What is affirmative action?
            As your advisors, paid handsomely to represent the issue of Affirmative Action in the United States to you, we have gathered and analyzed the core considerations surrounding the issue. We see that there are immense difficulties in reconciling opposing moral views, and that empirical data does not reveal an obvious truth.  But there can be much gained in way of a better understanding of the issue in spite of these obstacles if we can take a holistic approach to the problem.
Affirmative action is a two-pronged effort that includes “the right of all persons to be accorded full and equal consideration on the basis of merit” (K.U Medical School) and, concurrently, a policy of actively “hiring and promoting qualified individuals in protected groups such as minorities, disabled veterans, Vietnam-era veterans and women” (U. of South Dakota). It was created to focus on education and jobs, and the policies were put in place to take active measures, under the framework of non-discrimination, to ensure that disadvantaged groups that had prevalently suffered discrimination have the same opportunities as whites. The U.S. Department of Labor describes affirmative action as the “ban[ing of] discrimination and requir[ing of] contractors and subcontractors to take… action to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity for employment, without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or status as a Vietnam era or special disabled veteran.” (Dept. of Labor 2002)
Affirmative action also includes provisions for the monitoring of its compliance by seeking to establish standards of equality using a quantitative system to measure progress towards the goal. Importantly, “the goal-setting process in affirmative action planning is used to target and measure the effectiveness of affirmative action efforts to eradicate and prevent discrimination.” (Dept. of Labor) Whenever an employer is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, the EEOC has judicial powers aimed at remedying the situation.
The logic of affirmative action dictates that where a “certain criterion of merit”, even if it is not intentionally discriminatory, works to the disproportionate exclusion of minorities, the burden is on the offending organization to defend the policy in proportion to its exclusionary effect (Lovell 1974). The focus on criteria-fixed merit in the United States disregards that all people do not have equal access to private schooling, resume counselors, SAT prep classes, etc. The EEOC may see certain hiring criteria as intentionally or unintentionally excluding protected groups under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the “Commission shall endeavor to eliminate and such alleged unlawful employment practice by informal methods of conference, conciliation or persuasion.” (Civ. Rights Act of 1964)
Why is it controversial?  What arguments are presented for/against it?
            The controversy surrounding affirmative action is directly related to public perceptions -- or misperceptions -- of the policy, coupled with its equivocal nature.  Lack of specific guidelines for the execution of the policy has led to variations in actual practice; this lack of uniformity lends itself to ideological clashes regarding the nature of affirmative action and practical ones concerning its implementation.  Points of contention and the arguments (both for and against) include the following:
            1. Detractors of affirmative action claim that the policy divides society along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality by creating groups whose membership is determined by those labels. It is empirically argued that affirmative action provokes racial tension due to raising race-consciousness. (Fish 2000)  However, the program cannot simply be eliminated because it makes people aware of racial conflicts.  A program that attempts to eliminate race and gender inequality without leading people to be conscious of their racial identity is virtually impossible to design.  Discrimination and racial and gender segregation existed even prior to the introduction of the affirmative action program, and the elimination of such program wouldn’t guarantee the end of racial hostility and discriminatory practices (Bergman 1996). Supporters argue that labels serve to place achievement in contexts of cultural strengths or obstacles and that minority status is a framework for the interpretation or determination of what constitutes achievement (Butler 1996). 
            2. Critics would argue that affirmative action is demeaning to minorities by sending them the message that they are “not capable enough to be considered on their own merits” (Strauss 1995).  Supporters argue that affirmative action is effective in increasing diversity within institutions and organizations and that its compensatory nature outweighs such imperfections (Green 1976).
            3. Detractors maintain that the policy is contradictory in that it requires the “establish[ing of] goals to reduce or overcome the under-utilization [of minorities and females]” but that “the actual selection decision is to be made on a non-discriminatory basis” (Dept. of Labor 2002).  Additionally, quotas are illegal in the United States; thus, much effort has been made to prove that affirmative action “goals” are not in fact quotas (Strauss 1995).  Proponents argue that a quantifiable and dynamic system of measuring progress is thus far the most effective method of enacting affirmative action policies (Green 1976). Additionally, a section in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, which states that none of its provisions should be interpreted as requiring “preferential treatment” for any individual, rebuts the idea that affirmative action is based on a system of quotas. (Brunner, Borgna).
