2014: Reaffirming the value of Affirmative Action



Barefoot Frontrunners is a source for news and views on issues around the world that affirm the value of feminism as a context for humanity to move past the restrictions limiting equality.  Affirmative Action and the Civil Rights Act is the case in point.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 required  equality of opportunity and access of race, country of origin and sex, and  included Affirmative Action with the stated preference to those groups excluded to be included, reverse discrimination some called it, providing the opportunity for  a more level the playing field.  It required the admission of a percentage of women and minorities in higher education and in jobs.   Employers were required to  meet a quotient of those hired to be represented accordingly.  In education also, a quotient and preference for those excluded groups was mandatory.  In fact, it was  the insistence by President Lyndon Johnson who called for the practice and monitoring of Affirmative Action throughout the country.

The increase in minority and women in both education and employment was significant and showed income and opportunity greatly enhanced by those who benefited from the favoring of those candidates who qualified for Affirmative Action.   In 1996,  the voters of California in Proposition 209 ended Affirmative action.  The hand up that was taken away shows up in the figures that were evaluated showing the drastic reduction of participation by the african american and latino population, as well as the women supporting their families.  In April, a short-lived but public outcry provoked a movement underway in Sacramento to recall Proposition 209 and return  to Affirmative Act to bring up those left behind.  It was only days before a backlash ensued, followed by the Supreme Court judgement that stopped that action in its tracks.  However, the outcry woke up and encouraged a response to the excluded groups and made a difference.  Here is the the story  of one of the top public universities,  the University of California system, with an emphasis on the University of California Berkeley that best conveys that impact.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, California lawmakers prepared a bill to repeal proposition 209 and reinstate Affirmative Action back into college admissions in response to racial inequities. Prop 209 ended in 1996 by the voters of California, halting Affirmative Action set into law by the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and brought to action by President Lyndon Johnson in his War on Poverty. The Oakland Tribune reported that UC Berkeley since the end of the practice of affirmative action showed a drastic and continuing decline in admission of african americans and latino-chicanos admitted to UC Berkeley: Specifically the drop for african americans in 1995 when affirmative action was in effect, was 50%, and in 2010 declined to 15.4%. For Latino students, the admission rate under affirmative action in 1995 was 46% which dropped to 18.9% in 2010.

At UC Berkeley, of 35,899 students admitted in 2011: The admission rate of freshmen was:

American Indians 6%, African American 3.1%, Chicano/Latino 12.6%, Asian 41.7%, White 34.1%.


There was an immediate response of anger by the Chinese American business community to the preparation of the repeal of Proposition 209.  It was reported that  a huge backlash in and around the halls of the state body of legislation in Sacramento by the Chinese American communities in Sacramento stopped all action in days.  Some state senators who had been enthusiastic about the proposed return to Affirmative Action changed directions immediately in response to the insistence of their constituents.  An angry protest by 500 Chinese American students, as well as angry phone calls and emails to state legislators, as well as 100,000 signatures gathered by the Chinese American community -all called a halt to all action in the  repeal of Proposition 209.

Those who had gained the greatest access to the public university saw the return of Affirmative Action as reducing their admissions.  Many feel that the Chinese Americans are not looking at the bigger picture. A bigger picture to the problem is what is happening to the african american and latino youth who are not being admitted to the California public universities? Where are they going? What are their options?


The Brookings Institute census bureau reported that youth 16-21 male and female have the sharpest drop of employment since World War II. Teens employed from 2000-2011 dropped from 45-26%, African american women are more likely to have work than young black males, the report states. California, as a state,  has the most significant diminished job option picture for youth, with Los Angeles being the lowest teen employment, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara at 5th from the bottom and San Francisco Oakland the 7th form the bottom, lowest employment for teens.

Unemployment hurts not only the youth completing high school who are damaged according to this report by the lack of access and opportunity to move forward into the public universities, or jobs-. The hopes for a future for the black and latino youths-men and women are not there. The gains of social mobility through education that have been a part of American life since World War II are going away for many segments of the population due to the costs and extensive loans required to gain a degree.  For those who benefited from affirmative action seeing those who are not granted an opening is painful.

As one student at UC Berkeley said in reference to the Affirmative Action bill being considered, the loss of the black and latino participation in their community is a loss to this generation.  The problems begin in public financing and support of the schools the children attend in poorer neighborhoods with less funding and less appeal to attract teachers committed to the community. The problem of funding to promote the development of young minds is the future we all want. Many feel that the african american and latino population through affirmative action to the public universities are the potential teachers and community leaders needed and wanted by the communities in need, and the city that needs them.


Recently President Obama has taken on the 100’s of thousands of young black men who must be brought along and for which a place needs to be granted, through training, education, mentoring with the commitment to have these young men, not in school, be brought back to school and to the opportunities that education provides. These issues are everyone’s concerns: with the same number of young black men admitted to college as killed, the President sees this as intolerable. It diminishes not only their lives but all their communities. In Oakland recently Yes WE code began the process of finding young black teens to support, mentor and train to code programs and create apps and join the world of the coders. Just the beginning of what must be a priority for all who care, knowing we have to go forward, have to find solutions to social inequity and the problems in inherent in them for all society.


The Chinese American community in blocking the action of moving towards preparation of a bill to consider Affirmative Action and inclusion of groups that are severely underrepresented is short sighted many feel.  But in the Bay Area, more and more employers are making it a priority to hire and train african american, latino and women for jobs, not waiting or needing to have a government program or state law to determine their practices.

We who came through affirmative action know the boost it gave to our aspirations and ability to realize the college degree and the jobs we wanted.  At 37, I was admitted to UC Berkeley when it was $325 a quarter.  I had the support of free childcare to the best possible education for my child, and a place at the table academically at one of the best universities in the world.  Closing the door of opportunity hurts everyone.  We pay for those who fall away, in prisons, in hospitals and in the lost opportunity of what they would bring to the world.   Preferential hiring and preferential admission to colleges and job trainings gave many of my sisters, my friends entry where none had existed prior to 1965.   A new history for many of us now denied to those who most need the hand up, the inclusion in the jobs that grant benefit and participation can be met in other ways.  Companies now choosing to take the role of providing training in coding, business practices and education, -this is the new history that we need to make available.  For those companies who have taken the steps to bring a practice of preference to include and train employees,  you are the frontrunners in the world, a world of choice and opportunity.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *