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Affirmative Action

Peter Edelman
Publication date: 
Mon, 14 May 2007

The 1960s was a decade of racial progress in the US, but also of anger that not more was achieved. One response to the civil unrest in America’s cities was an executive order issued by President Johnson requiring firms contracting with the federal government to implement affirmative action to increase the employment of African Americans.

In recent years, the Court has approved a new theory of affirmative action, which should not be based on past behaviour, rather on the promotion of diversity for the future. It applied it to college and university admissions. However, in 2007, it refused to apply it to voluntary actions by states and school boards, which wanted to set policies to promote racial desegregation below college level.
Looking to the future, other alternatives are, or should be, on the table. One is the possibility of substituting economic integration for race-based policies. This is being tested in a few school systems, and in some post-secondary contexts. The challenge for America more broadly is to commit to ending the continuing and disproportionate poverty amongst African Americans, and other minority communities. This is denoted the affirmative-action challenge of the twenty-first century.