Monday, May 12, 2014

Affirmative Action Is Good

I was an Affirmative Action Baby. I was the beneficiary of a program designed to redress the effects of past discrimination. So were Jackie Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Constance Baker Motley, Spottswood Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, Eric Holder, and President Barack Obama; and so are many Americans of African descent who were pioneers in their fields. Many of Americas "Black Firsts" were allowed to become "Firsts" because of Affirmative Action. By any other name, it would be the same. Some may call it a blessing from God; others may refer to it as a lucky break. Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet. Chance favors the prepared mind. However, ability without opportunity is wasted. It is futile and unproductive to have a talent and never get the opportunity to use it for the benefit of humanity. When many others are as qualified for a coveted position and a Black or other minority group person is chosen for the position, there is a strong possibility that Affirmative Action played a part in the selection. That is nothing to be ashamed of. Some may take umbrage or offense at my use of the term because it has become so politically charged and may not be politically correct; however, Affirmative Action works.
What is Affirmative Action? It is not a program of racial preference. It is a program designed to provide social justice for minority group members and the underprivileged of America. As a Federal Policy, Affirmative Action was born on March 6, 1961 when President Kennedy promulgated Executive Order 10925 requiring racial fairness in employment funded by the Federal Government. The Executive Order prohibited discrimination in federal employment based on race, creed, color, or national origin because it is contrary to the Constitutional principles and policies of the United States.
Affirmative action refers to concrete steps that are taken not only to eliminate discrimination-whether in employment, education, or contracting-but also to attempt to redress the effects of past discrimination. The underlying motive for affirmative action is the Constitutional principle of equal opportunity, which holds that all persons have the right to equal access to self-development. In other words, persons with equal abilities should have equal opportunities. It is the process of a business or governmental agency which gives special rights of hiring or advancement to ethnic minorities to make up for past discrimination against that minority.
Affirmative Action has been the subject of debate, with opponents claiming that it produces reverse discrimination against Caucasians. Affirmative action programs are governed by a number of overlapping laws. A common principle is that whether for admissions or employment, affirmative action programs such as targeted recruitment and goals are encouraged to remedy past effects of discrimination; quotas are disfavored.

President Kennedy's New Frontier was to push the envelop in areas of our national life that had not been reached during the terms of President Harry S. Truman or President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A Presidential Executive Order 9981 issued by President Truman had desegregated the armed forces on July 26, 1948, but the nation's military service academies were lagging far behind in officer recruiting. President Kennedy challenged the U. S. Coast Guard Academy to tender appointments to Black high school students.
The words "Black cadet" or "African American cadet" had not yet entered the Coast Guard's lexicon until President John F. Kennedy issued the directive to find and recruit Black high school students. London Steverson and Kenneth Boyd were the first Black students to be offered an appointment in response to the increased emphasis on minority cadet recruiting. They were sworn in on June 10, 1964 in front of Hamilton Hall at the Coast Guard Academy. They were the only Black cadets in the Academy Class of 1968.
The Academy would later learn that there was another African American cadet at the Academy. He had not been recruited as a "Black cadet"; nor, was he recognized as one by the Coast Guard Academy Admission's Office. He was Merle James Smith in the Class of 1966. He was not recognized as an African American because he did not physically resemble one. None of his school records labeled him as Black, and he had not been recruited as a minority candidate. His appointment had been tendered before President Kennedy issued the directive to find and appoint Black candidates for the Coast Guard Academy. His father, Colonel Merle Smith , Senior, was the Professor of Military Science at Morgan State College in Baltimore, Maryland; and, he had formerly been an Army Staff officer at the Pentagon.
The only two Black cadets to have been recruited under the Kennedy Directive were London Steverson and Kenneth Boyd.
The exclusion of African Americans from the Coast Guard Academy is a tragic fact of American history. From 1876 until 1962 the Academy had not admitted any African-American cadets. One was admitted in 1962 and graduated in 1966. He was Merle J. Smith, Junior. Two entered in 1964 and graduated in 1968 They were London Steverson and Kenneth Boyd.

