Affirmative Action: Public OPinion vs. Policy


When Justin Ketcham, a white college student from the suburbs, thinks about
affirmative action, he thinks about what happened when he sent out letters
seeking scholarships so he could attend Stanford University after being accepted
during his senior year of high school.The organizations that wrote back told him
their money was reserved for women or minorities. To Americans like Ketcham,
it's a matter of fairness. The average white male will claim that it's not fair
to attempt to rebalance scales by balancing them the other way. Students like
Ketcham are also more likely to claim that affirmative action is a program
geared towards curtailing workplace prejudices that really don't exist
anymore.But when Hillary Williams, a black insurance company manager from the
inner-city, thinks about affirmative action, she thinks about the time she had
to train three consecutive white male bosses for a job that no one even
approached her about filling. To her, it's also a question of fairness.
African-Americans like Hillary feel that there is just no other was besides
affirmative action to level the playing field in certain businesses.And so the
disparity in public opinion begins. A racially-divided America creates separate
groups, which "Affirmative Action issue taps a fundamental cleavage in American
Society" (Gamson and Modigliani 170)--each with their own view of affirmative
action on different sides of the line. Government attempts to create policy
based upon the voice of the people but affirmative action seems to present an
almost un-solvable dilemma. Traditionally, it had been a policy that was
greatly scrutinized for its quotas and alleged unfairness towards Blacks, but at
the same time it had also been praised for its inherent ability to help
minorities gets jobs they deserve but could not obtain otherwise. So how do we
reach a "happy medium" so-to-speak? In American political culture, it appears
as though individualism and egalitarianism are values that find themselves on
opposite ends of the political battlefield.

In a complex world of political ideology and political culture are sets of
values and principles that are widely endorsed by politicians, educators, the
media and other opinion leaders that make up the definition of what is to be
American (Feldman and Zaller). Some favor the values of individual freedom,
especially individual economic freedom, over other values, especially equality
and popular sovereignty (egalitarianism). These people are labeled Conservatives.
The other side of the spectrum consider themselves as Liberals (Feldman and
Zaller).Because we live in a meritocracy created by the strong forces of
capitalism, there is a tendency for people to fall behind either in the economy
or in the academic community. During the Civil Rights movement of 1960's,
affirmative action was implemented with the idea and hope that America would
finally become truly equal. The tension of the 1960s civil rights movement had
made it very clear that the nations minority and female population was not
receiving equal social and economic opportunity. The implementation of
affirmative action was America's first honest attempt at solving a problem it
had previously chose to ignore.The Philadelphia Plan was one of the first major
vehicles for affirmative action named for the first city in which a labor
department agreement with federal contractors had been reached. "The plan set
specific numerical goals for each of the minority employment and the
availability pool." Labor Department officials announced that "because of the
deplorably low rate of employment among minority groups" in the industry, they
would set up similar plans in other major cities (Gamson and Modigliani 139).

Today, without a college degree will definitely decrease the chance of upward
mobility. Public universities give preferences to minorities based on race and
gender. Many private universities, including Harvard, Chicago and Stanford,
have given preferences to the children of alumni, faculty, and athletes. This
is not to say that public universities give the same preferential treatment, but
it goes to show that public institutions use affirmative action to uplift the
non-privileged minority (Leslie 1991, 59). And universities gives special
scholarships and fellowships to a limited amount of applicants from a particular,
regional, gender, ethnic, or religious backgrounds (Lipset 39).Conservatives
believe that people could achieve social mobility by "hard work (and ambition)
rather than lucky breaks or help from other people" (Lipset 30). From 1983
through 1990, surveys taken by NORC found that around two-thirds of respondents
consistently agreed that "people get ahead by hard work (and) a much
largerpercentage said ambition" (Lipset 30). In October 1989, poll taken by ABC
News-Washington Post, found that 60 percent of whites and 60 percent of blacks
agreed with the statements: "if blacks would try harder, they could be just