I did not hear about the Affirmative action until one day while I was at work at the nursing home, and one of my co-workers by the name of Terri said to me 'you just made it in, you're the last one for the quota." I looked at her and asked "What quota?" Then she said in an almost hushed tone, "you know Affirmative Action, they have to have so many of us Blacks to be able to say that they are not discriminating against us Black folks". I was stunned, wanting to ask her more question, I couldn't, because right at that moment the Supervisor came around the corner, and we had to drop the subject and get back to work. I begin to look about at the other co-workers and realized that there were only three Black women working at the nursing home on the night shift and one working during the day shift. I must say that as I was going home that night from work, there was one thing, and one thing only that were on my mind, "I had filled sum kind of quota, but what exactly did that mean?" Affirmative Action is a word that seems to be a stigma on America's history just as much as The Jim Crow Laws were. Growing up in the late 60's, in the African American community one would hear things like "they won't give me a job because I'm a Black man". This was said so much until you almost could mimic what they were going to say, when they got to a particular part of their sentences, because it always was the same. The phrase was said so much, until it was engrained in my mind like my favorite Christmas song "Jingle Bells", was when I was a kid. The question I always wondered in my mind was what did you being a Black man had to do with you getting a job? I did not understand it because my dad was a Black man and he worked two jobs. So you see I had a real problem with what I seen and what I heard. A lot of the Black men in the community would sit around and play dominos, or a card game called Bid Whiz, while drinking Hams beer, smoking their cigarettes and cigars, and it would take just one person, (usually the drunkest man) to say the word "Man" and then you hear the spill about how they cannot get job because they are Black, not just Black, but Black men.
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According to MSN Encarta dictionary (2009) Affirmative Action was a program that was set into place to stop the discrimination that was done to the minorities and women, in employment, and, in the education arenas to (MSN Encarta dictionary 2009). Like all laws that are signed into existence, they are always with good intention. To better the country, or so the law makers hope they will make the country better. And the same was for Affirmative Action (AA). However there are times when you are traveling the road of good intentions you hit a speed bump called "the bad" and then sometimes you come to a cross road that is called "the ugly". And that is what happened to Affirmative Action. It was a good idea, but I don't believe any of the Presidents who followed President Roosevelt's lead had any idea that it would or could go so far from what the original intention were from the beginning; which was to make sure that the workforce had a level playing ground. I don't believe the Presidents nor do I believe the law makers were ready to deal with all the extra baggage that came along with doing the right thing, or should I say trying to be just and fair. For there are times when being just and fair-in and of its' self is just not good enough. According to an article by Carolyn Teasley entitled "The history of affirmative action laws in the US (2002-2010).
"President Roosevelt signed the first Executive Order 8802 in 1941 that made it a requirement for all Federal contracts to contain a clause banning employment discrimination because of race, color, creed or national origin This Executive Order was strengthened by succeeding executive orders signed by the next four presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. Banning alone proved not to be enough to ending discrimination based on race, color, creed or national originâ€¦ The term "Affirmative Action" was first introduced in Executive Order 10925 signed by President Kennedy on March 6, 1961. This executive order also established the President's Committee of Equal Employment Opportunity, EEOC". (Teasley 2002-2010).
