Affirmative action is a term we often use during conversations about education and race. But if we were to travel back to the early 1900’s, we’d see that affirmative action first began in employment law. Its literal definition was to act affirmatively. That is, to involve the government in events so people would be treated fairly. It had zero to do with race and 100% to do with fairness. However, after several years of the government issuing “non-discriminatory” acts, in 1961, JFK became the first president to use the term in relation to racial equality. To back Kennedy’s mandate, Lyndon Johnson established the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs in the U.S. Department of Labor in 1966.
That’s just a short introduction to the origins of “affirmative action”. It’s just one big mandate to force people into treating other people according to their worth. But what has it done for black people specifically? Has it been a benefit or has it hurt us as a collective? Although an odd question to take in, I decided to try to dive into both sides.
Now, before we get into the specifics, it should be noted that affirmative action isn’t for Blacks specifically. Kennedy precisely said, “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Thus, it was an order of treatment, not the direct advancement of African-Americans.
A prominent argument against affirmative action is the idea of students or workers not being ready for the position they’ve been granted because of this. The basis of this argument stems from somewhere in the clouds sitting next to a sign titled Reach. Its cousin, “reverse racism”, is next in line for counterarguments. Racism is a systematic means of occupying space and power to benefit a specific target group while it leeches off of the rest. Because of the very nature of racism, there could never be a reverse of it. Now that we’ve put both of these petty arguments to rest, we’ll move on to the real tea.
Affirmative action has been one of the best things to happen for people of color post-Emancipation Proclamation. The nature of this order has opened up opportunities that should have already been established for anyone to occupy despite their background. And because it takes man awhile to learn its lesson, this order puts power into the hands of those with backgrounds that don’t match “white heterosexual Christian male.” Is the order perfect? Of course not; a man-made it. However, to deny its worth is to play yourself. Affirmative action came in as a way to level the playing field. It doesn’t place minorities over white people in America, it forces institutions to see them as equal competitors.
The Real Work:
Are there issues with their post-acceptance? Absolutely. Affirmative action helps applicants get accepted and is supposed to ensure that their time spent at the said institution is fair and just. Yet, we often see people of color being accepted to college and then abandoned upon arrival. There’s work to be done during the maintenance stages of affirmative action. This is where the real conversation should be. We have to stop begging to just be seen, but to demand to be treated as a human. Not to just be treated as white people, but to be treated like the humans we are. That means to be treated with high-esteem, respect, and love.
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