Affirmative Action on the spotlight

The main objective of this paper is to introduce the issue of affirmative action and its development in its early stages as well as to find out why is affirmative action still hotly debated. This includes a closer look at the claims of proponents and opponents of affirmative action regarding two controversial points with respect to the political steps leading to their implementation.

The targeted group, as far as the recipients of the benefits of the affirmative action, is mainly Afro-Americans in education and job sphere. This paper will mainly focus on the most significant arguments both sides defend, and we will equally try to track down the origins of such reflections on the side of the American people. What is affirmative action? Affirmative action does not have an exact definition.

It refers to a wide array of "narrowly tailored and highly regulated efforts used by employers and educational institutions" which are intended to remedy historical discrimination of particular minority groups and women by attempting to remove inequality of status which exists throughout the social class hierarchy, thus allowing qualified women and minorities to compete equally for jobs, education, and promotional opportunities.

Inequality of status, as opposed to positional inequality, refers to the disproportional representation of a particular group in a hierarchical structure, (men, for example, make up less than 50% of the population yet hold a considerably greater share of the high level management positions in the corporate sector). Positional inequality, on the other hand, deals with the status of an entire income class, all races and genders within that class, in relation to other classes, an inequality between rich and poor for example.

Affirmative action is not intended to directly remedy positional inequality, this task being under the goals of welfare programs. Its origins in a nutshell: The programs of affirmative action stemmed from the urges of mainly Afro-Americans civil right movements in the 1960's. Apart from the call for the abidance by the 13th, 14th and 15th constitutional amendments granting the blacks civil rights and the end of racial segregation, M. Luther King's sit-ins contributed to first affirmative action program. It was J. F. Kennedy who used this term for the first time when he issued Executive Order 10952.

The order created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and directed all contractors on contracts financed with federal funds to take affirmative action. It meant to make sure that all the employees are treated fairly regardless of their race, creed or nation of origin. This was the very first step towards realization that certain measures must be taken to gradually incorporate the minorities into the well-off middle class society and to narrow the wide gap of social disparities. Kennedy's attempts were pursued after his death by president Johnson.

He deserves credit for his Civil Rights Act of 1964, set of laws barring discrimination in a wide variety of private and public settings; and also for issuing Executive Order 11246, even stronger piece of legislation than the J. F. K. 's one. He basically placed the primary responsibility for the affirmative action enforcement with the Department of Labor and its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). The OFCCP monitored whether the employer took the appropriate measures to move to greater equality. Johnson was concerned about "equal" opportunity during an era in which he was thrust into the spotlight of national leadership.

This concern with opportunity reflected a long history of an American value that has been at the core of American democracy. He wanted to provide access to all, not only the white males. Eventually, there comes president Nixon and his staunch support for the programs. He, to a great surprise, did not do away with his predecessor's civil rights policy; on the other hand, he fostered what is nowadays known as the bravest and most comprehensive step towards affirmative action. It was his program of 1970, called the "Philadelphia Plan", which delved more deeply than before into numerical goals and timetables.

The author of the Philadelphia Plan was Assistant Secretary of Labor Arthur A. Fletcher, together with his boss, Secretary of Labor George P. Shultz. Its objective was to establish numerical ranges for employment of Afro-Americans. Iron workers employed on federal projects, for example, were to employ five to nine percent of Blacks in 1970, with ranges increasing each year thereafter. This, in particular, has lead to a heated discussion over whether it could or couldn't be considered quotas, prohibited in The Civil Right Act of 1964.