In the struggle to create equality and diversity in America’s workforce and learning institutions, affirmative action has become another struggle in the pursuit of true fairness. With the attempt to introduce new working concepts, the “Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines that allowed racial imbalances in the workplace… stand as proof of racial discrimination”(Steele 328).
Heated and ongoing debate now largely centers on the issues of both race and gender as affirmative action implies contradicting goals and interpretations of the law. In the case of affirmative action, like other taboo arguments, each side is strongly supported and neither is proven right or wrong. The supporters claim that the law is the best security of equal opportunity in schools and in the workplace, while those opposing the claim believe that the law cheats those perhaps more suitable or worthy, and unjustly hands it to another.
According to Shelby Steele, an essayist frequently concerned with race issues and the friction between African-Americans and white Americans in the United States (Conversations 326), “by making black the color of preference, these mandates have reburdened society with the very marriage of color and preference (in reverse) that we set out to eradicate”(Steele 328) with the implementation of affirmative action over thirty years ago. Steele then argues that the supplementation of these laws to promote equality have, in turn, nurtured a “victim focused identity in blacks… made] scapegoats of the very people they seek to help… [and made] whites look better than they are and blacks worse, while doing nothing whatsoever to stop the very real discrimination that blacks may encounter”(Steele 330-331).
The effects of affirmative action are more detrimental to society than they are beneficial as the general public is negatively affected due to the denial of opportunity to the deserving — consequently resulting in the abuse of law and power by the government. By setting quotas and standards, affirmative action places emphasis in fields of life in which race and gender should have no preference.
An example includes colleges and universities. Quotas should not be set as a “goal” wherein a percentage of a given gender or race must fill to create a more “diverse” learning institution. Many ivy league schools are required to have a percentage of students of each gender, race and nationality, regardless of their capabilities in comparison to their peers. Enrollment of such a person into the institution is not the result of whom the attendance committee feels best suits the requirements, whether academically or other, needed.
When standards are in effect, students accepted as the result of affirmative action often experience difficulty meeting the educational requirements, handling the rigorous academics, relating to peers, or understanding the mentality of such an institution. This, in turn, promotes decreased retention rates upon the transfer or dismissal of the student. Meanwhile, a year’s worth of mediocre work and tuition is lost as the student may never attend another more suitable university in fear of reliving the prior situation.
Now the student is in debt and living with self-doubt due to her failed performance or inability to meet high expectations at the demanding university. The unprepared student not only suffers from low self-esteem and struggles with the fear of failure, but also refuses the notion of attendance to another, more suitable institution. Thus, the cycle is regenerated as the dropout opts to enter the workforce, never obtaining a college degree, and is now the laughing stock of her community. As her sense of self worth decreases, the number of her children increases while her abusive husband refuses to work or provide for them.
Her low income and the responsibility of children force them to live in a government housing project — a place where crime runs rampant and the children are robbed of the opportunities their mother once dreamed she could provide for them. The children attend schools that are under funded, poorly staffed, and filled to the brim as their main purpose serves as psuedo-daycares. In this situation, the chain of events has come full circle as the successful future of the dropout and her children seems unlikely. The law does not help the public or society as a whole, but only furthers the problems.
Affirmative action also denies opportunities to those who may be more deserving than those who are granted jobs or positions due to the quotas that the employers or administrators are required to meet. When an institution receives thousands of applications every fall, it must ensure that the proper percentage of those are in accordance with the gender and racial standards implemented by affirmative action. The same applies in the job market and within “diverse” companies. Individuals are identified by their race or gender as opposed to their capabilities or qualifications.
Once the company or university has established the number of applicants and their association, they must then figure how many of which gender and race they need, followed by the selection of the most qualified of the “needed” sex or race. The problem that surfaces upon choosing the most qualified within the gender or race, rather than the entire pool of applicants, is that even if a white or male applicant is more qualified than a black or female applicant, the latter will be chosen to create “equality,” “diversity,” and to abide by government established law.
Affirmative action is an abuse of power by the government and an unjust law. The impact of affirmative action on women may cause them to suffer the stigma of second-class citizenship as a result of preferential treatment as they are subjected to the presumption that they were hired not because of their qualifications, but because of their gender. Affirmative action may therefore lead to the conclusion that the women hired under affirmative action are incompetent.
If someone is understood as hired or placed in a position as a result of affirmative action efforts, then that supplies onlookers with a plausible and compelling explanation for the selection decision independent of the job incumbent’s qualifications for the position. The individual may then be assumed to have been hired only because of her sex, with qualifications irrelevant to the selection process. Sex bias also has been demonstrated in decisions about pay raises, promotions, and employee utilization and training opportunities.
Although sex may only be taken into consideration after hiring a person for their qualifications, it may only be assumed that they received their position because of the law. Sometimes, affirmative action creates rather than alleviates problems for women by causing people to perceive them as possessing fewer of the characteristics deemed necessary for success in a traditionally male work context. If affirmative action promotes these negative conceptions, then there is a distinct possibility that rather than being a remedy for sex discrimination, it can be yet another contributor to the problem.
Controversial topics such as capital punishment, abortion, labor unions, and animal rights are among the many ambiguous social issues that thrive in America’s political communities, businesses, schools, religious centers, and homes. The most widespread of these concerns still penetrates learning institutions and the business world as it continues to play an elemental role as the subject, or core, of the issue has haunted our country for the past few centuries. Affirmative Action is the nation’s most ambitious attempt to redress its long history of racial and gender discrimination, and the system is still far from perfect.