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Exactly what was the good, bad and the ugly about Affirmative Action? For we know that for every good intention that there "can" be a bad reaction, however that is not all ways necessarily true. So what went wrong with this wonderful, thoughtful jester from our Government? Taking a closer look into the past of Affirmative Action we can see how it was necessary to try and give some kind of level playing ground to the minority races as well as the women, who were also grouped into this minority arena. The Intercultural development Research Association (IDRA) (1996) states that while Affirmative Action was undoubtedly linked to discrimination in the United States. It was recognized, like the civil rights laws that preceded it, to right biased practices and racial injustices that accepted minorities and women to be left out, from equal opportunities in employment and education (IDRA 1996). The IDRA (1996) said "Understanding that Affirmative Action was to make sure that the person whose application to be employed would be treated fairly during the employment process without regard to race, creed, color or national origin" (IDRA 1996). This indeed was the case in the beginning or at least that was what it appeared to be. The playing ground of employment for minority and women seemed to have been somewhat on an equal footing. In the past where you did not see African American men, working for White owned businesses, you now we're seeing a few minorities working here, or there. You would hear things in the African American community like, "I just went in and filled out the application and I got the job!" or you hear things like "They just asked me a couple of questions and ask when I could start work!" I can remember most of the jobs that the men in the community were hired for, were warehouse position, and a good amount of the families had someone from their families working in the canneries. It seemed that they were always placed somewhere in the back of the business so the Caucasians people who would come into the business would not be offended. It was a little harder for the women in our community to get a job that was normally held by men, especially White men. Although in time, we began to see some small changes. It was difficult seeing the African American women day in and day out having to work as a housekeepers or having to work as someone's nanny. I can remember when a childhood friend by the name of Crystal, moved to Portland Oregon in the late 70's. Crystal was hired under the Affirmative Action program 34 years ago when it was at its all time high; I asked Crystal how did Affirmative Action work for her, and did she have any problems with working under the Affirmative Action program? And she said it "worked fine for her", then she paused and added this; the problem with some jobs that the government has to offer under this program is for tax breaks and because it offers the companies these kinds of incentives it can often change demographics. Affirmative Action gave some people a chance to get some of the higher paying jobs. And when the minority numbers were low it open up opportunities that might not be available. Crystal is still working with the company that hired her all those years ago; she works in a warehouse as a forklift driver and is currently shift supervisor. Crystal is now living in Vancouver Washington. According to US Legal (2001-2010) Affirmative action worked like this:
"Affirmative action affects small businesses in two main ways. First, it prevents businesses with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and physical capability in practices relating to hiring, compensating, promoting, training, and firing employees. Second, it allows the state and federal governments to favor women-owned and minority-owned businesses when awarding contracts, and to reject bids from businesses that do not make good faith efforts to include minority-owned businesses among their subcontractors" (US Legal 2001-2010),
Sounds good, right? Well, let us take a closer look and peel back some of the ink to see if the paper is as good as the ink that is on it. For years while growing up in California I heard " I can't get a job because of the color of my skin." Now let us forward to the 70's and early 80'sâ€¦ Affirmative action is moving along great. More women are being hired in more traditional jobs that men use to have. Women are going to colleges and working outside of the home as well as being a mother and wife. Minorities are getting hired, more and more and are working in more traditional jobs that were being held by Caucasians men. African Americans are going to colleges and pursing medical degrees. From standing on the outside of Affirmative Action it appeared to have finally had done what no other discrimination order had doneâ€¦ it seemed to have stopped discrimination. But then I began to hear things likeâ€¦ "They called me a nigger in the break room, come asking me how did a nigger like me get this job?" or "My son don't have no job because they gave it to that nigger"â€¦ the looks, and the whispers were terrible. I can remember one day when I had gotten off of work. I was really scared and began looking over my shoulders because I had received a threat. Because I was being considered for a management position, I didn't have the position yet. I was just being considered for it. There were three White men standing outside after work and one of them said, "Can you believe it? They are gonna take another job and give it to another nigger. Well it won't be over mine dead body but hers." Needless to say, I quite the job the next day. so now where we had been discriminated we are now starting to hear about people being threatened, because of the hiring practices that had been put in to place by the US Government. We now are beginning to hear terms like reverse discrimination. And where it was the chant of the African American men to say "I can't get a job because I'm a black man" Now the Caucasian men are now chanting the same thing. I can't get a job because I'm a White man". The Caucasian males had it really hard, because, they had to worry about the women as well as minority taking their jobs. Yes it got pretty ugly. One learned to tread lightly and not gloat when you had a job and the next person didn't. At least that how it was for me. I felt sorry for everyone who was now in the place of a minority. Race or gender. But things were about to change. Or did it? Infoplease.com (2009) had this to say, In a Landmark Supreme Court Case Regents of the University of California v. Bakkeâ€¦ "Allan Bakke, a white applicant, was rejected two times from being admitted to the university. Even though the test scores of some of the minority students were much lower then his. Bakke felt that they were judging him on the basis of his race and was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment". - (Infoplease.com 2009). And also, According to Affirmative Action Timeline - Infoplease.com (2009)
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"The Supreme Court ruled that while race was a legitimate factor in school admissions, the use of such inflexible quotas as the medical school had set aside was not. The Supreme Court, however, was split 5-4 in its decision on the Bakke case and addressed only a minimal number of the many complex issues that had sprung up about affirmative action" (Infoplease.com 2009).
