be a popular subject for opinion writing and research papers alike. Though initially employed to help address decades and centuries of economic, political, and legal subjugation of non-white Americans, affirmative action is a long-since outlived policy choice that is no longer applicable in the modern world. Indeed, affirmative action clearly causes increasing amounts of racial diversity issues and is hardly a recipe for achieving proper diversity in modern social roles. This sample essay demonstrates some of the many essay writing services Ultius offers.

Affirmative Action

One of the classic ‘quick-fixes’ in latter part of the twentieth century in the United States was affirmative action. Originally created to correct for generations of racial prejudices, there was a time when affirmative action was the only hope for non-white Americans to find a place in certain educational institutions or employment fields. Whatever use it once served, however, has been long-since outlived. Affirmative action has become the kind of regulation that only limits the flexibility of the system. In many ways, it has actually created diversity issues similar to those it was intended to correct, but for the white students or workers who do not fall into its scope of interest. The social conditions that created a need for affirmative action are gone and they have been replaced by a new set of problems that needs a different solution. Affirmative action should be replaced with a program that does not simply aim to ‘even the playing field’ based on one’s racial or ethnic background. Rather it should be a system that inspires and helps those that are from a less fortunate background by giving those that have shown the willingness to succeed an equal opportunity to perform.

A Temporary Measure?

Affirmative action was a program that was implemented in the early 1960’s to combat racial inequality. President Kennedy first coined the term in 1961 as:

“a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees,” (Brunner).

President Johnson first enforced the program itself hailing it as the next step in the ongoing civil rights campaign. The program focuses primarily on education and jobs. The major polices of affirmative action require that companies provide equal opportunities for minority workers to have access to:

“promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid,” (Brunner).

Before the installation of this program, whites almost exclusively enjoyed these sorts of privileges, and the majority of those were males. However, it should be noted that right from the onset of the program, affirmative action was seen as only a temporary measure. It was built with the aim to create a ‘level playing field’ for every American and was never intended to last as long as it has. Since its original incorporation into an enforced act, affirmative action has seen many changes and has constantly been the focal point for conversation both in the positive and negative sense. As time has progressed, the question of the necessity of affirmative action has repeatedly come up.

Does this temporary program still have a place in modern society?

Affirmative action was once necessary and effective. It was implemented in 1965 and over the course of two decades was shown to improve opportunities for women and minorities in most cases (Leonard 440). At its inception it was controversial and unwelcome, but its effects could not be denied. As of a study conducted in 1984:

“affirmative action has increased the demand relative to white males for black males by 6.5%, for nonblack minority males by 11.9%, and for white females by 3.5%. Among females, it has increased the demand for blacks relative to whites by 11.0%” (Leonard 459).

This study was conducted over the course of six years, from 1974 to 1980, and shows clear improvement in workplace diversity.

Eliminating Stereotypes

One of the other major aims of affirmative action, initially, was to:

“eliminate employers’ negative stereotypes about the capabilities of minority workers,” (Coate 1238).

By creating a program that ensured the hiring of a certain number of minority workers, employers would be able to see that a different worker, not a white male, could complete tasks just as efficiently and effectively as their coworkers. Additionally, this program was placed under the with the hopes of eliminating worker discrimination and the negative stereotypes seen between races that work together. The study found:

“there are circumstances under which affirmative action will necessarily eliminate negative stereotypes,” (Coate 1239).

This provides evidence that the system worked when it was first implemented. At the time of Leonard’s study, there was a need for some balancing force from the government that could overrule the social prejudices that persisted from previous decades. However, the key social issue that made affirmative action necessary has changed. While no one could claim that racial prejudice is gone, it is also not as simple as it once was and racial stereotypes are now even further propagated by the media.

An outdated “solution”

The places where affirmative action once helped, it is largely no longer necessary. Truly, competitive institutions of business and education have to tap whatever talent pool is available. There are also statistics to suggest that white males have actually become a minority in the work force, making a policy that excludes their opportunities harmful to genuine equality (Thomas, Jr. 107). If this trend proceeds unchecked, before long affirmative action will have to include white males as well and simply become a comprehensive government regulation for education and workplace demographics. According to the information provided by Thomas Jr.:

“more than half the US work force now consists of minorities, immigrants, and women,” (Thomas, Jr. 107).

