Affirmative Action

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Affirmative action works. There are thousands of examples of situations where people of color, white women, and working class women and men of all races who were previously excluded from jobs or educational opportunities, or were denied opportunities once admitted, have gained access through affirmative action. When these policies received executive branch and judicial support, vast numbers of people of color, white women and men have gained access they would not otherwise have had. These gains have led to very real changes. Affirmative action programs have not eliminated racism, nor have they always been implemented without problems. However, there would be no struggle to roll back the gains achieved if affirmative action policies were ineffective.

The implementation of affirmative action was America's first honest attempt at solving a problem, it had previously chosen to ignore. In a variety of areas, from the quality of health care to the rate of employment, blacks still remain far behind whites. Their representation in the more prestigious professions is still almost insignificant. Comparable imbalances exist for other racial and ethnic minorities as well as for women. Yet, to truly understand the importance of affirmative action, one must look at America's past discrimination to see why, at this point in history, we must become more "color conscious".

History Of Discrimination In America: Events Leading To Affirmative Action.


The Declaration of Independence asserts that "all men are created equal." Yet America is scarred by a long history of legally imposed inequality. Snatched from their native land, transported thousands of miles-in a nightmare of disease and death-and sold into slavery, blacks in America were reduced to the legal status of farm animals. A Supreme Court opinion, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), made this official by classifying slaves as a species of "private property."

Even after slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, American blacks, other minorities, and women continued to be deprived of some of the most elementary right of citizenship. During the Reconstruction, after the end of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868, making blacks citizens and promised them the "equal protection of the laws." In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, which gave blacks the right to vote. Congress also passed a number of civil rights laws barring discrimination against blacks in hotels, theaters, and other places. However, the South reacted by passing the "Black Codes, " which severely limited the rights of the newly freed slaves, preventing them in most states from testifying in courts against whites, limiting their opportunities to find work, and generally assigning them to the status of second or third class citizen. White vigilante groups like the Klu Klux Klan began to appear, by murdering and terrorizing blacks who tried to exercise their new rights. "Legal" ways were also found for circumventing the new laws; these included "grandfather clauses", poll taxes, white only primary elections, and constant social discrimination against and intimidation of blacks, who were excluded form education and from any job except the most menial.

In 1883, the Supreme Court declared a key civil rights statute, one that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, unconstitutional. And in 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 [1896]), the Court declared that the state of Louisiana had the right to segregate their races in every public facility. Thus began the heyday of "Jim Crow" legislation. In Justice John Marshall Harlan's lone dissent, he realized it was a mockery. He wrote, " We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our peoples above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts a brand of servitude and degregation upon a large class of our fellow citizens, our equals before the law. This thin disguise of 'equal' accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, or atone for the wrong this day done."

Not until sixty years later, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (347 U.S. 483 [1954]), was Plessy overturned. Chief Justice earl Warren declared the unanimous opinion of the court by saying: "We cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written." In today's world, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

This decision sparked racial tensions all across America. in 1957, President Eisenhower had to call federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, after the state's