For most of this century, discrimination has prevailed in the
USA against minorities
such as some ethnic groups (Blacks,
Hispanics, American-Indians, Asian-Americans) or women.
amendments of the American Constitution
were meant to
forbid racial discrimination
and ensure an equal protection
under the law
for all citizens in the USA. Nevertheless,
this was not enough to avoid prejudice referring to race or
ethnic origin, age, gender, or religion.
Before the 60's, employment opportunity was greatly restricted
for these minorities, who were offered low wage jobs, even if
they were college-educated. Afro-Americans who could attend
colleges entered segregated institutions whereas Asian-Americans
and Hispanics were legally prevented from attending some public
schools. Access to some occupations was barred by laws for women,
who were often segregated into unskilled jobs.
2. Affirmative action
In the 1960's, the government
decided to undertake a
decisive action in order
to remedy the effect of these
discriminations. Policies were set up so as to give preferential
treatment to women or minority groups in the fields of
employment, education, culture, or housing and measures were
taken. This was called "Affirmative action"
. Supreme Court
orders and Executive orders developed simultaneously:
– In 1961
: A Committee on Equal Employment
Opportunity was created by President J.F. Kennedy.
– In 1964
: A Civil Rights Act
discrimination on the part of large private employers and in
– In 1965
: Voting Rights Act,
issued by President Lyndon Johnson.
– In 1967
: Gender was taken into account
in addition to the other protected
– In 1972
: Equal Opportunity Act
to the Civil Rights Act
of 1964 signed by President Nixon.
A commission was created to enforce the plans set up.
Despite some advances, minorities continued to suffer from
discrimination. In the late 70's, the Affirmative action programs
started to be questioned. The quotas imposed led to criticism
from people who complained that Affirmative action had created a
reverse discrimination and unwarranted preferences (une
discrimination à l'envers et des préférences
). This led to the judicial challenge
of Affirmative action.
The Bakke Case
is one of the most famous examples: the US Supreme Court outlawed
(to outlaw = proscrire
) a quota program in a Californian
where 16 places were reserved for
qualified minorities. The Court decided, however, that minority
status could be used as a factor in making decisions on
In 1989, Affirmative action was restricted by the
Supreme Court. Stricter limits were defined for programs
and the use of minority set-asides was outlawed when proof of past discrimination was not found.
In 1996 in California, all government agencies and institutions were
forbidden, by a new legislation, to give preferences
on the grounds of sex or race. Attempts have been made by
legislation or judicial action to change policies in other
states as well.
Affirmative action is currently a burning issue in the