Does the United States Still Need Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action, the term generally used for programs that seek to redress discrimination by granting members of minority groups (and women) preferential treatment in education, employment, and business, continues to provoke controversy more than a quarter of a century after it began in the late 1960s. As a result of these programs, many individuals have gained access to opportunities previously denied them. Some opponents, however, claim that affirmative action is “reverse discrimination”—that it deprives equally qualified whites (some of whom are poor and deserving) of the opportunities it gives to members of minority groups. Others—including some members of minority groups—say that affirmative action inevitably creates the impression, both among whites and in the beneficiaries’ own minds, that they cannot qualify for good jobs and education on their own merits. In the long run, the critics say, affirmative action does as much harm as the original injustices that made this policy necessary. The courts have recently sent a mixed message concerning preferential treatment of minorities, upholding some specific affirmative action laws and ruling against others. These rulings virtually guarantee that affirmative action policies, such as the use of race as a factor in college admissions and the requirement that banks lend money to minority borrowers, will continue to be the cause of heated disputes and continuing litigation.