            4. Opponents of affirmative action assert that in the American tradition of limited government involvement in the private sector, the burden ought to be upon minority communities themselves, in place of the federal government, to rectify cultural obstacles to achievement; they further maintain that these cultural aspects of minority communities are more profound impediments towards economic equality of the races than is socioeconomic status (Gryphon 2005).  Defenders of affirmative action argue that socioeconomic problems, and not strictly cultural problems, are responsible for impeding equality of economic opportunity and that the federal government is thus justified in taking the appropriate actions to rectify them (Green 1976).
            5. One of the most common moral arguments against affirmative action is that it violates our societal value of individualism and merit. (Skrentny 1996)  People with more liberal views tend to argue that the individual is the singular unit of society and that our society is designed to allow each individual to fulfill his own desires.  Affirmative action, they argue, eliminates this concept of individuality by placing people in different groups according to certain characteristics such as race or gender (Skrentny,1996).  Those arguing in favor of affirmative action claim that sex and race are often taken into account whether affirmative action exists or not.  And based on empirical evidence, individuals of a race or gender that is discriminated against are judged based on those characteristics before considering their merit or qualification for the job or university. (Skrentny, 1996)
 What is discrimination and what are its causes?
            Discrimination is understood as the differential treatment of individuals belonging to particular groups or categories in society.  There are three primary sources of discrimination; these include psychological, social, and historical reasons.
            Psychologically, discrimination can be a subconscious reaction to race, moral values, likes and dislikes, preferring to associate themselves with others similar to them.  For instance: a questionnaire which asked 52 black college students what their views on affirmative action were (“Would you be glad if there were more African Americans in their workplace?”) resulted in an overwhelming majority (92%) answering in the affirmative, while 8% were undecided.  No one, however, responded negatively to the question.  This serves to emphasize that people tend to prefer the company of others like them and sheds light on the reason why white males prefer to work with other white males, to the exclusion of other gender, racial and ethnic groups. (Bergman, 1996)     
            Additionally, human beings have an innate tendency to resist change.  Promotion and hiring decisions are very cautiously analyzed, given that a poor decision could result in grave consequences for the organization’s success.  Employers are inclined to making hiring and promotion decisions based on what has proved effective in the past.  Therefore, hiring a woman or a black person for what had been a predominantly white male position can be seen as a risk many employers are reluctant to take. (Bergman, 1996)       
            The social phenomenon partially responsible for discrimination is stereotyping.  People have a tendency to label and group others, and to generalize what those members are like. Stereotypes are notorious for stressing the negative qualities of a given group, usually based
on the fact that some of its members, deservingly or undeservingly, possess that quality.  It is arguably much easier to accept generalizations of groups than to explore the intricacies of their individual characters.  The result is discrimination, founded upon baseless reputations. (Bergman, 1996)
            And lastly, discrimination still exists and remains inertial due to the influence of historical factors.  Racial minorities and women have been consistently discriminated against throughout history, usually in very extreme manners.  Although discriminatory practices change as societies develop and transform, some discriminatory practices persist systematically as part of the cultural framework.
The Status of Women and Racial/ethnic Minorities
Currently, the gender gap between men and women in the workforce, if taken to represent the success or failure of current policy, has been steadily improving.  An article in the Economist attributes this shift to a transformation in the type of jobs on offer in the U.S. A decline in manufacturing work, “a traditional male preserve”, has preempted an expansion in service jobs, which are more open to female employment. (Economist 2006) Whatever the reasons, the real fact of the matter is that women are finding employment in virtually equal numbers to their male counterparts (see graph 1 attached).  And considering that “well over half of all university degrees are now being awarded to women”, there seems to be a reduced urgency for encouraging affirmative action policies in the workplace and in schools with regard to gender concerns.  (Economist 2006)

On the other hand, proportionally higher percentages of minority groups such as blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans live in poverty than their counterparts. Historical Poverty Tables from the U.S. Census Bureau show that in the past decade the percentage of whites and Asians in poverty linger around 10%, while the percentage of blacks and Hispanics living in poverty far exceeds 20% (U.S. Census Bureau 1-6). As of 2004, Texas A&M reports that the rate of unemployment for African Americans is 10.3% and 7.4% for Hispanics, whereas unemployment for whites is 4.0% (Texas A&M). In addition the high school drop out rate for whites is 7.9%, almost double at 13.6 percent for blacks, and almost three-fold for Hispanics at 27.5% (U.S Dept. of Education). There continues to be a substantial discrepancy between educational and employment achievement between whites and blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.

