Affirmative Action

Affirmative action in the USA

Affirmative Action (AA) or 'positive discrimination' is the name given to a set of programs which aim to reduce inequality in education and employment.

The AA programs were originally introduced to help African Americans overcome disadvantage. Today they aim to give better education and employment to a range of disadvantaged Americans.

AA in education

  • Outreach programmes – extra tuition is provided for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Recruitment and retention programmes – funding is provided to assist disadvantaged groups with certain types of career, e.g. in science or business management
  • Universities – ensures their student intake reflects wider US society. Campuses and departments aim to include minority groups, both genders, students with disabilities, etc

AA in employment

There are laws which aim to ensure companies with more than 50 employees do not practice discrimination in hiring or promoting people from disadvantaged groups.

Where appropriate, the federal and some state governments will award contracts to companies that are minority-owned or employ large numbers of people from disadvantaged groups.

Arguments for Affirmative Action:

  • minority groups, and others, need AA to overcome social and economic disadvantage and discrimination. AA creates a 'level playing field for all Americans'
  • AA has helped to create a fairer US society. For example, 50% of African Americans are middle class and many other groups have seen rises in their standard of living

Arguments against Affirmative Action:

  • AA is opposed by some whites because they see it as 'reverse discrimination'. For example, in 2008, AA was challenged in the Supreme Court (SC) when a white student named Abigail Fisher claimed she was discriminated against for a place at the University of Texas. The US Supreme Court, however, in a lengthy and complicated decision, upheld the university's decision to use race as a factor in deciding university admission.
  • some critics of AA argue that to ensure AA programs are respected, some companies are forced to promote minorities (and others) who are not necessarily the most able people. They claim this is bad for the US economy.
  • AA is also opposed by some African Americans (and others) because they believe AA undermines their success. Critics argue it should be based on socioeconomic status – not race