Though he notes that white males born within the United States are still the dominant force in terms of the high power positions within the workplace, they are, statistically speaking, a minority. Based on the current trends, white males will only make up 15 percent of the increased work force over the next 10 years if figures hold the same as projected (Thomas, Jr. 107). This will literally reverse the effects the affirmative action was trying to prevent in the first place.

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Affirmative action as a cause of prejudice

Even worse than its misdirection in modern times, is the evidence that affirmative action is actually harmful to equality. While the policy does force employers and educators to accept minorities, it has become such a fixture and such a rigid mandate that those minorities are often seen as inferior in their positions simply because they were entitled to that position (Coate 1239). This kind of prejudice cannot be regulated away and is the kind of social prejudice that actually creates diversity gaps. The only thing a policy can do is limit the ways prejudice manifests itself in official situations. To truly correct the issue of ethnic and gender inequality, it has to be addressed at the fundamental level.

Post-1980s affirmative action

Since affirmative action was first proven effective in the 1980s, conditions have changed. It is now necessary to consider merit instead of simple statistical qualities (Sturm 1035). Prejudice is no longer simply a matter of socioeconomic status or gender or ethnicity and the only way left to rise above social prejudices is through attention to individual value, rather than group identification (Sidanius 488). It might be easier to hope that affirmative action is still valid and effective, but social conditions change over time and a new tactic needs to be considered for addressing the issues that actually account for prejudice in the modern age, rather than the symptom of decades past. As noted in the findings of Coate and Loury:

“there are equally plausible circumstance under which (affirmative action) will not only fail to eliminate stereotypes, but may worsen them,” (Coate 1239).

This can be especially true in an economic situation that currently faces the nation. Presently, finding employment is very difficult for almost everyone in the country as job growth continues to diminish. The influence that affirmative action has on the hiring process can, even if unwarranted, lead to hostile feelings and tension between races. Individuals that do not secure a job could blame the minorities that have jobs at a company because they received aid from a government program. Individuals that claim this will usually also state that affirmative action will overlook a better-suited white worker to hire a minority worker in his place. Regardless of whether this claim is true, the mere existence of a program like affirmative action can create an environment of hostility and tension for minority workers even if they are the most qualified for the job. In fact, the system in place can create an atmosphere where regardless of the skill set of a minority worker, they will be underappreciated and have their skills downplayed because of the rationale that they were hired simply because they belong to a minority.

Non-white Women and Minorities and Affirmative Action

Leonard states:

“affirmative action ha actually been successful in promoting the employment of minorities and females, though less so in the case of white females,” (Leonard 459)

in his study published in 1984. The statistical information provided from his study backs this statement, however the interesting aspect that he raises is the incorporation of the scrutiny that the program had to endure. He notes the affirmative action has:

“generated tremendous public criticism and resistance,” and “undergone frequent regulatory reorganization,” (Leonard 459).

It is interesting to note that he includes that the program has undergone “frequent regulatory reorganization.” In modern times, it would appear that another period of such reorganization is due for the affirmative action program. Generally, the racially discriminative practices that were once common occurrences during the early to mid 20th century have subsided, yet research shows a type of “reverse discrimination” that has been the result. Society has moved more and more towards a world where the practices that the program is trying to defend against are becoming obsolete. This is not to claim that racism, as a whole is not an issue, however it is becoming, in some cases, almost an issue in the reverse of what was originally intended from the implication of affirmative action. The program now almost creates an opposite effect.

A different perspective on affirmative action

Instead of continuing the practices that affirmative action has laid out for minorities–both men and women, the system should be looked at from the interior workings of companies. It is no longer as prevalent of an issue of getting the minority workers into entry-level positions within a company and the history of affirmative action in education demonstrates the need for restructuring. The issue presents itself with their promotion and advancement once they have secured employment (Thomas, Jr. 107).  As suggested by Sturm, affirmative action could be reconstructed so that it can observe what an individual can do and take into consideration their “capacity to perform,” (Sturm 1035). By reconstructing the system, affirmative action can:

“reclaim the historical relationship between racial justice and the revitalization of institutions to benefit everyone,” (Sturm 1036).

While this is still not the ideal solution to the iniquities which accompany affirmative action, it is a definite step in the right direction.

