Affirmative action policies

Affirmative action
Affirmative action
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Affirmative action policies




The acceptance or rejection of affirmative action as a means to achieving the purpose of having the minorities in political, education and professional sector is dependent on the indept understanding of the concept. Thus, this chapter is set to discuss the various definitions of affirmative action and the history of affirmative action, that is, how and why it came about.


Affirmative action has various definitions as offered by different philosophers, and here, I shall give a few.

‘“Affirmative action” is a term familiar to most Americans but one not always well understood. Over time, it has signified a variety of strategies designed to enhance employment, educational, or business opportunities for groups, such as racial or ethnic minorities and women, who have suffered discrimination’1.

This definition of affirmative action, as is the most general definition, views affirmative action as a measure put in place to reward those who were at the receiving end of the evil of discrimination: affirmative action is put in place on the platform of employment, that is, they are given special preference when they request for a job, on the political platform, that is, they are given a number of slot(s) or seat(s) to contest for political positions or to occupy a particular ministerial post (as is the case in Nigeria), thus, before others will be considered, these ones that are recipient of affirmative action will first be considered.

‘Affirmative action means positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in the areas of employment, education and culture from which they have been historically excluded’2.

‘Affirmative action is a policy of favoring qualified women and minority candidates over qualified men or nonminority candidates, with the immediate goals of outreach, remedying discrimination, or achieving diversity, and the ultimate goals of attaining a colorblind (racially just) and gender-free (sexually just) society’3.

This definition goes a little bit beyond what the general definitions of affirmative action provided. While the general definition did not specify as to whether the minorities and women that are favoured under affirmative action actually qualify for the employment position or the academic admission that they received or they do not, but just because they were victims of discrimination, one is quick to conclude that these people were actually given this position not because they qualify but because they were victims. Thus, the criticism of ‘mediocrity’, that is, that those who do not qualify for a position were given and so they will not see any reason to better themselves, stands against affirmative action in this light.

However, this definition of affirmative action emphasizes that those who were even given special preference themselves are qualified for the position in which they are being considered or preferred, for example, if the least of qualification that is to be considered for a job is bachelors degree, then before anyone can be considered, be it women or the minority group, they must actually possess a bachelors degree certificate. Thus with this definition, affirmative action is more easily defended.

‘An affirmative action program is designed simply to put an end to an existing discriminatory practice, and to create, possibly for the first time in a particular setting, a truly equal opportunity environment, and it can attempt to compensate for past discrimination and the effects of that discrimination’4.

This definition also adds something to the definition, although it also talks about the fact that it compensates those who suffered the effects of discrimination in the past, but it sees affirmative action as a method that can be used to promote equality in opportunity that is available. This means that the way in which those who suffered discrimination in the past are compensated by giving them equal opportunity as those who are of the majority group.

Social scientists NijoleBenokraitis and Joe Feagin defines it thus:

‘Affirmative action means more than passive nondiscrimination. It means that various organizations must act positively, affirmatively and aggressively to remove all barriers, however informal or subtle, that prevents access by minorities and women to their rightful places in the employment and educational institutions of the United States’5.

‘Affirmative action is a term that in a broad sense encompasses any measure, beyond a simple termination of discriminatory practice, adopted to correct for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination recurring in the future’6.

‘Affirmative action is not just public policy or political and legal history: it also represents a social and cultural struggle over whether there should exist a property value in whiteness and if equality should be really equal’7.

‘Affirmative action in reality represents a compromise fusion of disparate social and legal elements brought into being by the black protest tradition against white privilege’8.

This definition traces affirmative action to its root, that is, that affirmative action arose as a response to the protests of the blacks against the privilege given to the whites.

Affirmative action is literally the practice of “acting affirmatively”: taking positive, specific steps to overcome the history and current practice of discrimination by having employers, schools, and government contractors make a special effort to include people of color and women in predominantly white and/or male workforces, student bodies, and businesses receiving government contracts9.

In summary, in all of these various definitions, the motive for affirmative action is one and the same, thus, affirmative action is such that create a society in which there is equal opportunity available to every citizen, regardless of gender, race or colour. However, affirmative action, in doing this, first has to give special preference to the gender and race that has hitherto been wronged.


