America, the melting pot of the world. In the United States, we live by the words life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness. As well, it is decreed upon our Constitution that all men are created equal.
However, this is not so. Our past has denied people of certain colour opportunities. But with the passage
of affirmative actions, there was a hope that opportunities would open for the underprivileged minorities.
Though affirmative tries to help minorities, it still is vilified. To better illustrate the role of affirmative
action and the debates surrounding it, we need an understanding of the court case Plessy v. Ferguson and
the impact that it gives till this day in our government.
The subject of race and superiority has been defined through Herbert Spencer’s analyst of
Darwin’s theory of evolution. Herbert Spencer termed the idea of social darwinism where only the fittest
survive. This idea of social dawinism gave an anthropocentric view of superiority. It was deemed that the
white race is obviously more superior than any other race because of evolution. The court case of Plessy v.
Ferguson challenged the notion of superiority. Plessy was a man with a heritage of seven eighths of white
descent and the other eighth of his heritage was black. His case was that he deserved the right to be able to
sit in the “white” passenger car because his heritage was mostly white, since the conductor deemed him
“black” and sent him to another car. It did not matter what car Plessy was located because all the passenger
cars were equal, but he had to sit in a black passenger car because he was black. The Supreme Court
validated the South’s strictly segregationis!
t social order. It ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional under the “equal protection”
clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But in reality the quality of African-American life was grotesquely
unequal to that of white. It would take nearly a century later, to redress the racist imbalance of southern
This brings us to the present where affirmative action has been placed into action to pay
retribution for the injustice. Affirmative action is not about quotas. It's an attempt to open more
opportunities for women and people of colour through aggressive recruitment and outreach techniques. It's
a way to give underrepresented groups of people greater access to academic institutions and the workplace
and not exclude people on the basis of race or gender. As a nation, we have made substantial progress in
fulfilling the promise of racial equality. In contracting markets throughout the country, minorities now
have opportunities from which they were wholly sealed off only a generation ago. It is not about offering
opportunities to unqualified people. The case of the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was
the key case in outlining affirmative action programs. But the case did illustrate one thing, that was the
idea of “racial classification can be constitutiona!
l if they are reasonable and promote the public good” (Plessy v. Ferguson, Thomas).
That brings us to today’s controversy that began with Plessy v. Ferguson and that is the notion of
federalism. Simply put, Federalism gives more power to the states over the central government. Now,
there is a question of power. Who has the ultimate right to deem civil rights, the states or the government?
In Plessy v. Ferguson, Plessy was wrong because Louisiana state law ruled that he was black. For the
courts at the time, they too agreed with the state’s findings. But just last year in California, proposition 209
stated the California would eliminate all forms of affirmative action. This ruling goes against the national
policy that affirmative action must be in effect. This brings us to an perpetual debate of who has the power.
As well, it also raises the question of whether affimative action should still be inforced to allow favors for
the minorities.
The case of Plessy v. Ferguson still effects us today. We are still bounded by the ideas of racism.
People today do not live in a colour-blind world. We are constantly place emphasis on race, creed, or
gender. But looking at the case, gives us a perspective from each side on the debates that affirmative action