The fact that racial minorities in the United States have been victims of discrimination is without question. It is also without question that an enlightened society should try to remedy this pat discrimination and prevent it in the future. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and affirmative action are two attempts to do just that. These actions have unintended effects of their own, however.

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Can the government legislate fairness? It remains an open and tricky question. Does creating “fairness” for some inherently create unfairness for others? Are we creating a class of federally endorsed victims? What are the resulting social and psychological effects for those who are the primary focus of these policies and society as a whole? These are a few of the questions that must be asked as we move forward in the 21st century.

Fairness and justice cannot be created or maintained with a solitary action. They require a cultural commitment. This commitment, in turn, requires an ongoing effort to understand both the effects of discrimination and the policies meant to fight it.

Background

Racial discrimination against minority groups is a pervasive force in American culture. Some say that the problems, or at least its most obvious manifestations, have greatly diminished as the country has come of age. Others disagree, saying that covert forms of discrimination are just as harmful today as the overt forms of the past. At least partially recognizing this, the government tried to remedy past injustices by means of affirmative action and other programs crafted during the civil rights movement of the latter 20th century.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was another attempt to address a discriminated-against group of people. It set standard requirements for accessibility of public and private buildings. It also formalized the narrow set of conditions under which a person can be fired or not hired because of disability. A similar set of requirements applied to public schools, mandating accommodation of physically or mentally challenged students (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007).

These legislative acts have been challenged fromseveral angles. In some cases powerful interests have been able to modify certain parts. Debate continues about the efficacy of the legislation and its effects on the individuals it is intended to benefit, particularly in the case of affirmative action.

Page 2 ADA and Affirmative Action Essay

Strengths of the legislation

Both pieces of legislationbroke new ground toward guaranteeing the rights of all citizens. The ADA has raised awareness of the difficulties people with disabilities have. It has also ensured the opportunity for many to pursue their educational and career goals. It also represented a step toward equality for an often discriminated against group.

Affirmative action affects relatively few minorities. It does, at least, provide some indication that government r recognizes the value of diversity. It has been a stepping stone for some African-Americans to achieve great success in education, law and other fields.

Weaknesses of the legislation

The primary weakness of both pieces of legislation is that they do not go far enough. In the ADA, for example, there are exceptions to the compliance rules due to the nebulous concept of “undue burden” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2007). Critics of affirmative action say that mandating “fairness” for one group ensures unfairness for many others.

The goals and methods of affirmative action need to be continually reiterated and adapted as times change. Misperceptions about the policy have led to resentment not only among white Americans but also among some non-black minorities. Meanwhile affirmative action attaches a certain stigma to those who either receive or are thought to have received it. This in itself can hinder their achievement and self-confidence.

Meanwhile there is a cultural perception that such programs have “solved” the race problem in the United States. Atkinson warns us that this is far from being true (2004). We have only begun to dig into the effect on the cultural psyche’ of centuries of injustice.

Analysis and Conclusion

The ADA and affirmative action legislation are the products of a philosophy that society should be blind to differences in race or physical ability. In general, act such as these present two dangers. They limit our knowledge of minority psychology because they essentially attach a victim label to large numbers of people irregardless of their individual circumstances. Secondly, they create a perception within the wider culture that fairness has been achieved.

The need for federal intervention on these issues is clear. It must be an enlightened intervention however. More research must be done into the individual effects of legislative acts such as these; not only in the tangible physical sense but also in the psychological sense (Atkinson, 2004). America is becoming more multi-cultural as a society but also as individuals. In the future it will be more difficult to tell who affirmative action should apply to or if it would do more harm than good.

Atkinson shows us that the effects of injustice past and present permeate the culture as a whole as well as the individuals within that culture. These effects are part of the unique cultural tapestry of each American. A consistent and thorough effort to understand how all these factors affect individuals may be a more effective way to ensure future justice than any legislation could be.

Sources

Anderson, Terry H. (2004). The Pursuit of Fairness: a history of affirmative action. New

York: Oxford University Press.

Atkinson, Donald R. (2004). Counseling American Minorities. New York: McGraw-Hill.

U.S. Department of Justice. (2007). “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990”. Retrieved

8/13/2008 from: http://www.ada.gov/pubs/ada.htm

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