To understand why, we must recognize that there exists an important distinction between problems faced by women and racial/ethnic minorities. The difference lies in what family, members of these two groups are born into.  Since women are born into a wide range of economic classes, they are not burdened with the task of changing their socio-economic position in society; changing attitudes towards women has been the main concern.

On the other hand, even if society’s attitudes towards disadvantaged ethnic/racial groups change, the relationship of these groups with class is a complicating factor. As statistics show, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are more likely to be born into poorer families, and poor communities, usually comprised of people of color, suffer disproportionately. Being poor limits higher education opportunities, connections with the right people, and can even force people to live polluted, unsafe communities (Montague). It’s difficult for a person or family to change his/their economic status or position, which limits the strides and achievements that can be made by subsequent generations.

International Comparison:
            Gender and race inequality are not limited to the US.  Analyzing how other nations dealt with the problem and whether their solutions were effective or not can give us clues to what might work in the US and what probably won’t. 
            In the dilemma over choosing between competing social inequities, the cases of India and France play an interesting contrast. Both countries have what would be considered, vibrant
democracies and a free press, but tellingly, they have chosen to tackle the issues of settling gender and ethnic/racial inequality in markedly different ways.  In India, after independence in 1947, “ethnic and racial minorities quickly received guaranteed seats in all political assemblies” (Krook 2), as this was seen as the largest source for potential unrest and inequity for the nascent nation.  However, the bold move to preferentially incorporate ethnic and racial minorities into the political, educational and economic spheres of India society had led to a relative disregard for gender inequality.  The main reason has been primarily due to lingering questions about how to resolve caste and tribal quotas with reserved seats for women.  After the 1971 census revealed that only a small number of women had occupied positions of political power over the previous twenty years, however, the government began to view women’s under-representation as a problem. (Krook 9)  But both the focus and idea of affirmative action has been quite distinct in India, with ethnic and racial rights being the focus of the program and its choice for preferential policy, including the extensive use of quotas, as the means.
            In contrast, in France, gender has been recognized as an issue deserving greater representation in politics, to the exclusion of other groups, because advocates have framed gender as a characteristic that crosses all other groups making it the universal and primary source of inequity. (Krook 2) And in a sense, it could be argued that the idea of men and women, transcend any human inequalities; through its solution, there may be a gradual resolution of other outstanding concerns. This view allows for a quasi-preferential outlook towards gender inequality but not with racial and ethnic inequality.  This may have to do with the fact that women of the dominant ethnic and racial groups in France suffer from gender-based exclusion while racial and ethnic inequality only affects French minorities. The views in France reflect a general European outlook towards racial and gender inequality.  That outlook rests upon the idea that racial and ethnic inequality, if officially unrecognized, would slowly disappear.
Public Opinion:
            Polls conducted by Gallup (1385 adults nationwide; whites, blacks and Hispanics), NBC/Wall Street Journal and CNN/Gallup/USA Today (1027 adults nationwide) showed that the support for affirmative action is between 49%-54%.(Gallup 2003)  Whereas some polls show a decrease of about 3% in support in a period of 8 years, other polls show an increase of about 3% in 4yrs (all of these polls were conducted around the same time period;1995-2003). (NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll 2003)  As this information suggests, there public doesn’t overwhelmingly support or oppose affirmative action. 
            Support and opposition rates tend to vary depending on how the question was asked.   An Associated Press poll conducted in 2003 asked 1013 adults nationwide whether affirmative action was needed to help blacks and Hispanics overcome discrimination nowadays: 51% said it was needed while 43% said it wasn’t.  In the same poll, 59% said we are not too close (35%) and not close at all (24%) to ending discrimination.  Although there isn’t a clear majority that supports the affirmative action policy, there is a clear majority that believes discrimination is far from being over and that the government should do something to end it.
         An interesting fact about the distribution of support of affirmative action is how the rates vary for different groups of people.  Whereas the overall support for affirmative action is in the
49-54% rate, 70% of blacks and 63% of Hispanics favor it.  (Gallup 2003).  The same poll asked blacks, Hispanics and whites whether merit should be the only factor that determines admission into a university, or if an applicant’s racial and ethnic background should also be taken into account.  75% of whites said only merit should be considered; whereas 44% of blacks, and 59% of Hispanics said only merit should be considered. (Gallup 2003) Merit is clearly considered a major element in the admissions or hiring process, but racial and ethnic minorities place a greater emphasis on continuing affirmative action policies.
