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Affirmative Action Explained

Affirmative Action Explained

Affirmative Action Explained

Affirmative action is a policy or program designed to promote equal opportunity by eliminating discrimination based on sex, race, ethnic origin, color, religion, and other factors. It’s a concept that has been around for decades and remains a controversial issue in American society. This article will provide an overview of affirmative action, its history, and its impact on modern society.

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is a policy that seeks to increase the representation of minorities and other underrepresented groups in areas such as education and employment. It aims to create a level playing field by addressing discrimination and historical inequalities. This policy can take a variety of forms, including the adoption of quotas, outreach programs, and preferred hiring practices.

History of Affirmative Action

Affirmative action policies find their roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 in 1965, which mandated that federal contractors take affirmative action to employ and promote minorities, and prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since then, affirmative action policies have impacted college admissions, hiring practices, and promotions.

Arguments for Affirmative Action

The primary argument for affirmative action is that it helps address past injustices and promotes diversity. Supporters of affirmative action contend that it’s a necessary policy to guarantee equal opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups, such as women and people of color. They claim that affirmative action helps to diversify the workplace and classroom, leading to greater creativity, innovation, and productivity.

Arguments Against Affirmative Action

Opponents argue that affirmative action is discriminatory and perpetuates reverse discrimination. They claim that it harms qualified individuals who are denied opportunities because of their sex or race. Detractors contend that it undermines the merit-based structure of education and employment, leading to unqualified individuals being accepted or hired over more qualified candidates.

Impact of Affirmative Action

Affirmative action policies have made a significant impact on American society. Many colleges, universities, and employers have adopted policies designed to promote diversity and address past injustices. However, affirmative action policies can lead to resentment in groups who feel that they’re being unfairly targeted or overlooked, leading to potential social division.


Affirmative action continues to be a topic of controversy in American society. Proponents argue that it’s a necessary policy to promote diversity and address past injustices, while detractors contend that it’s discriminatory and undermines merit-based systems. Despite the ongoing debate, affirmative action policies remain a critical tool to promote equal opportunity. It needs to be reviewed and discussed regularly to ensure that it continues to be functional and fair to all parties involved.

People who are interested in the question of “What is affirmative action?” should refer specifically to the legislative history of the United States, in which affirmative action was first conceived and implemented as a means of reversing the effects of systemic discrimination in the educational and employment arenas with respect to members of groups deemed to be underprivileged.

In this regard, affirmative action has generally referred to the Government-imposed requirements for the greater numbers of hires from underrepresented groups, such as women and ethnic minority groups.

In order to define affirmative action and understand it most fully, it should be noted that programs can vary in their requirements and degree of strictness according to the relationship of a desired organization for entry to the Federal Government. In this way, contractors with a relationship to the Government may have to carry out affirmative action precepts more fully than those strictly in the private sector, though such will not necessarily be the case.

The first individual to define affirmative action was President John F. Kennedy, in the form of his Executive Order 10925. Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, then made affirmative action the subject of Executive Order 11246, which pertained specifically to Federal contractors. At this point, affirmative action was understood as pertaining to country of origin, ethnic identity, and religious creed.

In 1968, the Government chose to define affirmative action to also include gender. Affirmative action can be seen as employment equity, positive discrimination in the UK, and reservation in India.