Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. The Republican Congress has added affirmative action to the list of social programs that it wishes to expunge from American society. And bowing to Republican pressure, President Clinton agreed last week to review all affirmative action programs and potentially cut those that "do not work." While affirmative action in the private sector is not the government's domain, Congress and the Administration can cut government programs in agriculture, banking, defense procurement, education, public housing and many other areas.
We feel that our reasons for supporting affirmative action are just as relevant today as they were more than 30 years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement. Racial minorities and women have not achieved standing in government, industry, business and academia in proportion to their shares of the population.
To those who say that only a market system can be fair to all parties, we say look again. Market systems punish the weak, those who do not have the tools to compete. And how can minorities compete when other sectors of the market conspire against them? The situation must be forcibly reversed.
We believe that two entities have continued to keep minorities out of top jobs and positions: Prejudice and a lack of educational equality. Prejudice, both subtle and open, continues to pervade work-places, boardrooms, statehouses and even classrooms. And, though certain instances of anti-white prejudice have recently attracted the attention of the national media, the over-whelming number of federal civil rights complaints concern discrimination against minorities.
One could easily argue that Prejudice will never disappear as long as people look and act differently. But discrimination still preys upon Blacks, Hispanics Native Americans and women disproportionately--affirmative action can still help this situation.
Affirmative action has had some effects on job markets, promotions and college admissions over its tenure, but it hasn't come close to bringing about the ideal minority representation. Some point to this problem as the failure of a botched social program.
But discrimination and prejudice have been instituted in American society for hundreds of years. And we know that tenured professors often stay on staff for more than 30 years, and so do business executives, law partners, surgeons, etc. To truly change the climate of the American work-place--so that minority job applicants are no longer greeted by seas of white interviewers--affirmative action must have more time.
Turning around the other part of the problem--the lack of educational equality--could also be part of the solution to the problem. Minorities, especially poor minorities, are concentrated in urban areas where public schooling lags behind national standards. It's no surprise; heavily white suburban areas spend up to twice as much money per student per year.
As a result, college admissions officers have accepted marginally lower standardized tests scores from minority students. This positive effort has given some minorities some respite from longstanding evaluation systems engineered and perfected by a primarily white establishment.
And minority students have succeeded, using the springboard of education to charge into the job market. Affirmative action in the job market will level the playing field for these new career-seekers until enough of them have succeeded to render it obsolete.
We have not finished with education. In order to prepare the youth of America for a fair, stable and racially equitable society, education must conquer the discrimination that has hitherto been passed from generation to generation. Prejudice begins in the home--hopefully, we can battle it at school.
Affirmative action is a means to an end. It tries to balance fairness and the need to create change quickly. Certainly, it steps on some toes in the process. But the more vigilantly we propound the tenets of affirmative action, the sooner affirmative action will cease to be necessary.