Affirmative Action Research Paper

History of Affirmative Action

Introduction
Historically, affirmative action can be viewed as a revolutionary innovation which targets at the dramatic change of the existing socio-economic and political relations within a society. It is necessary to point out that the development of American society in the second half of the 20th century perfectly illustrated the extent to which affirmative action can be a contradictive concept. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that the introduction of the affirmative action in the US was a historical necessity because the existing contradictions within American society grew more and more serious and could not remain unresolved. This is why the first years of the official implementation of the policy of affirmative action supported on all levels and by all state institutions from legislative to executive and judiciary power. At the same time, the optimism of the first years of implementation of affirmative action gradually grew weaker and criticism of grew in power to the extent that there appeared a strong opposition to the affirmative action. Nevertheless, regardless all the criticism of the affirmative action, the recent decisions and policy of the US government in 1990s illustrate the fact that the affirmative action is an essential component that cannot be removed (Holmes 1996). Otherwise, the consequences may be unpredictable, or even disastrous to the national democracy because the affirmative action turns to be one of the major tools that provides deprived ethnic groups such as African Americans to cope with their problems and gain better position in American society, regardless the poor economic and social position and dominance of white ethnic group in economic and political life of the country. Thus, it is possible to estimate that the affirmative action was initially launched as an effective tool to eliminate racial discrimination and improve substantially the position of African Americans but in the course of time, namely throughout 1970-1990s, affirmative action resulted in growing criticism and opposition because of a threat of reverse discrimination, but, nevertheless, affirmative action still persists though in a modified form.

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Historical necessity of implementation of affirmative action
Speaking about the affirmative action and its implementation in the US, it is primarily necessary to briefly dwell upon the historical background which actually made the affirmative action an essential step to the further development of American society and democracy. In actuality, it is even possible to state that the implementation of the affirmative action on the national level with a support of the state was a historical necessity because the ignorance of the existing interracial problems could have really disastrous consequences not only for the US democracy but also for the social stability and the very existence of the US as a solid and stable country.

First of all, it should be pointed out that the middle of the 20th century was marked by the development of various human rights movements among which the struggle of African Americans for their civil rights was particularly strong. In this respect it is worthy of mention that African American community of the US had strong leaders that struggled for the rights of deprived African American population of the country, among which may be singled out Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and others. For instance, some leaders of civil rights movement of African American, like Martin Luther King, basically focused on the traditional democratic ways to improve the position of deprived ethnic groups and opposed to racial discrimination (Wilcher 2003). However, other, including Malcolm X, appealed to the masses of people to get ready to use all possible means, including force and revolt in order to gain their civil rights and stop the racial discrimination that progressed in the US in the middle of the 20th century (Wilcher 2003).

In fact, it is due to such appeals that the necessity of the implementation of the affirmative action seemed to be obvious. At the same time, it is necessary to point out that the growing social tension and the struggle of African American people for basic civil rights were seriously motivated. It was not just a will of a few leaders of civil rights movement of African American people but it was the natural reaction of the entire African American community on the discrimination and constant socio-economic and political oppression and ignorance of their basic civil rights (Wilcher 2003).

It is worthy of mention that the discrimination of African Americans was practically the national state policy. It is not a secret that on the legislative level there was made no single attempt to really change the situation for better. In fact, the US legislative organs as well as all other branches of power, comprised of the white dominating majority which controlled practically all spheres of life (Wilcher 2003). Naturally, African Americans could not get any support on legislative level since no laws protecting their civil rights were implemented, neither could they appeal to the US courts which also ignored the violation of their human rights. In such a way neither legislative nor judicial power protected civil rights of African Americans that made the implementation of the affirmative action vitally important to the deprived racial groups such as African Americans and alike.

Thus, African Americans were totally deprived of basic civil rights but they could not afford such injustice and severe discrimination. This is why they developed their civil rights movement targeting at the improvement of their position and, in such a situation, the implementation of the affirmative action, was the only effective way out since even the formal declaration of equality between representatives of different racial groups could not change the situation for better because of the poor economic position of African Americans and their low social status. Consequently, they needed the support of the state and help in their development in order to gain better position that was possible only due to the affirmative action. Moreover, the social tension was so significant that any further delay of the implementation of the affirmative action threatened to the future of the US.

The start of affirmative action and optimistic expectations
On realizing the historical necessity of substantial changes in American society in relation to the position of African American community and other ethnic groups, which were economically and politically oppressed by the ruling white elite, the President of the US, J. F. Kennedy, in 1961, introduced the term ‘affirmative action’ for the first time and viewed it as a sort of panacea from the existing interracial problems of the US (Guichard 2006). Initially, the affirmative action was viewed as a “method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees” (Sander 367). It is necessary to underline that at the beginning many supporters of the President’s policy viewed the affirmative action as a really effective and powerful tool that could change the situation in the US dramatically.

