Analyzing Affirmative Action

By Shreyvardhan Sharma

Affirmative Action: Where Did It Begin?

As Harvard continues to stand up for its race-conscious admissions policies against a lawsuit widely expected to reach the Supreme Court, it is instructive to examine how affirmative action became one of the most contentious social and political issues in higher education. This column is dedicated to examining the shifting narratives surrounding affirmative action: the changing arguments in favor of it, the arguments against it, and where it fits into the American cultural and racial landscape today.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represented a watershed moment in the long and arduous struggle for racial equality in the United States. The Voting Rights Act secured Black Americans the right to vote, enforcing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Civil Rights Act — specifically Title VII, which prohibited employment discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national religion — secured for them the right to take up jobs without fear of discrimination. Having achieved, at least on paper, a notion of racial equality, the focus of the civil rights movement turned to securing economic equality for African Americans: equality not just of status, but of opportunity. At the core of that continuing struggle stands affirmative action.

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