Fact: "White males are 33% of the population, but 80% of tenured professors, 90% of the U. S. senate, 97% of school superintendents, and 100% of U. S. Presidents" (Jackson 9). What happens to the rest of the American races? Where are the Blacks, Latinos and Asians? Some experts believe that, people who belong to those groups are grossly misrepresented. In 1964, racial inequality in American was being recognized as a problem that needed to be addressed on a national level. A systematic solution was urgently needed to address the racial inequality.
Affirmative action was thus born in 1964 with the ideal of creating a better society with equal chances of success for people from different backgrounds and races. Broadly defined, affirmative action refers to efforts to increase educational and employment opportunities for minorities and women. More specifically, it applies to various policies and programs designed to increase the number of minorities and women hired by government and industry and admitted into colleges and universities. As good as the ideal sounded, we have encountered many obstacles implementing the idea into reality.
For many decades, because of its impact on individuals, races, and social economic classes, affirmative action has become a source of controversy and a focus of many heated debates. In his book, Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez expressed his belief that affirmative action has devalued the achievements of people of color, and that a system that prefers one race over another is nothing more than another form of racism. For some individuals of minority the existence of affirmative action is a threat rather than an aid to their personal success.
They believe that affirmative action undermines their personal achievements. Granting certain privileges to minority groups creates the perception that their positions were given to them rather than earned and that minority people are incapable of competing with white people. Richard Rodriguez testifies to this with his personal experience. Growing up in a poor Mexican immigrant family, he has invested a tremendous amount of effort to achieve the academic level of a scholar. To him it was a scholarship boy's dreams come true (Rodriguez 164). However, his academic success was always associated with his minority status.
Mr. Rodriguez speaks his unpleasant feelings towards such an association. Mr. Rodriguez was extremely sensitive about the issue. He believes that being "labeled" as a "minority" has put him in a position that he can never compete with other people without prejudice. Meanwhile, the supporters of affirmative action believe that being racially conscious is merely acknowledging one's social identity. Understanding one's own social identity means recognizing the differences as well as the advantages and disadvantages of being an individual in a diverse society.
Affirmative action simply gives people who are socially disadvantaged a "leg up" so that they can compete equally with rest of the society. In an 800-meter race, the runner at the outermost lane gets to start ahead of the runner at the innermost lane, simply because it is a longer run to complete the race at the outer lane than the inner lane. This analogy can be applied to the racial disadvantages of minority students as well. Because of their lack of educational resource and unfavorable study environment, they have to endure many more difficulties to achieve the same academic goals of the majority.
Affirmative action is simply putting them ahead of the starting line to finish the longer run. Not all minority races are on an equal ground. Statistics show that about 12 % of Whites, 15% of Asians, and 30% of Blacks and Latinos are under the poverty line; 42% of Asian, 25% of White, and only less than 14% of Black and Latino adults finish college. The numbers clearly show that Asian Americans are way ahead of other racial minorities with respect of income and education, despite the fact that Asian Americans have the least amount of population and shortest history of immigration among the key minority races in the United States.
Some people question that, Asian Americans have made it without affirmative action so why can't everyone else? It is a recognizable fact that Asian Americans have extraordinary performance on their educational achievements; they are nowhere near being misrepresented in higher educational institutions. Thus, Asian Americans have sometime been imaged, as model minority by opponents of affirmative action to perpetuate the idea that affirmative action is unnecessary for racial-class advancement.
However, if we step back from the campus and look at the bigger picture, we cannot overlook the reality that the racial discrimination still exists in all aspects of modern society. Asian people as a minority group are no exception as victims of a much broader system. At government jobs and management level jobs in large corporations, Asian Americans are in no doubt under the confinement of the "glass ceiling. " Because Asian Americans continue to be subjected to racist stereotyping and scapegoating, there is still a need for affirmation action to break the "glass ceiling" and make it a fair game for all.
While the ideal of affirmative action is to assist the disadvantaged, and give them an aid in the race of social competition, the racially based system certainly could not accurately identify the poor and socially disadvantaged from a few elite individuals within the same racial group. Eighty five percent of African Americans are under the poverty line, while two percent of them have a yearly income over 150K. There are also a considerable number of Whites who are categorized as under-class. The priority given to race over class has inevitably exacerbated white racism.
Purely race determined preference does not justify the purpose of affirmative action on many occasions. The reverse discrimination seems to have a firm ground at some higher educational institutions, which practice affirmative action on their admission processes. Cases like those of University of Michigan have certainly heated up the smoking controversy. Jennifer Gratz, a White university applicant sued the University of Michigan for denying her application because of the school's racially conditioned admission policy.
At the University of Michigan as well as many other universities around the country, minority group students receive 20 extra points when they apply. This gives them a considerable jump to their chances of being accepted over White students with same academic level. It may sound disturbing to many people: one person may be accepted by the top university over another person just because of his/her race. In an effort to improve the current affirmative action, many scholars have proposed that we should consider social class as a determining factor instead of race. Among them,
Richard Rodriguez believes that a class based, as opposed to a racially based system may be a better solution to help the disadvantaged. By judging an individual based on his or her class instead of race, schools and other social institutions can assist those who are really are in need. As good as the idea sounds, still others believe that class oriented affirmative action is misleading. Affirmative action was designed to help racial inequality with respect to class stratification, not to resolve class inequality. The class stratification is a by-product of a capitalistic economic system.
It exists now, and will exist for as long as the capitalist society persists. Social class stratification is universal to all countries with capitalist economic systems in varies of degrees, even in "racially pure" countries like the UK, France, and Japan. When race is not a factor, the hierarchical structure of class stratification remains the same, but the people that make up the class may change over time without the barrier that concerns about their race. This forms a dynamic, stable class system. However, when race is being introduced into the matter, there are physical features to stereotype people's class allocation.
Discrimination becomes institutionalized. It prevents class movement for colored people. The systematical solution - affirmative action thus was designed to compensate for these discriminating factors that are inevitable in a diverse society such as ours. After hearing all the voices, both satisfied or disappointed, enthusiastic or pessimistic, it is evident that affirmative action is certainly an exciting and yet elusive topic. It is far from perfect, and flawed in many aspects, but the goals and ideals of affirmative action are unquestionably encouraging.
Like all grand missions over history, its goal of creating a utopia of equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds and colors is no doubt a difficult one, if not impossible. Democracy does not come overnight, and it is under constant challenge, debate, and amendment. Therefore, I believe that we should not abandon such a policy, but to embrace it, perfect it, and apply it to all areas of social institutions where discrimination is evident. While living in a diverse society, we should accept our differences, and not conserve our compassion for people in need.
We should let all people who value freedom and the idea of equal opportunity share the "American Dream. " Works Cited Bender, David. Affirmative Action. San Diego: Greenhaven Press Inc, 1996. King, Sabrina. Racism and Racial Inequality : Implications for Teacher Education. Washington, D. C. : American Association Of Colleges, 2002. Web. Rodriguez, Richard. Huger of Memory The Education of Richard Rodriguez. New York: Bantam Books, 1982. Rosenblum, Marc. Racial Inequality. Seattle, WA: Monthly Labo Review, 1986. Print.