Affirmative Action policies are defined as policies that favor “those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education,” or, as it is commonly referred to, “positive discrimination.” The idea of these programs are to give traditionally disadvantaged groups, such as minorities and women, the same opportunities as everybody else.
This idea originated in the 1960s through the Civil Rights Movement. President John F. Kennedy was the first president to use the phrase, stating it in an Executive Order that required government contractors to "affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." That Executive Order also founded what is now known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces civil rights laws in the workplace.
Of course, that was not a magic solution to the problem. The unemployment rate today for Black and Hispanic Americans is still higher than that of white Americans. White women still make 76 cents an hour for every dollar a man makes, and women of color make even less. Thousands upon thousands of complaints are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each year because of workplace discrimination. However, this is not to say that Affirmative Action programs haven’t been working. The amount of women and minorities in the workforce has certainly increased since the mid to late twentieth century, according to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Affirmative Action programs are seen in college admissions processes as well. Allowing Affirmative Action policies to be used in the admissions process levels the playing field and gives all applicants an equal chance, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, or access to resources. Colleges and universities in America are disproportionately white as compared to the general population. According to the Washington Post, even though Black and Hispanic youth make up around one third of the college age population in the United States, they only account for around fifteen percent of the students in selective four year colleges. These statistics are with Affirmative Action-style policies in place for the majority of the country, with the exception of schools in Texas, Florida, and California (who have other, similar programs in place). Imagine what those statistics would be like if there were no Affirmative Action programs in place?
Affirmative Action is necessary to ensure that the racial and socioeconomic biases that plague our country don’t limit anybody from achieving their full potential. These policies are aiming to compensate for years of discrimination and disenfranchisement, both of which still happen today. Affirmative Action isn’t aiming to give underrepresented groups more of a chance than white people. It’s aiming to give everybody an equal chance, regardless of all other factors except merit. Ideally we would live in a world where we didn’t need Affirmative Action programs, a world where people wouldn’t be judged based on their race or gender or socioeconomic status when applying for jobs or to colleges, but we don’t. We live in a world where, sadly, those things do matter to a lot of people. We need Affirmative Action to give everybody the chance that they deserve. And while many may say it is “reverse discrimination” or that it goes too far, I respectfully disagree: Affirmative Action doesn’t go far enough.