Is affirmative action a problem in the United States? According to certain people it is a problem and to others it is not a problem. Employment practices involving affirmative action have been a controversial issue among the public and private human resource departments for many years. Affirmative action means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded (Full winder, 2002).
When those steps involve preferential selection on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity, affirmative action generates intense controversy. Affirmative action clearly takes an opposite approach to employment practices over the nondiscrimination approach. The nondiscrimination approach protects certain classes of people from being discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender, national origin, and religion. On the other hand, affirmative action programs offer individuals such as women and minorities a chance to equal employment opportunities. The debate over affirmative action has caused a number of upset individuals.
Angry white men blame affirmative action for robbing them of promotions and other opportunities. While many minorities and women support affirmative action, a growing number say its benefits are no longer worth its side effect which is the perception that their success is unearned. Judging by the results, the playing field would appear to still be leaning very much in favor of white men. Overall, minorities and women are in vastly lower paying jobs and still face active discrimination in some places (Froomkin, 1998). Affirmative action programs that were born as a result of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were basically imposed to prevent the dominance of one particular group in the work force.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and gender. Under these new laws, all individuals of minority groups had a chance to be represented at all organizational levels (Fowler, 1999). Prior to these laws, the white male dominated the work force. Although the work force is still somewhat white male dominated, quotas that were designed through affirmative action programs have helped achieve some representation of women and minorities in the current work force.
But defenders of affirmative action say that the playing field is not level yet and that granting modest advantages to minorities and women is more than fair, given hundred of years of discrimination that benefited whites and women. Furthermore, supporters of affirmative action believe it provides equal opportunities and equal treatment for all races (Froomkin, 1998). Senator Trent Lott, Republican from Mississippi stated that "Not only does he support affirmative action, but he also practices it by hiring minorities" (Elder, 2003. p. 12). Although there are many individuals that do not agree with affirmative action, it has many benefits to women and minorities that greatly outweigh its negative aspects. However, opponents of affirmative action have argued for decades that since the inception of Title VII, affirmative action is basically reverse discrimination and does not reward individuals who have achieved a higher education and merit. Instead, it rewards those individuals with positions regardless of merit and education on the basis of race or gender (Job Discrimination, 2003).
While this may be a true statement, without positive affirmative action programs, equity and representation would be more distant. The traditional argument of opponents of affirmative action has been that giving a position to a member of a minority group in an attempt to obtain the benefits offered by a diverse work force is discriminating against the white person who could have filled the position. Roger Clegg, author of "When Faculty Hiring is Blatantly Illegal" argues that universities efforts to diversify their faculties are illegal and unfair (Baez & Springer, 2002). He talks about reverse discrimination by white men, and argues that taking into account the benefits a minority candidate might add is giving greater, not just equal consideration to such a candidate. Another argument that disagrees with affirmative action is that the battle to guarantee equal rights for all citizens has been fought and won and that favoring members of one group over another simply goes against the American grain (Froomkin, 1998). Also, members of minority groups are assumed to be less competent when affirmative action plans are in place.
The controversy surrounding affirmative action programs today will likely continue into the future. Society as a whole does not appear to be ready to forget the negative perception of the hiring practices brought by Title VII. However, the benefits brought about by this act greatly increase the opportunity for women and minorities in employment that would not other wise be available to them in the current work force. These programs offer hope to all groups that they will have a chance at equal employment and representation in a society where they are greatly out numbered. Human resource departments in the public will have to become more skilled in helping with positive affirmative action programs.