In a nation whose Declaration of Independence boldly asserts each and every citizen’s inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it should come as no surprise that for many the promotion of equal rights is a crusade without parallel. Very often, this entails going above and beyond securing basic constitutional liberties. Some venture into the realm of governmentally mandated social justice schemes, which invariably boils down to the perceived act of righting past wrongs; not against specific individuals, but historically oppressed groups. These can theoretically be ethnic, gender based, racial, religious, or purely social in nature. In any case, the prospect of rectifying the trials of yesteryear within the confines of the present’s tribulations holds undeniable appeal.
Said appeal was now famously utilized by the federal government to quash discriminatory employee hiring practices during the early-to-mid 1960s. Originally proposed by President John F. Kennedy, the wide reaching program was titled affirmative action. It gained a spectacular amount of steam during his time in office, and that of his successor Lyndon B. Johnson, because of the country’s plunge into the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to affirmative action’s creation, women and racial minorities were frequently, or as a matter of general policy, denied jobs of an equal basis to their predominately European American male counterparts. Arguing on behalf of the African American community, Martin Luther King, Jr. pointedly stated that “a society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.”
His request was honored by Johnson in 1965, when an executive order was passed that required minorities to be given priority in the federal government’s hiring process. Public sector agencies of every variety and many privately owned institutions quickly followed. Immense controversy was not far behind and continues to this very day. From prominent liberal arts colleges to small town police departments, gender and racial quotas became standard fare. This waned considerably during the 1990s, however, when it was found that affirmative action perpetuated reverse discrimination. Though it still exists, to be sure, many municipal, state, and federal organizations have extensively revised their respective human resources policies.
It is undeniable that a careful line must be walked to ensure that the pre-Civil Rights Era’s injustices are not repeated against an entirely different demographic. While the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action’s legality in 2003, statewide voter referendums before and after this have repealed it on differing levels. National opinion is decidedly split, with a 2005 Gallup poll showing that fifty percent of the public supports employers hiring on a gender and racial criteria, while forty-two percent hold a view to the contrary. During the same year, another poll was conducted which had sixty-one percent of its male participants claiming that females enjoyed equal work opportunities. Less than half of females, totaling at forty-five percent, were in agreement with this opinion.
I believe that one should be judged solely by his or her own merits for any desired occupation. Whether this be neurosurgeon or night janitor, the measure of individual skill and content of personal character should be held above all else. To merely hypothesize that an untold number have not had terrible prejudices brought against them on gender or racial terms is outwardly bizarre, let alone disgustingly insensitive. However, the problems of the past cannot be rectified in modern times. One can do everything possible to prevent them from recurring, but institutionalizing yet another form of discrimination is most definitely not the answer.
Indeed, this sort of tripe actually reinforces stereotypes; I cannot count the number of times I have heard a successful woman or racial minority be utterly denigrated as nothing more than an affirmative action hire. Such a mentality can only lose prevalence once job applicants are treated in a broadly similar fashion. This might not be the most popular or politically correct course of action, but sometimes tough decisions must be made for the long term. Abolishing legislated bigotry in perhaps the most recent of its incarnations would seem to be a solid step in the direction of a truly egalitarian society.