Attrition rates for entering cadets were high, and the Class of 1968 was no exception. Of the 400 cadets entering in July 1964 as the Class of 1968, only 152 graduated. Both Steverson and Boyd, the two Black Kennedy cadets in that class, completed the four years of indoctrination and graduated.
Because the orders to recruit the first Black cadets came down the Chain-Of-Command from President John F. Kennedy, the Commander-in-Chief, the first Black cadets were treated like sacred cows. There was zero attrition of Black cadets between 1962 and 1972. Every Black cadet who entered graduated. There was one Black cadet in the Class of 1970. He was Willie Pickrum, from Maryland. He went on to distinguish himself as a Coast Guard aviator.
Affirmative action policies vary. The following is an example of a university's Affirmative Action policy: "... is committed to ensuring that all educational programs and personnel actions including application, hiring, promotion, compensation, benefits, transfer, layoffs, training, tuition assistance, and social and recreational programs are administered without regard to race, color, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), sexual orientation, religion, national or ethnic origin, age (except where age is a bona fide occupational qualification), disability, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam Era. The University's policy is applicable to faculty and other employees, applicants for faculty positions and other employment, and applicants to educational programs and activities. This policy is fundamental to the effective functioning of the University as an institution of teaching, scholarship, and public service.
Simple absence of discrimination is not sufficient. Our task is to work to eliminate all patterns of unequal treatment. The University's policies are dedicated to the full realization of equal opportunity for all through affirmative action predicated on the following tenets: (1) serious and imaginative recruitment methods; (2) ongoing administrative reviews of hiring practices; (3) frequent affirmative action analyses of faculty, staff, and student units to determine "challenge areas"; (4) direct and firm responses to units identified as having undesirable affirmative action practices; and (5) professional development training."

In 1997, however, California's Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in that state. In 2003 a group of affirmative action opponents began a campaign to challenge its use in Michigan. Ward Connerly, a California businessman and national leader in the campaign to end affirmative action, pushed for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which would bar the use of race and gender in government hiring, contracting, and university admissions. The legal battles over affirmative action and how it may and may not be used continue. On a state-by-state basis, challenges to affirmative action programs are being made.
Affirmative Action has its roots in the civil rights movement. In March of 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which established the President's Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. The order stated that contractors doing business with the government "will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during their employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."
The order did not advocate preferential treatment of affected groups but rather sought to eliminate discrimination in the traditional sense.
The Civil Rights Act did not provide criminal penalties for employers that discriminated, nor did the civil remedies established by the act include compensation for pain and suffering or punitive damages. Rather, the Act sought to establish a conciliation process by which victims would be restored to the situation they would have had in the absence of discrimination.

To carry out the conciliation process, the Act created a new federal agency as a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC acts as a facilitator between plaintiffs and private employers and also pressures violating employers to provide compensation, whether in the form of back pay or restitution. The EEOC also provides legal support for plaintiffs should the plaintiffs pursue their grievances in court.

A significant Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action came in a 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Under the University of California at Davis's admission policies, 16 of 100 places were set aside for minority applicants. Allan Bakke was a white applicant who was denied enrollment to Davis's medical school, even though his test scores were higher than the minority students who were admitted. Casting the deciding vote, Justice Lewis Powell held that Bakke should be admitted to the program since Davis's policies constituted a rigid quota, but that, nonetheless, Davis could continue to favor minorities in its admission practices and that it had a "compelling state interest" to attain a diversified educational environment.

The tide favoring affirmative action began to turn in the 1980s during the Reagan and Bush administrations. In his 1980 campaign, Reagan stated, "We must not allow the noble concept of equal opportunity to be distorted into federal guidelines or quotas which require race, ethnicity, or sex-rather than ability and qualifications-to be the principal factor in hiring or education." Through court appointments, hiring and firing decisions, and budget cuts, the Reagan administration sought to end Affirmative Action as it had evolved since the Johnson administration. Between 1981 and 1983, the budget of the EEOC was cut by 10 percent and the staff by 12 percent.



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