America is a country with a more diverse population than any other. But America also has a long, painful past of discrimination that has been based on sex, race, color, disability, religion, sexual orientation and various other characteristics that stray from the average white American citizen. Through the years, government has played a major role in trying to correct the past wrongs due to discrimination by enacting legislation and adding amendments to the Constitution.
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The primary purpose of these measures is to enforce non-discriminating employment practices and to encourage, and sometimes force, companies to increase their representation of women and minority group members in the workplace. This move toward equal opportunity has come about through numerous measures enacted throughout our history. A few of those policies, such as Affirmative Action, contain very controversial issues that many employers hope to see changed, or done away wi! th all together.
For the present time, however, the trend continues in most every state and is enforced by law. The effects of diversity on our nation can be traced back to the civil war period. This period of upheaval is a perfect example of the struggle many Americans went through to free black slaves. The blacks were made slaves in the states for a number of reasons. The blacks were a representation of difference, therefore the whites viewed them as being unequal. We also seem to fear that which is different, so we try to keep them down.
The blacks represented such a small percentage of the population that it was easy for the white slave owners to control them. The diversity issue among the blacks and whites created a civil war within our nation that pitted friends and family against one another, and our whole nation was in turmoil. Many lives were lost fighting for the freedom of the slaves. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and declared all slaves free by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation (the thirteenth amendment to our constitution). Sandburg, 17)
An excerpt from the proclamation follows: . . . That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free; . . . (Sandburg, 17) Soon after the issuance of the amendment, various states enacted black codes that limited the newly enacted civil rights of the freed slaves.
In 1868, the fourteenth amendment was passed to counter the black codes to ensure that no state could make, or enforce, a law which served to take civil rights away from any person (FindLaw). But discrimination wasnt only geared towards blacks. Any person who was not your average able, white male was discriminated against. Females, the disabled, the aged, and all other groups not fitting the norm were the targets both in and out of the workplace. The reasons for the discrimination ranged from their color, weight, religion, ethnic background, sex, culture, etc.
A memorable incident that is seared in the minds of many Americans took place on December 1, 1955. Rosa Parks, a nineteen-year-old black women, took a seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus lines on her way home from work. The bus lines were segregated, therefore the blacks had to sit in the back behind the section labeled for whites only. When Rosa was told to give up her seat for a white man, and move further to the back, she refused. She was not only tired from working all day, but tired of the way she was treated.
Before the incident was over Rosa Parks was arrested. The public was outraged and precipitated the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. City buses would no longer be ridden by black Americans, which constituted 70 percent of the riders. The boycott continued for 381 days, until December 20, 1956, when the U. S. Supreme Court upheld a lower courts decision declaring Montgomerys segregated seating unconstitutional. This incident seemed to be the spark t! hat ignited the U. S. civil rights movement.
This was also the time in which Martin Luther King, Jr. , a pastor, first came to National prominence. He was a powerful speaker, and later, catapulted to the forefront in an effort to gain civil rights for Black Americans. Another landmark case to end segregation came with Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This case argued that the policy established by the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling was unconstitutional. All nine judges agreed, and ordered the immediate desegregation of public schools.
In protection of the nine black students trying to gain admission to the Little Rock High School, President Eisenhower had to federalize the Arkansas National Guard and send one thousand paratroopers, from the 101st Airborne platoon. Many schools simply chose to close their doors rather than integrate. The changes were slow in coming. (The Hall of Public Service, 2). One of the prominent changes that occurred was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was a huge step towards greater civil rights legislation and a major step toward equality for all.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was developed to deter the actions of individuals who were in violation of the civil rights of other Americans. Congress was able to pass this act due to their power to regulate interstate commerce. The original act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in public establishments connected to interstate commerce or supported by the state. These public establishments were defined as places of public accommodation (hotels, motels, trailer parks, etc. ), restaurants, gas stations, bars, taverns and places of entertainment.
This act was also detrimental in aiding desegregation due to its inclusion of a strong legislative policy that dealt with discrimination in colleges and public schools. Still yet, another victory was awarded un! der Title VI of the civil rights act, which prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs (Civil Rights Act of 1964). The keystone federal legislation regarding equal employment opportunity came with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act eventually led to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Title VII was crucial in the battle to enlist nondiscriminatory practices in organizations. It prevented employers, labor unions, employment agencies and other labor and employment related organizations, that were engaged in interstate commerce, from discriminating against a person based on their color, race, religion, sex or national origin in employment and training practices. It became the job of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to administer the act and play watchdog on those organizations covered by the act, to ensure they dont engage in any unlawful employment practices.
This was still not enough to gain rights for certain individuals. (Civil Right Act of 1964). In 1961, President Kennedy issued an executive order requiring businesses, with U. S. government contracts, to treat employees without regard to race, ethnic origin, religion, or sex. Kennedy was the first to relate to this procedure as Affirmative Action (Campbell, 135). This course of action has grown into a profound and widespread practice through bureaucratic action, court order, and the acceptance of business and government alike (Krauthammer, 94).
The Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, included a broader array of organizations subject to Title VII. The organizations currently covered under Title VII are: all private employers of 15 or more people employed 20 or more weeks out of the year, all public and private educational institutions, state and local governments, public and private employment agencies, labor unions with 15 or more members, or that operate a hiring hall or office, and joint labor-management committees for apprenticeships and training (Equal Opportunity Act of 1972).
