Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action

The Racial Justice Program actively supports affirmative action to secure racial diversity in educational settings, workplaces and government contracts, to remedy continuing systemic discrimination against people of color, and to help ensure equal opportunities for all people. As part of this commitment, we are working to defend affirmative action in states that are threatened for a civil rights rollback.

Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation's historic discrimination against people of color and women, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field. A centuries-long legacy of racism and sexism has not been eradicated despite the gains made during the civil rights era. Avenues of opportunity for those previously excluded remain far too narrow. We need affirmative action now more than ever.

According to 1998 U.S. Department of Labor statistics, blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be unemployed. The unemployment rate is also higher for Latinos than for whites. Blacks and Latinos generally earn far less than whites. In 2000, the median weekly earning for blacks was $459; for Latinos, it was $395. In that period, average income for whites was $590. Workers of color are still concentrated in the less well-paying, unskilled sector. In 1993, black and Latino men were half as likely as whites to be employed as managers or professionals and much more likely to be employed as machine operators and laborers. Barriers to equality also remain for women.

Additional Resources

ACLU Position Paper: Affirmative Action (2000 PDF): Affirmative action is one of the most effective tools for redressing the injustices caused by our nation’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, and for leveling what has long been an uneven playing field. A centuries-long legacy of racism and sexism has not been eradicated despite the gains made during the civil rights era. Avenues of opportunity for those previously excluded remain far too narrow. We need affirmative action now more than ever.

Protect Fairness and Equality (2008 PDF): In the United States, access to the American Dream is often framed as a race in which the swiftest runners win. Critics of affirmative action say that such policies give some runners an unfair head start in an otherwise fair race. At the same time, many supporters of affirmative action say we need these policies to assist “disabled” runners. In their focus on the runners rather than the track, both of these perspectives miss the point. Affirmative action isn’t about advancing “disabled” runners, but about repairing damaged lanes and removing the barriers that block the pathways to opportunity that only some runners face. Policies that promote inclusion, such as affirmative action, are designed to equalize the conditions of an otherwise unfair race and give everyone a fair chance to compete.

A Definition of Fairness: Who Supports Affirmative Action? (2008 PDF): According to a 2007 report by the Pew Research Center, support for affirmative action among the American public has actually increased substantially in recent years, climbing from 58% in 1995 to 70% in 2007.1

Most Popular

Affirmative Action, Racial Profiling, and The Rights of Noncitizens and Immigrants (2007 podcast)

Oklahoma Anti-Affirmative Action Initiative: Proponents' Motion to Withdraw (2008 resource)

The Potency of Affirmative Action (2009 blog)

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