There were other cases that went before the Supreme Court in 1980 such as Fullilove V. Klutznick in which according Inforplease.com (2009) "shows that while Bakke stuck down strict quotas, the court upheld a federal law requiring that 15% of funds for public works be set aside for qualified minority contractors." Also according to the same source on June 28, 2006, "The Supreme Court rules against considering race to integrate schools in Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson. Affirmative action suffers somewhat of a loss. That programs in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., which tired to maintain diversity in schools by considering race when assigning students to schools are unconstitutional. The ruling was 5-4." (Inforplease.com 2009)
I was talking to an ex-police offer in who lives in California by the name of Sidney he was telling me about how it was for him when he was in Viet Nam. So I asked him about how was Affirmative Action was for him. Sidney said the "in the late sixties due to many complaints, and incidents in Europe the Republic of Viet Name, our government investigated racial discrimination in the military. I was one of the servicemen that were interviewed by the investigating committee in Europe. We (minorities) had a saying: "if you leave with the rank you came withâ€¦consider yourself promoted." Even in the military discrimination held good solders back, not because they lacked the ability or skills, but purely because of the color of their skins. Based on the committees' findings the armed Services started the Racial relations Equal Opportunity Program. Affirmative Action was and (sadly enough) is a mean to address disparities in the work force that existed then and now. It may not be perfect but it is a remedy for some . Without it, be sure the days of the "Good old Boy system is just around the corner."
I think Sidney summed it up all too well, if we are not careful we will be right back in time when the Jim Crow Laws were in effect.
Affirmative action has many faces to it, and there are many ways of interpreting the program. What was set into place to help the minorities' and women has somehow turned into a program where one is ashamed to let it be known if the Affirmative Action helped get them the job or helped them get into school. Was a good and novel thing for the government to do. However I don't believe they thought it would cause such havoc when it came down to helping people be able to live the American dream of all men being equal. Hall, Finkelman,and Ely Jr (2005) "for the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities-physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness" (p.503). It's sad to think that we have come so far but yet we are really just treading water. That any real progress. It's like we are on a merry-go-round. Dizzy from going around in circles. Every time it slows down and you think you are about to get off someone comes along and pushes it around again, and again. And it's not until someone that is older, wiser, and has the knowledge to say that's enough stop the ride comes along can you get off and go your merry ole way. Affirmative Action is that merry-go-roundâ€¦ the ride is great at the beginning but then you realize that it can make you dizzy and you want to get off. Discrimination is wrong on every possible level. It affects all of our lives weather directly or indirectly we all are touched by it in some kind of way. In closing when I learned that I was a quota in the work place. I left for home that night upset. For I thought I had gotten the job because I was qualified for the position. not because the position was open and they needed to put a minority into place, for you see I filled two quotas for that place of employment. (a woman and an minority). Affirmative Action may have leveled the playing ground somewhat for others. But for me I always felt like I had to do more, learn more, be qualified to do more, for if and when I was challenged by my co-workers, I was able to say that I had this training or certificate. When I had my children, one of the things that was not allowed to come out of their mouths was "I can't get a job because I am a Black man" â€¦ I engrained in their headâ€¦ that while the color of your skin will be what they will see first, the second thing they will see is your personality, had hear your educated voice, and, your charm, and your determination to be all that you can be here in these United States of America. I think Affirmative Action, has it's good points as well as any government program. But I also believe that the law will continue to pick away at it until, it will be totally done away with. But it is my hope that other laws will be signed in to place to protect the minorities and women who have already made great strides because of this Affirmative Action program. For truly Affirmative Action will be remembered for the Good it has done, the Bad taste it left in the people mouth who had to allow minorities and women to work and be educated . And the Ugly (ness), of (reversed)-discrimination.