Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action Overview

  • Affirmative action is a set of policies adopted by institutions to counteract historical racial and gender disparities in areas such as education, employment and housing.
  • Introduced during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, these approaches aimed to ensure equal opportunities and reduce discrimination.
  • Affirmative action policies often involve active measures, like measures to increase representation of underrepresented groups.

Affirmative Action in Education

  • In the context of education, affirmative action can involve preferential admissions for underrepresented ethnic or racial groups in universities.
  • Institutions like Harvard University have been involved in legal disputes over such policies, arguing they aim to maintain diverse student bodies.
  • Critics argue that this approach can lead to reverse discrimination where candidates from certain backgrounds are unfairly disadvantaged.

Affirmative Action in Employment

  • Employers, particularly in the public sector, may implement affirmative action measures in their hiring or promotion processes.
  • Measures can include setting diversity goals, implementing bias-free hiring processes, or providing career development opportunities for underrepresented groups.
  • The 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act can be considered part of these endeavours, making it easier for employees to challenge unequal pay.

Evolution of Affirmative Action

  • Affirmative action policies have evolved over the years, with focus shifting from equal opportunity to diversity as a valued quality.
  • Important landmarks include the Civil Rights Act 1964 banning discrimination and the Bakke case 1978 upholding affirmative action but banning racial quotas.
  • Currently, policies see continuing controversy and legal scrutiny, with calls for more nuanced approaches to tackle systematic disadvantage.

Limitations and Criticisms

  • Critics argue affirmative action produces social stigma and can undermine the merit principle by placing group identity above individual qualifications.
  • Despite efforts, significant disparities remain – for example, in 2020, there was still a 20% median gender pay gap and disparity in university enrolment rates.
  • There are concerns about whether affirmative action sufficiently addresses socio-economic disparities, which can intersect with racial and gender lines.

Affirmative Action and US Politics

  • Affirmative action receives mixed political support, with Democrats generally more supportive than Republicans, reflecting a partisan divide.
  • The Supreme Court’s role in shaping these policies is significant, underlining the intersection of politics, law and civil rights.
  • Issues like affirmative action highlight the broader debate on the role of government in pursuing equality versus fostering individual liberty.