The past century and a half has seen rights for minorities throughout America massively improving, ranging from the end of black slavery to the more recent grant to the LGBT communities to become married in a significant number of states. There has been a total transformation of minority rights with the more liberal minded democrat politicians putting equality and civil rights at the forefront of social policy. However, in recent years that has been wide debate over the extent to which equality has gone, and whether it remains a ‘distant dream’ with the civil right movement in general having ‘failed’. This essay will explore this area, assessing whether or not equality now exists.
One significant argument supporting the idea that America has failed to create an equal society is that black people still do not have equal opportunities or status to that of white people. The advances made by black people in employment remain to be precarious and, compared to the rest of the population fundamentally limited. The result of black slavery and the Jim Crow laws is that a legacy was created which ultimately institutionalised social, economic and political disadvantages that African Americans are still suffering from. Black Americans have still not caught up economically with the rest of the population and are still suffering the consequences of their economic predisposition. Until the Jim Crow laws were outlawed in the 1960s, the ability for black Americans to build up capital such as land or homes was difficult and limited, which means that they essentially have no mechanism of support when times are hard.
In addition to this, the jobs that they hold tend to be low level labour tasks, which, in times of economic boom will be beneficial to them, will result in high unemployment levels in times of economic downfall. This is evidenced by the fact that the proportion of unemployed African-Americans has remained stubbornly twice the national average. This unemployment paired with the absence of property and land owned by them, means that equality has still not occurred and economic equality in specific still does not exist.
However, in recent years various programmes that fall under the category of affirmative action have been introduced, which have been aimed to reduce the opportunity gap between the minority class and the rest of American society. It was initially aimed at African Americans as a means of reducing the disparity between the rich white class and the poor black class, but has subsequently been extended to provide help to a variety of minority groups, especially for the growing Latino community. It can occur in a variety of different forms, some such as quotas for minorities in higher education courses, have been ruled unconstitutional (University of California V Bakke), whereas others which make race a ‘plus factor’ in job applications have been approved (Grutter V Bollinger).
On a political level affirmative action has appeared to be a success in a number of areas helping to make America a more equal society. There has been a significant increase on the political representation of minority groups, with affirmative action allowing more minority representatives make it into Congress, the Federal government and the Judiciary. In 1984 there were 21 African-Americans in Congress- all in the House of Representatives. In contrast to this, in 2011 there were 42 members of Congress. Most significantly has been the witnessing of the first ever black President, Barack Obama, who defeated Republican John McCain in 2008. During Clinton’s 8 years as President over 23% of federal judiciary appointees were from racial minorities, as compared to Reagan in the 1980s who appointed less than 5% minorities to the federal judiciary. This shows how in recent years the political representation of minority groups has significantly increased, which can in part be credited to