Affirmative action is an issue that has been hotly contended in America since the days of the Reagan administration. An issue that is sensitive and uncomfortable to many Americans because of how intimately it deals with race, poverty and inequality. This essay will use Ira Katznelson’s book When Affirmative Action Was White as a vehicle to closely examine affirmative action and several different perspectives will be offered. Katznelson’s point will be summarized and the views of Ronald Reagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Barack Obama and myself will be presented. First, I will make my case for why I feel Katznelson made a strong argument for affirmative action. Then I will present my perceived responses of Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor to Katznelson’s argument as well as their views on the issue. Lastly I will share my own response to the book as well as my personal views on affirmative action.
Ira Katznelson makes a very compelling case for affirmative action in When Affirmative Action Was White. I his closing statements Katznelson calls for affirmative action to be extended so that it ends in one generation, so that we can we can move toward a “fully-integrated, color-blind society” (p 172). Katznelson argues that we need affirmative now because so many past policies were advantageous to White Americans. With slavery, Jim Crow laws and discrimination African Americans have been kept out of academia for much of our countries history. African Americans weren’t even allowed to vote until the ratification of the 15th amendment in 1870. And even then Jim Crow laws, unfair testing, and intimidation kept them from the voting booths. Katznelson’s position is that affirmative action has been “White” for most of this country’s past. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which created many social and government programs during the Great Depression, helped many Americans, most of them White. “Affirmative action was then White. New national policies enacted in the pre-civil rights, last gasp era of Jim Crow constituted a massive transfer of quite specific privileges to White Americans” (p 23). Civil rights clauses could not be built into these programs in order for southern Democrats to pass them. Once put into action the programs often benefitted only, or disproportionately, White families. It is for these reasons that Katznelson argues we need affirmative action to level the playing field. Realizing that many African Americans have had to overcome serious obstacles not faced by Whites, and something must be done to change that. An idea that many modern Conservatives say impedes on the rights of majority citizens.
Many modern Conservatives are opposed to the idea of affirmative action policy. Believing that it intrudes on citizens’ rights to pursue success (class notes). This paper will focus on past president Ronald Reagan. Reagan believed that affirmative action amounted to reverse discrimination by granting minority groups special privileges that were denied to the majority of Americans (Encarta Encyclopedia). He also thought that these programs had been reduced to quota systems “I’m old enough to remember when quotas existed in the U.S. for the purpose of discrimination, and I don’t want to see that happen again” (Time 1985). Ronald Reagan was president of the United States from 1981 to 1989, and opposed “overgrown government bureaucracy, expensive social programs and federal regulatory agencies that interfered in the private lives and business dealings of U.S. citizens” (Encarta). In 1981 Reagan changed the policy that had required businesses working with the government to have affirmative action programs, no longer requiring them to do so. He also cut back on efforts to enforce equal opportunity laws. Reagan would not agree with Katznelson that affirmative action should be extended (p 172), or even exist at all.
“The 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan presented the possibility of...