AA for Affirmative Action?

March 6th, 1961,

Executive Order 10925: The establishment of President John F. Kennedy’s (1961-1963) Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.

“WHEREAS discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin is contrary to the Constitutional principles and policies of the United States; and 13 CFR 1960 Supp.

WHEREAS it is the plain and positive obligation of the United States Government to promote and ensure equal opportunity for all qualified persons, without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin, employed or seeking employment with the Federal Government and on government contracts (Kennedy).”


One late winter’s afternoon 51 years ago, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, establishing Equal Employment Opportunity. Racing on the heels of the civil rights movement, President ‘Crash Jack Kennedy’ encouraged Americans to “take affirmative action” in these changing times and offer advantageous solutions to the developing definitions of normal. His cleverly coined phrase, ‘affirmative action’ swept public household conversations, heated network discussions, and clouded congressional floor debates.

Originally defined as a methodology in redressing discrimination, redefining constitutional perspectives, and developing specific opportunities within the educational system and job market (Equal), affirmative action was initially well-received and widely accepted.

November 22, 1963 marked the tragic assignation of President Kennedy, sending the nation into a sea of sorrow and anguish. Many feared Kennedy’s assassination would overshadow his administration’s actions, but less than a year later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. The act forbade discrimination in the hiring, firing, or promotional process on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Affirmative Action in its entirety was formally implemented by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 by Executive Order 11246. President Johnson stated, “We seek not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result (Brunner)”.

Coupled with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whom enforce the federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace. Jurisdiction of this commission began with the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in compensation for substantially similar work under similar conditions (Archives). This umbrella commission rapidly grew as further anti-discriminatory acts were passed like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals 40 years of age or older, as well as relatively recent acts like the 1990 Title I and Title V of the Americans Disability Act.

Less than one decade after the EEOC creation, however, the practice of the policies began to waver and the intentional benefits of the policies also began to expose the unintentional faults. ‘Reverse discrimination’ took the main argument and was brought to the forefront of political discussion during the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court Case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (Ball).

Allan Bakke, a white male in pursuit of a medical degree at the University of California, was denied entry into the university, twice. Not long after, Bakke discovered that several academically less qualified minority applicants had been accepted into the university (Ball). Bakke also discovered that due to a clause established by the university after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the minority applicants had been separated from the general field of applicants and reviewed differently than the standard application (Ball).

The university had established that 16 out of every 100 entry spots were exclusively reserved for minority students (Brunner) and it was because of this clause that Bakke sued the university. While the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the ‘inflexible quota systems,’ that the university had established (Ball), it did uphold the legality of affirmative action by the narrowest of margins: 5-4. Justice Lewis Powell had been the divisive vote and had sided with both viewpoints. This resulted in Bakke’s admission into the school, but also the continuation of Affirmative Action (Ball).

As the cases against affirmative action began to multiply and steepen in effect, conservative whites began painting the policy as a zero-sum game in the 1980’s. Strident language like “preferential treatment” and “quotas (Brunner)” stung headlines across the nation and what was originally implemented as a promotional tool began to shift into a professional victimization act.

In early 2000’s, two landmark cases reached the gavel of the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which were brought against the University of Michigan. In 2001, Gratz v. Bollinger was a case filed against the advantageous position of specified “underrepresented minorities” applicants who gained an automatic 20+ percentage points for admission (Gratz).

Different in approach Grutter v. Bollinger was not a case for or against specified minorities, but acase advocating ‘diversity in character’ coming through diversity in culture. Again, affirmative action was upheld by the finest of margins (5-4) though the details in diversity were overruled (Grutter). This decision was met with great opposition by a group called BAMN (By Any Means Necessary) who immediately drafted a document called Proposition 2: The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. This document challenged Michigan’s Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in college admissions in 2006. The U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals ruled Proposal 2 unconstitutional for its violation of the 14th amendment and BAMN has since gained heavy momentum across the states. Today (December 7th) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, BAMN is hosting a rally and a march to gain further support for courts to reinstate all affirmative action programs across the state of Michigan.

The Supreme Court’s ruling during Grutter v. Bollinger redefined affirmative action to be no longer a past objective meant to protect future oppression, but an initiative to promote the “compelling state interest (Brunner)” in regard to diversity at all levels of society. This ruling heavily endorsed the idea of a broader racial representation across college campuses and it is this definition of affirmative action that has not yet been challenged.

Yet, 2013 could bring yet another explanation of affirmative action, as well as an updated methodology for university admittance and academic performance. On June 30, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court plans to render a decision on Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas. Abigail Fisher was a high school senior when she decided to sue the University of Texas after her admissions application was rejected (Mears). Fisher claimed the “individualized, discretionary admission policies violated her rights, and favored African-American and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asian-Americans (Mears).” Since Grutter v. Bollinger in2003, the Supreme Court judges have not shifted ideologically, but have begun to feel the social and legal pressure to put the issue to rest after a half century long battle (Mears).

As noted previously, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 in 1965 and stated, “We seek not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result (Brunner)”. The contexts after 2001 supported a war in the Middle East because of the tragedy of 9/11, the political rhetoric by the executive branch, and the national conviction that America had been attacked at home and a price must be paid.  11 years later, this doctrine is no longer supported by over two thirds of Americans and is on track to succeed the infamy of the Vietnam War.

There are a plethora of other points in history where the context of the situation was met with a contextual solution, but history as an enduring term has not occurred by magnanimous application beyond a situation. American history is defined by the details of time and the creation of change. The contexts of 1965 would support affirmative action in terms of equality because of the political and social equality generated by the Civil Rights Movement. But would it be blasphemous to consider this effort as an extension of a time that is no longer defined in situations of equality, but instances of inequality?

It is from this theory of relativity and the historical development of affirmative action that I have developed a theoretical link between defined affirmative action and performed affirmative action. My hypotheses examine the popular belief that affirmative action is endorsed by both minorities and majorities and also the belief that affirmative action remains relative to American values.

By noting both historical development and my own research analysis, what I shall define as my core conviction is this: defined affirmative action has remained favorable to both majorities and minorities, but performed affirmative action has rapidly declined in favorability of application.

I do not wish to project an opinion of affirmative action as much as I wish to promote the recognition of a trend over history. Contextually, affirmative action was well suited in the 60s and 70s, as were cigarettes, go-go boots, the Twist, and fallout shelters. But ‘the times, they are a changing,’ and as with all historical movements, the creation of new definitions of radical and normal come about. Equality is no longer a politically radial term, but a household vocabulary word referring to a state of normality.

Originally defined as a methodology in redressing discrimination, redefining constitutional perspectives, and developing specific opportunities within the educational system and job market, affirmative action was well-received and widely accepted. But like 90’s boy bands and Brittany Spears Barbie dolls, suburban backgrounds and innocent expressions no longer sell. One may define the 90s as the golden age of pop music, but when given the choice between pop artists Aaron Carter and Justin Beiber, it’s a global ‘Beiber fever’ that is trending worldwide, not an MP3 of “I want Candy.”


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