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af·firm·a·tive ac·tion

/əˈfɜr·mə·t̬ɪv ˈæk·ʃən/

: the practice of improving the educational and job opportunities of members of

groups that have not been treated fairly in the past because of their race, sex, etc. 




Affirmative action was introduced in the United States at a time when racial justice was, quite literally, a Black and White issue.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution very clearly prohibits discrimination based on the color of someone’s skin: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”


But, in the early 1960’s, America had a major problem.  Because Black Americans had been enslaved and then excluded from government protections for decades, severe inequality was massive between the White and Black the point that the racial imbalance in colleges and universities was impossible to rectify without outside intervention.​ Therefore, the original concept of affirmative action was presented as a form of reparations for Black Americans who emerged from slavery only to, for decades after, be denied equal rights under the law.


The term “affirmative action” first appeared in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925. The order said, in part: “In connection with the performance of work under this contract, the contractor agrees as follows: The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin.  The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”


This was followed by Executive Order 11246, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, which “prohibited discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each (federal) executive department and agency.”

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