Affirmative action is designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, gender, and national origin, particularly in employment and education. Numerous affirmative action programs have been implemented in both the public and the private sector, ranging from almost all government bodies to nearly every university and large corporation. Ironically, though the goal of affirmative action is equality, many challenge such programs precisely on those grounds. Opponents say that choosing one person over another because of their race, gender, or national origin is always wrong, no matter how noble the goal. This paper will examine affirmative action, from its history to its current retrenchment to possible alternatives.
Affirmative action seeks to create more opportunities for women and minorities by giving them special consideration in decisions involving hiring, firing, promotion, college admissions, and government contracts. In all of these areas, women and minorities traditionally have been underrepresented. Companies government agencies, and universities use recruitment, set-asides, and preferences to achieve these goals.
Affirmative action arose out of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education and legislation such as the Civil Rights Act ended legal segregation and state-sanctioned discrimination, but bias continued to limit opportunities for minorities and women. Clearly, more needed to be done.
Those cases and laws involved ônegativeö action; in other words, the courts and Congress barred certain acts, such as discriminating against prospective employees based on their race or gender. Such moves succeeded in eliminating the most egregious forms of discrimination (for example, separate drinking fountains), but in many important areas the face of America remained unchanged. White males still dominated universities, governme...