An Affirmative Reaction to Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is a term used to describe federal initiatives that require people responsible for providing economic and educational opportunities to consider a candidate’s race, sex, or disability, especially if the individual’s minority affiliation has suffered past discrimination. Initially, Affirmative Action accomplished what it set out to do, but in this day and age its negative effects outweigh its positive ones. By giving preferential treatment to people of a certain race, Affirmative Action contradicts and undermines the rights guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964: equality of opportunity for all individuals regardless of race. Affirmative Action has replaced discrimination against women and minorities with discrimination against white men–reverse discrimination.  It forces colleges and businesses to adhere to quotas, discriminating against the best-qualified individuals, whomever they may be.

Hubert Humphrey, the chief sponsor of the act, had promised that if anyone could find “any language which provides that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage or quota related to color, race, religion, or national origin, I will start eating the pages one after another, because it is not in there.”(Chavez 34)  This explains what the writers of the act wanted it to mean but that is not how it has been interpreted by society. Obviously Hubert Humphrey should have eaten the pages because Affirmative Action does exactly what he said it wouldn’t, it creates quotas and percentages for minorities in the workplace. Advocates of Affirmative Action nonetheless contend that terms like “reverse discrimination” and “quotas” are red herrings concocted by white men who fear losing their long-established privileges.(Yates 2)

Consider the case of University of California v. Bakke. In 1973 a thirty-three year-old Caucasian male named Allan Bakke applied to and was denied admission to the University of California Medical School at Davis. In 1974 he filed another application and was once again rejected, even though his test scores were considerably higher than various minorities that were admitted under a special program. This special program specified that 16 out of 100 possible spaces for the students in the medical program were set aside solely for minorities, while the other 84 slots were for anyone who qualified, including minorities. It was ruled that “the admissions program violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment” The clause reads as follows: “…No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor without due process of the law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”(The Columbia Encyclopedia) This court case exemplifies the inherent flaws of Affirmative Action and the way in which its’ meaning is misconstrued by colleges and places of employment. In this case it accomplished its objective, racial diversity, but in doing so it violated the rights of another.

When Affirmative Action was put into effect, the United States was a much different place. Affirmative Action initially accomplished what it set out to, it raised the number of minorities enrolled in colleges and employed in businesses across the nation. The problem arises when time is considered as a factor. The law was created to stop the racism that was taking place at that point in time and it did exactly that. The White men in the nation were the ones who were at fault for the suffrage of the black man. The dilemma arises when you try to tell the white man now that he is being punished for what his ancestors did. It just doesn’t work. About the time that the generation of kids who were born with Affirmative Action began to be employed, is about the same time that the problems started to arise. White men would have been laughed at if they had tried to say that Affirmative Action was unjust or that it created Reverse Discrimination, because Affirmative Action was a direct result of their actions. However, this new generation of workers could claim these things because they couldn’t be treated as though they were being punished, they themselves hadn’t done anything wrong. That is what made their arguments credible and it is also what began the deterioration in effectiveness of Affirmative Action.

When all of the material that has been presented is reviewed there is one prominent question that arises; what would happen if Affirmative Action were abolished? To find out the answer to this question one only needs to look at the results of California’s proposition 209.

Proposition 209 banned the use of affirmative action on California campuses. The University of California at Berkley is just one of a number of California universities who are managing to maintain diversity with out racial set-asides. The first year after prop 209 went into effect, there was a 50% reduction in minority enrollment at this university.  This appeared to support the need for affirmative action, but only a year later the minority enrollment had jumped by 30%.

Ending affirmative action forced the university to use outreach programs to try to reach eligible minority students. Universities in California are now reaching down into high schools, junior high schools and even elementary schools to offer assistance to minority students so that they can achieve the kind of academic records that will make them eligible for admission. University administrators admit that they would never have shouldered this burden had it not been for the end of affirmative action.(Traub 44)

Affirmative Action violates a broadly held faith in the neutral principle of merit, judges people according to group membership rather than individual attributes, subtly reinforces racial and ethnic identity and infects the atmosphere with uneasy euphemisms. Therefore, it is no longer needed because there are programs like prop 209, that provide all of its beneficial factors without any of its negative consequences.


Chavez, Linda. “No thanks to Affirmative Action.”American Enterprise 13 (2002): 34

Traub, James. “The Class of Prop 209.” New York Times Magazine 2 May 1999: 44

Yates, Steven. “Affirmative Action Creates ReverseDiscrimination.” Opposing Viewpoints Series 1 February 1994: 2

“Reagents of the University of California v. Bakke.”    The Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed. 2001


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