This paper examines one of the most controversial political practices of the second half of the 20th century - affirmative action, or the favoring of women and racial minorities in various aspects of society to compensate for past injustices against them.
Affirmative action was born in the Civil Rights era of the 1960s when formal legal protections were seen as necessary not only to safeguard the rights of social minorities but were needed to go a step beyond this, to guarantee a helping hand to those groups in society that had suffered past discrimination. The intent of affirmative action laws and policies was to create what might be seen as a slightly slanting playing field, which would tip things just ever so slightly in favor of minorities (including women). After some number of years, the playing field could once more be leveled, for once every member of society was judged on his or her own merits, talents and qualifications, affirmative action policies could wither away, like the government would in a fully realized socialist state.
While the intent of affirmative action - to make America a truly equal society for all Americans - cannot be viewed as anything but good (except by racists and other bigots), the actuality of affirmative action has had unintended and negative consequences that have lead in at least some cases to the striking down of affirmative action laws, such as happened when the Californian electorate passed Proposition 206.
Affirmative action was seen at its birth in the 1960s as a way to right the wrongs of past generations. No fair-minded person at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century could have argued that women and racial minorities were receiving their fair slice of the American Dream. In politics, art, business, religion and all other important arenas of American society, white men had a clear advantage. Women and racial minorities had no chance of gaining socially and culturally im...