Affirmative Action: Affirming Hope, Activating Dreams

Posted February 16, 2011 By Kateri Hall

You interview for a job on the phone and they seem very pleased and excited to interview you face-to-face. When you show up that excitement is nowhere to be seen and the interview is cut short. Needless to say, you didn’t get the job. What happened, you may wonder? If you are an African American it may be that they expected a white person and were sorely disappointed when you showed up black.

That is just one very realistic occurrence in which affirmative action shows itself to be needed. According to Philip Aka, professor of political science at Chicago State University, affirmative action is a policy that “permits the use of race and other ‘minority’ factors…in decisions relating to allocations of…employment, admissions into public schools, and awarding government contracts” (Aka, 2009).

Aka describes that it developed as a way to “promote equality for blacks” (Aka, 2009). However, it evolved into something called “equality of result” in the late 1960s (Aka, 2009). President Johnson was the first to coin that term. He believed that it was necessary because, according to Aka, “legal equality alone had become inadequate to secure equality for blacks” (Aka, 2009). This meant that although blacks had the legal right to equality, other societal factors put them at a disadvantage to actually achieving it and therefore more assistance was necessary to make it a reality. Affirmative action in the workplace, as illustrated in the above example, is a necessary and positive part of the economy and society.

Affirmative Action’s Rise to Acceptance

Harvard Law Review points out that when affirmative action was first implemented in 1965; many American companies begrudgingly complied with it only after facing severe government sanctions. Presently, however, numerous businesses have their own voluntary program and, according to Harvard Law Review, believe that having such a program promotes productivity and “consumer relations” (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.658).

In addition, Professor Kathleen Sullivan has stated that, “any important purpose for affirmative action (to) be justification enough” for it to be permitted under law (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.659). With those statements in mind, it is obvious that companies clearly believe they are benefiting from affirmative action or they would not so heartily embrace it.

Employers benefit from it in several ways, according to Harvard Law Review. Even when it was still a fairly new policy some companies were already recognizing its advantages. For instance, in 1972 some employers found “that the integration of women and minorities into the work force might increase productivity” (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.661).

Presently employers have come to realize that by creating a diverse work force they in turn create diversity of ideas (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.670). Different cultures, ideas, views, and beliefs allow the business to be in tune with its different consumers, an advantage in a competitive marketplace. Harvard Law Review goes on to point out that it also promotes “strategic planning and general problem-solving” both important skills for any business to stay competitive (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.668).

The Benefits to Business

In addition, the public image of the business is often improved with diversity in its work force. For instance, black consumers may be more inclined to buy a product from a company that has some black employees than one that has all white employees (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.669).

Harvard Law Review also observes that having a diverse work force will allow businesses to “compete more effectively in an international marketplace…because there is a greater understanding of differing points of view” (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.669). Lastly studies have observed that businesses that embrace progressive policies, such as affirmative action, “outperform competitors in rates of profitability and growth” (Harvard Law Review Association, 1989, p.670).

According to the 1990 General Social Survey, white employees in a work place implementing affirmative action tend to be more supportive of it and other positive racial targeting policies (Taylor, 1995, p.1386). This may be in part due to the policy itself. Fait accompli, according to Marylee Taylor of Pennsylvania State University, means that “attitude change can occur after a legal order in policy shift is announced, but before it is enacted” (Taylor, 1995, p.1387). What that means is that even if some whites were originally opposed to the policy actually experiencing it helped them to accept and even embrace the idea.

According to the survey, a workplace with the policy “weakly but nearly significantly predicts a decrease in traditional prejudice,” again, supporting the idea of fait accompli (Taylor, 1995, p.1397.). By forcing the integration of whites and blacks in the work place many are in turn forced to overcome their prejudices when they otherwise may not have. In addition, the data indicates that affirmative action may increase support for equality, decrease racial stereotyping, and make whites more open to interracial contact (Taylor, 1995, p.1397).

Also the data supports the idea that the policy also causes whites to be both more sympathetic and empathetic to blacks’ fight for equality. It shows that whites who work in an affirmative action work place believe that blacks still must fight for equality, that some of their struggles are not their own fault, that they don’t have enough societal influence, and that they are at a severe disadvantage because of societal factors (Taylor, 1995, p.1401).

Conclusion

Affirmative action plays a crucial and currently irreplaceable role in this nation’s work force. It serves to “level the playing field” for blacks, giving them deserved opportunities they might otherwise not have. It provides numerous benefits to businesses such as increases in production and a greater variety of ideas. Equally important, it improves race relations by integrating whites and blacks and allowing both to observe the other, thereby dispelling racial stereotypes. Overall, it has become such an important part of society and the economy that if it were abruptly stopped both areas would suffer.

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