A “Quick Fix” Culture

The issue of affirmative action can be applied to a larger issue for the nation as a whole, namely:

Has the United States become a nation that adapts the “quick fix” culture?

When calling something a “quick fix,” it is implied that a real solution to a large issue is not thoroughly put into place. Instead, a solution that will either cover up the problem or keep it from becoming larger is created and replaced as needed over time. Some of the major reasons for these so-called “quick fixes” include:

  • Money
  • General laziness
  • Lack of empathy from the general population

This is exactly what is seen with the issue of affirmative action. When it was first implemented in America, the issue of racial discrimination, as well as gender discrimination, was a large issue in the world of both employment and academics. However, instead of combating the problem and making fundamental changes to the way that society deals with and views race and gender, the United States was forced to implement a program that forced those that may discriminate in their choosing process to have a certain number of openings be filled by minorities.

An outdated program

As noted, when first implemented this system was not only needed but successful, however as it becomes more and more clear that the program has become outdated and needs either a major overhaul or to be shut down. The factors of lack of public empathy and general laziness have reemerged and slowed the progression to a unified solution. This has almost set the table, in a manner of speaking, for America to provide its next ‘quick-fix’ to the problem to continue to avoid looking deeper into the issue and truly attempt to solve the problem as a whole. Affirmative action did its job effectively and admirably, however society has shifted since it was first put into effect. This program has served its purpose and should be allowed to be retired with dignity knowing that it helped many minorities take the first step towards equality, especially during times when racism was a much larger issue that permeated into many different facets of everyday life.

Necessary changes

To combat some of the issues that currently face affirmative action, there could be some changes that make it more of an all-encompassing program:

  • Instead of only offering aid to those that have a common racial or ethnic background, the program could be used as a tool to help all of those that have come from a challenged background.
  • By making a program that, for example, would look to equally admit or hire an individual from a poor family, some of the racial tension that accompanies affirmative action could be dispersed.
  • A revamped affirmative action could transcend divisions and help all individuals that need aid to have their own chance at achieving the American dream eliminating the feeling that a minority candidate only obtained the place that they were because of a program specifically aimed to help out racial and ethnic minorities.

Since there are initiatives and programs that already do a job similar to these, they could merge with affirmative action and form a larger, more powerful means to help those that have risen from a troubled upbringing. The US needs to look at a true solution and not merely provide a system for ‘getting the foot in the door’ for minorities. Case studies in various workplace scenarios have proven the relative ineffectiveness and unexpected results of the program. A new system that addresses the issues that are more prevalent to today such as equal opportunity for advancement of a career should be investigated.


Affirmative action once made sense, but today needs to be reconsidered. This fact stands as evidence of the tangible outcomes to be had from the study of sociology. Social inequality no longer requires the dramatic oversight it once did. More attention needs to be paid to qualitative factors than simple quantitative values that are based on an archaic metric. A system should be in place where an individual’s performance is critical and racial, ethnic and gender discrimination will no longer be a factor. Unfortunately, with the system that is in place in the modern era, this is not being addressed. Even if affirmative action could still work, it would need to be more sophisticated and consider more variables than simple gender or ethnicity. These factors would have to be adjusted for demographics in whatever area they are being applied, making it a monumental challenge. Instead of providing another means of a ‘quick-fix’ to the issue at large, the nation should take the longer, more difficult route to social equality.

Works Cited

Brunner, Borgna. “Affirmative Action History.” info please. 2007: n. page. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. .

Coate, Stephen, and Glenn C. Loury. “Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes.” The American Economic Review 83.5 (1993): 1220-1240. Print.

Leonard, Jonathan S.. “The Impact of Affirmative Action on Employment.” Journal of Labor Economics 2.4 (1984): 439-463. Print.

Sidanius, Jim, Felicia Pratto, and Lawrence Bobo. “Racism, Conservatism, Affirmative Action, and Intellectual Sophistication: A Matter of Principled Conservatism or Group Dominance?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70.3 (1996): 476-490. Print.

Sturm, Susan, and Lani Guinier. “The Future of Affirmative Action: Reclaiming the Innovative Ideal.” California Law Review 84.3 (1996): 953-1036. Print.

Thomas, Jr., R. Roosevelt. “From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity.” Harvard Business Review (1990): 107-117. Print.

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