Affirmative Action and It's Aftermath

Affirmative action, first introduced by President Kennedy in 1961, remains a divisive topic in American politics. After more than 50 years it’s now possible to look beyond the initial arguments and try to work out what it has done for American society, and especially for the advancement of the people it was intended to benefit - black Americans. This makes an obvious subject for an essay, which means it’s helpful to have a few pointers on what to cover.

Historical Background

The obvious place to start is by looking at how the situation of black Americans has changed since 1961. There are many sources of information available online, and they can be easily found. While Wikipedia should not be used as a reference in its own right it can be very useful as a source of material; just check what references the editors have used and follow the links where possible. You can then use the primary sources, which are usually far more credible. Things to look for are changes in the earnings difference between blacks and whites since affirmative action began, the percentage of black Americans employed by federal agencies and the number of prominent black public figures.

The Essence of Affirmative Action

An interesting point to look at is whether or not affirmative action had any influence on the fact that America now has a black president. Barack Obama was born only five months after Kennedy began affirmative action. Did the new laws affect his ability to study at a prestigious university and build a career in politics?

It’s also worth looking at the response to affirmative action among the groups it wasn’t designed to benefit. Of course it can be convincingly argued that by reducing racial divisions the policy will eventually benefit all Americans, but it’s also true that in the short term some whites and members of other ethnic groups have suffered because of it. A key part of affirmative action is the use of racial (and also, since 1965, gender) quotas to redress imbalances. For example it has long been recognized that black Americans often suffer academically because the poorer areas they often have to live in don’t have well-funded schools. This has affected their access to higher education, and an obvious solution is to set quotas to ensure that more black students get to attend university. Unfortunately this can also mean that other candidates are rejected in favor of someone who is less well qualified, and that can be a cause of resentment.

Affirmative action still inspires strong opinions on both sides of the debate. When writing an essay on the subject it’s important to look beyond the often inflated rhetoric and examine the facts.