Affirmative action Policies: Are the Outcomes Affirmative or Negative

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  • Post last modified:July 9, 2017

Affirmative action Policies: Affirmative or Negative

The debate over whether the Affirmative action laws achieved the intended outcome has continued for long. If we are to believe the critics of affirmative action, the laws have achieved anything but equality. The laws have given rise to more discrimination against the minority and the women. Affirmative action laws generated more controversy than any of the government interventions in the labour market since the abolition era. Their critics argue that the laws have failed to deliver and a vast number of sources confirm that it is true. Initially, it was believed affirmative action laws would level the play field and bring equal opportunities to people. However, they failed to guarantee equal results. Affirmative action laws fell short of their target, in fact very short.

The basic premise upon which the affirmative action programs were based was to make equality of opportunity a reality, and help the discriminated groups find equal representation in employment and education. Nothing of the kind happened. Instead, the laws ended up making the minority groups feel even discriminated. The  affirmative action programs are basically problematic for their ambiguity. The lack of specific guidelines has guaranteed their ineffectiveness. Variations in actual practice gave rise to difficulties for those intended to benefit from them and mostly confused the employers. Affirmative action as a tool to bring equality proved not just ineffective but had a negative effect.
The policies were intended to bring down barriers, but they ended up creating new divisions and deepened the existing ones.
Critics argue that the policies have divided the society further along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender etc. They further reinforced the stereotypes of incompetent and weak against the minorities. They  proved more demeaning for the communities they should have benefited by reinforcing the negative stereotypes against them. Another argument frequently made against the affirmative action policies is that they strike upon the American moral values of merit and individualism. It is why the opponents consider Affirmative action harmful for the entire society. Affirmative action is also known to have caused reverse discrimination by giving rise to the perception among the common people that the backward communities were being provided with undue benefits. So, overall the problem with Affirmative action is that it proved far more damaging to the US society and its values than being advantageous to the backward communities.
The disparity between the whites and non-whites is also a major point of dispute related to affirmative action laws. Critics argue, the laws widened the existing gap. For the minority communities the problem is that even if they acquire jobs by merit, people believe they received the favor due to affirmative action policies. Affirmative action policies were intended to increase the participation of women and minority in the nation’s workforce. However, the participation of women in working age workforce fell from 54.3% in 1990 to 53.6% in 2010. Disagreement related to the benefits of affirmative action is growing among the women and the African American community. Around 45% of African Americans believing Affirmative action programs are not really beneficial. Thus, Affirmative action programs have continued to lose support even among these two groups.
The intention behind Affirmative action programs might have been honest, but the outcome has been not as planned. Affirmative action programs could have been effective. They were intended to amend for the damages done by years of slavery. If they could not, then it is because they are still very far from reality and do not provide any real benefits. The need for such programs still exists. However, under their current format, the affirmative action policies can never be expected to achieve the desired aim.  The first hindrance in this regard is the lack of clear guidelines over their implementation. The employers should be provided with clear policy guidelines regarding how they are required to implement the affirmative action programs. The focus could be shifted from compliance to encouraging diversity. The criteria to decide if someone is disadvantaged might also be made clearer. It will not just change the public’s perception of the affirmative action programs but will make them really useful. Under their current format, the affirmative action programs might only widen the existing disparity between the whites and non-whites. Affirmative action laws could be allowed to continue but the need is to change the way they are being implemented.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.