            On the issue of gender, overall, more men are opposed to affirmative action than women, with the noticeable exception being liberal men (22%) vis-à-vis liberal women (27%). (The Gallup Poll, “Gender Differences” 3) Furthermore, more men (over 54%) than women (under 47%) believe that women have equal job opportunities. ( “Gender Differences…” 5). And when blacks and whites were asked, “do you favor or oppose affirmative action programs in industry for women, provided that there are no rigid quotas?”, 68.2% of whites were in favor, while 85.9% of blacks were in favor. (Odum Inst.) We can get a sense that women and disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups, in this case blacks, have a greater awareness of gender inequality.
Alternatives to Affirmative Action: 
            Some, who favor affirmative action but worry that it might not survive the current public attack that is going on, propose alternative to the policy.  Out of this group, some suggest programs that would help people from disadvantaged backgrounds regardless of their race or sex.  For example, since blacks suffer high rates of poverty, they would be a fair candidate for the help offered by such programs, which could be economic in nature.  A drawback of this proposition is that it would be difficult to determine which individuals are truly disadvantaged.  A second drawback of this alternative is that although it would treat the symptoms of inequality, it wouldn’t tackle the source. (Bergman 1996)
            A second alternative to affirmative action is enforcing laws against discrimination.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives about 63,000 complaints of employment discrimination every year, yet it only brings about 500 cases to trial.  Although
this alternative might work to reduce discrimination if it were to work effectively, it also wouldn’t address the source. (Bergman 1996)
Policy Recommendation:  
           Though affirmative action may cause feelings of race-consciousness, convey a sense of
contradictory aims, allow for expansive governmental power, challenge our values on merit and individualism, and establishes a quota system, its continuation seems to be a practically sound path.  The reasons in favor of affirmative action are clear.  In a broad sense, historical, psychological and social discrimination exists alongside structural problems leading to unintentional exclusionary policies.  Specifically, affirmative action has been seen, positively, to help frame minority progress and achievement in context of obstacles faced by these groups, increase diversity within institutions and organizations, improve the relationship between socio-economic position and opportunity, and institute a dynamic system that is not “quota-based” as opponents would argue.
Alternatives to affirmative action can arguably reduce racial tension and provide some economic relief to disadvantaged people.  We strongly suggest staying away from these alternatives since they don’t address the source of discrimination.  
We also suggest the implementation of complementary programs to affirmative actions.  These would include testing programs, whereby carefully matched pairs of individuals of different races or genders apply to the same job.  This would serve as an indication of where unequal treatment might be taking place, proving to be useful if it were used in conjunction with affirmative action. (B.R. Bergmann).
           We are quite confident in recommending affirmative action as a wise policy; with specific concern for gender and racial/ethnic groups, we believe that the emphasis should be placed on ameliorating the situation of racial/ethnic groups over the condition of women.  The current status and near-term trends show that women are increasingly better off than they were in the past, and that a change in attitudes has catalyzed this societal transformation.  Additionally, international perspectives show us that the French model of viewing inequality through the prism of gender, as the overarching determinant of humankind, would not work in a nation such as the U.S., which is far more open to accepting the identities of minorities as important contributors of the overall diversity of the country.
           On the contrary, racial/ethnic groups face a far more challenging prospect for their futures.  The current status of blacks, Latinos and Native Americas is considerably worse than their white and Asian counterparts, economically and education-wise. There seems to be little prospect of this situation changing with out external intervention, as class is intimately linked to race and ethnicity in the U.S.  Additionally, the model of India, which shares some of the U.S focus on unity with diversity, as opposed to unity at the expense of diversity, seem to be more relevant to the U.S situation, in that affirmative action policies aimed at ethnic/racial minorities are a more pressing issue than women’s rights, especially with the current trends in women’s education and employment.
           Finally, based on the above presented evidence and public opinion, we conclude that affirmative action is both politically viable and justified by public opinion the government should actively reduce inequality.  Educating the public and providing an accurate description of the program will serve to clarify misconceptions about the policy and thus reduce the number of those who oppose it based on these wrong assumptions.
Graph 1
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