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.