However, it is only under the President Johnson the Kennedy’s idea of the affirmative action had been eventually started to realize (Guichard 2006). In fact, it was probably the first time in American history when the fact of racial discrimination was recognized on the highest state level since the President openly declared that the affirmative action policy was “the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights… we seek… not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result” (Sander 367). In such a way, the ultimate goal of the affirmative action was clearly defined – to make civil rights not only a theory or law that actually did not work but to make people equal in real life.

Obviously, it was a really great chance for African American community to change their life for better since, in accordance with the policy of the affirmative action, which was supported on the legislative level, African Americans had got better opportunities to receive education, better job and improve their life opportunities at large.

To put it more precisely, focusing in particular on education and jobs, affirmative action policies required that active measures be taken to ensure that African Americans and other minorities enjoyed the same opportunities for the promotions, salary increases, career advancement, school admissions, scholarships, and financial aid that had been nearly exclusive province of whites (Guichard 2006). In such a way, the improvements of the position of African Americans resulting from the implementation of the affirmative action are evidences of the justified optimism among the supporters of American civil rights movements.

Nevertheless, it is worthy of mention that, regardless such initial optimism, the affirmative action was viewed by some Americans as “a temporary remedy that would end once there was a ‘level playing field’ for all Americans” (Espenshade 151).

Criticism and anti-affirmative action movement
Obviously, such apprehension of some part of American society was motivated by the growing opposition to the affirmative action which actually appeared soon after the first steps in the realization of this policy were made. In actuality, the policy of the affirmative action was initially criticized but as the affirmative action progress at the mass scale, there appeared a strong anti-affirmative action movement, which targeted at the change or even end of such policy. The criticism and anti-affirmative action movement had been growing stronger throughout 1970-1980s (Guichard 2006).

In fact, the opponents and critics of the affirmative action had their own reasons to reject this policy. One of the evidences of the growing opposition is the view on the affirmative action as a great challenge to the dominance of the white group, which occupied the leading positions in all spheres of life in the US and naturally did not want to lose them. Furthermore, there were arguments concerning the justification of the affirmative action. To put it more precisely, the affirmative action was viewed as an artificial, unjust and discriminatory support of some ethnic groups only because of their ethnicity (Greenhouse 1997). In such a way, white felt discriminated when African American community got larger opportunities, being supported by the state policy of the affirmative action.

In such a situation, a reverse discrimination became an issue. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the famous Bakke case in 1978 (Wilcher 2003). Alan Bakke, a white male, had been rejected two years in a row by a medical school that had accepted less qualified minority applicants – the school had a separate admissions policy for minorities and reserved 16 out of 100 places for minority students. As a result, the Supreme Court outlawed inflexible quota systems in affirmative action programs, which in this case had unjustly discriminated against a white applicant. Nevertheless, it is necessary to underline that in the same ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of affirmative action per se. In such a way, the affirmative action was limited but still applicable in the US. At the same time, such a trend to limit the affirmative action grew stronger within the following decade.

Rehabilitation of affirmative action
In fact, after the start of the affirmative action, 1970s and especially 1980s could be characterized as the period of counteraction. No wonder that, by the end of 1980s – early 1990s, it was possible to speak about the end of the affirmative action. Nevertheless, the US government and American leaders perfectly realized the significance of the affirmative for the maintenance of democracy and equality of American citizens representing different ethnic groups. In this respect, it is worthy of mention that the US President, B. Clinton, in 1995, announced his policy “Mend it, don’t end it” in regard to the affirmative action (Holmes 85). In actuality, this policy targeted at the modification and improvement of the affirmative action in such a way that the reverse discrimination would be impossible that was the major obstacle on the way of the affirmative action to progress.

Obviously, such a shift was quite disturbing to African American community since it could minimize the positive effects of the affirmative action which gave African Americans larger opportunities, but, at the same time, this policy revealed the fact that the government is still concerned about the problem of racial discrimination.

It is worthy of mention that the similar evidences of attempts of the US authorities to find some alternative solution to the problem of affirmative action could be observed in the judicial system of the US. To put it more precisely, the Supreme Court approached the majority of cases concerning the affirmative action in “a piecemeal fashion, focusing on narrow aspects of policy rather than grappling with the whole” (Holmes 91).

In such a way, 1990s were characterized by the rehabilitation of the affirmative action compared to 1980s which were characterized by anti-affirmative action movement.

Conclusion
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the affirmative action was historically necessary policy which were widely implemented in 1960s but it provoked numerous arguments and strong opposition in the society because the deprived ethnic groups such as African Americans go new opportunities while the rights of white turned to be oppressed. As a result, the strong anti-affirmative action movement grew in power. However, the necessity of the affirmative action that guarantees equality of all people regardless their race is essential and the fact that the US continues the policy of the affirmative action, even though it is modified, proves its importance for American democracy and American society.

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