This act was also detrimental in helping another minority group obtain greater rights, that of females. In 1972, congress proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (written in 1921 by suffragist Alice Paul) to provide an express constitutional provision prohibiting the denial of equality of rights on account of sex. For women, whom have struggled for equality for years, this was to be a great milestone. Unfortunately, this amendment was not adopted due to the lack of support.
Ratification of an amendment requires three fourths of the state legislatures support (38 states) within the original or an extended ratification period, but only 35 states ratified the amendment (N. O. W. ). Affirmative action has barely had time to affect a single generation, but its effects have been widespread and have had a major impact on America. Affirmative action refers to the encouragement of increased representation of women and minority group-members, especially in the employment setting. The way in which representation is achieved is open to the discretion of each organization.
Over the last couple of decades, affirmative action plans have involved preferential treatment towards women and especially minority groups. This preferential treatment has been dubbed Reverse Discrimination by many that believe that the majority groups are being adversely affected by these practices. This issue was first recognized as a reality soon after the ruling in a landmark Supreme Court case dealing with affirmative action plans. In 1968, due to a lack of minority representation, the University of California at Davis developed a special admissions program in an effort to incre! ase minority representation.
In 1971, sixteen of the one hundred freshman positions were set aside to be filled by disadvantaged applicants (minorities) chosen by a separate admissions committee. In 1973-1974, Alan Bakke, a Caucasian male, was denied admission to the university. Bakke contended that the special program had admitted minority students with lower grade averages and test scores than himself, so he filed a lawsuit. Bakke said he had been discriminated against because of his race and argued that the schools special admissions committee system violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With this case reverse discrimination was born.
This type of discrimination happens when one group (minority or female) is alleged preferential treatment over another group, rather than equal opportunity. On June 28, 1978, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5 to 4 decision, that Bakke should be allowed to attend the medical school, and further, found the schools special admissions system to be illegal. On the reverse side of the issue, in another 5-4 decision, the court ruled that some forms of race-conscious admissions programs are constitutional, and that race or ethnic background may be considered a plus in an applicants file.
This ruling doesnt protect the individual from being compared with other candidates, but it should provide for equal opportunity and for certain considerations to be made. This somewhat hazy decision opened the doors for future court hearings on the legitimacy of reverse discrimination (Byars and Rue, 40). This ruling did not ban affirmative action programs, therefore, this so called preferential treatment continues today and is still the subject of much heated debate. Many people believe that affirmative action has served its purpose of avenging past discrimination.
In its 30 years of existence, it wasnt until recently that affirmative action has been put to the democratic test. Due to the vagueness of past court decisions dealing with affirmative action (some which seem conflicting), these practices have evolved and sparked even more controversy. An example of these conflicting and unclear decisions is the comparison of Regents of the University of California V. Bakke and the recent ruling by the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Hopwood V. Texas.
Be reminded that Regents of the University of California V. Bakke is the landmark case, which set affirmative action on its winding path in 1978. In March of 1996, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared an affirmative action program adopted by the University of Texas Law School to be illegal. The program lowered the required grade point averages for blacks and Mexican American applicants relative to other groups and lowered the minimum standards for Law School Admissions Tests for these groups as well.
The appellate court directed university officials to develop a color-blind admissions program immediately while Judge Jerry Smith, speaking for the Fifth Circuit, declared that: The use of race to achieve a diverse student body can not be a state interest compelling enough to meet the steep standard of strict scrutiny. Within the general principles of the Fourteenth Amendment, the use of race in admissions for diversity in higher education contradicts, rather than furthers, the aims of equal protection. Diversity fosters, rather than minimizes, the use of race.
It treats minorities as a group, but, just as likely, may promote improper racial stereotypes, thus fueling racial hostility. (Bresler, 7) Smith went on to state that a university could consider: a host of factors – some of which may have some correlation with race – in making admissions decisionsKdiversity can take many forms, to foster such diversity, state universities and law schools and other governmental entities must scrutinize applicants individually, rather than resorting to the dangerous proxy of race.
Bresler, 7) The Hopwood case is being appealed to the Supreme Court, and whether or not Judge Smiths opinion is upheld, will have a dramatic impact on the future of affirmative action and this country as a whole (Bresler, 7). This ruling by the Fifth Circuit sends confusing signals to Americans. What has been law and considered the right thing to do for 30 years is now being portrayed as a somewhat harmful and racist technique. Another important court decision that took place prior to Hopwood is Adarand Constructors Inc. V. Pena in 1995.
This decision backs up the Hopwood ruling in that it questioned the legality of properly designed affirmative action programs and called for strict scrutiny to be applied to federal affirmative action programs (Hair, 12). To better understand affirmative action, it is necessary to look at the effects that affirmative action legislation has had on America. The average annual earnings of a full-time male worker in 1975 (based on 1993 dollars) as compared to the earnings of that same individual in 1993 are as follows: Males 1975 1993 % change White $34,000 $31,000 (8. 8%) Black $25,000 $23,500 (6. ) Hispanic $24,000 $20,000 (16. 7%) The average annual earnings of full-time, female workers for the same ethnic groups were, in general, below those of the males.
White womens earnings climbed steadily between 1975 and 1990, but began to plateau in 1993, while the same trend affected the earnings of Blacks and Hispanics, but to a slightly different degree. The earnings of Black and Hispanic women did not increase nearly as sharply as the earnings of White women, but they experienced approximately the same decrease. For both male and female workers, Hispanics have experienced the lowest earnings of all (Campbell, 140).