Every policy that exist or that holds in a society has its beginning and has some situation that brought it into being. Affirmative action as a policy also has a/some situation(s) that brought it into being.



From the very birth of the United States, the question of slavery and the legal inequality of African Americans was problematic, as was the position of women. Although the statement of “inalienable Rights” in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, was meant to be universal, it implicitly excluded women as well as those who are brought to the United States to live in slavery10. This was the period when any other person whose skin is different from white is seen as inferior, thus, they were dominated and taken as slaves. Even though there were also some white servants, the terms of service for a black slave is very different from that of a white servant, that is, while a white servant has a stipulated time that he can be freed from the service of his master or even leave at will, the black slave is bond to a life of ‘life slavery’, such that they can be sold to new masters or even used as wager in games and lost in bets.

This period of slavery was the period when the white race is seen as an autonomous, privileged social caste and social control mechanism11.

White businesses such as hotels, boarding houses, and restaurants did not serve blacks. Signs were hung in public places, over entrances and exits, ticket windows, waiting rooms, water fountains, and toilets, designating “Whites only” or “Colored.” Blacks were either restricted from, or segregated, at public facilities such as libraries, theaters, sports arenas, parks, and beaches. Some recreational areas had signs: “Negroes and Dogs Not Allowed”12. The most educated and gentleman who is black is not seen as equal to an illiterate white rogue. Blacks were usually unable to testify in court or bring suit against a white person, serve on a jury, or vote, Even if they are allowed to testify or bring a suit, the bible with which black witnesses swear is different from that which the white person swears with, the textbooks used in schools by the black and whites are separated (only when they can attend the same schools), even to purchase tickets, there had to be a 25 feet long space between a white and a black13. Even any black man who dare to join the force, navy for example, is only restricted to the kitchen where they scrub dishes or serve as stewards to the white who are not even half as skilled as they are. If blacks didn’t learn the racial difference, or “their place,” then whites often discharged rigorous enforcement14.

Whites owned the law, police, courts, press, and government. If a black brought charges against a white, it demonstrated disrespect to the superior race, an example was a case in Mississippi in which a black woman in 1897 charged a white man with having beaten her with an ax handle. The justice of the peace dismissed the case, remarking that there was “no law to punish a white man for beating a Negro woman”. Some 20 years later in Texas a white man was accused of killing a Mexican. The Judge went to his legal books and reported that he could find no law against killing a Mexican: case dismissed!15.

The regime of President Woodrow Wilson supported and implemented segregation in the federal workforce, and his administration dismissed hundreds of black federal workers. The president claimed that nothing could be done to improve the status of blacks, he refused to denounce lynchings, and he claimed that the appointment of black officials was a “social blunder of the worst kind.”16


Affirmative action arose, just as the definition by Philip Rubio17said, as a result to the various protests by the blacks against the injustices that were meted against them. From the beginning of American political history, the unequal status of African Americans and women has been explicitly written into the highest law of the land, and for almost two centuries, each group has fought to rewrite that law while seeking social, political, and economic equality18. The concept of affirmative action originally comes from the centuries-old English legal concept of equity, or the administration of justice according to what was fair in a particular situation, as opposed to rigidly following legal rules, which may have a harsh result19. Thus, in an effort to combat discrimination against African Americans in the 1960s, the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced an entirely new concept. The president recognized that merely prohibiting discrimination was not enough to compensate for the effects of centuries of segregation and legalized discrimination which had put African-Americans at a severe disadvantage. They had attended inferior schools, had been barred from good jobs, and had been shut out of the political process. President Johnson’s administration therefore proposed that “affirmative action” be taken to ensure that minorities received jobs, promotions, admission to universities, and other important opportunities20.

Today, affirmative action is a program for the less fortunate, minority tribes and women which are called affirmative action or by such other names as “positive discrimination” in Britain and in India, “standardization” in Sri Lanka, “reflecting the federal character of the country” in Nigeria, and “‘sons of the soil’ preferences” in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as in some states in India. Group preferences and quotas have also existed in Israel, China, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Canada, Pakistan, New Zealand and the Soviet Union and its successor states21.

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