Historically, racial discrimination in America has been a major issue since the colonial era. Although there existed laws to guard against racial discrimination in the work place before the employment act of 1964, such laws were still inadequate to curb the vice. According to Feagin (2006), the heaviest burden of racial discrimination in United States have over the years landed heavily on native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latin Americans through institution such as slavery, segregation and residential schools among others. Slaves had no rights and they relied desperately on the master will to hire and fire. The slaves continued to be used in agricultural labor primarily in the production of tobacco and cotton, shipyard, docks and as domestic servants until 19 century when most of Northwestern states abolished slavery. Although the importation of slave trade was banned by the constitution as early as 1808 and equated with piracy that was punishable by death, this practice still existed until the next half century. Even after the emancipation proclamation which was issued by President Lincoln declaring all slaves in the confederated states of America free from slavery and servitude, slavery was not in the real sense abolished until the 13th amendment was passed in December 1865. More that 4 million slaves were freed (Gibson, 2004).
According to Berger (1989), it is the equal opportunity act of the fourteenth amendment that managed to secure the civil rights of the former slaves marking a success against racial discrimination. The amendment provided abroad definition of citizen while requiring the state to give equal protection to all citizens within its jurisdiction. Section one of the amendment states that no state shall make or enforce any law which can contravenes the privileges or immunities of citizens of United States neither shall any state deprive any person of life, property or liberty without due process of law.
In 1960, the issue of minorities and the affirmative action came into the focal point of the public debates. Many activist at this point in time felt that the minority preference in public and private employment was essential as a remedy for violation of civil and constitutional rights. Women and disabled people were the minorities who were still being left out in the recruitment process. Entertainers and activist including the president wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, pushed for civil rights by organizing protest marches and seeking the state concession. It is during the same time that the country was struggling to recover from the great depression and racial segregation and civil rights violation was at its pick. In 1961 president J.F. Kennedy used affirmative action when he directed that the federal contractors to take affirmative action in order to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, sex, color religion or national origin. A committee on equal employment opportunities was first to look into issue regarding discrimination (Beckwith & Todd, 1997).
Among the protesters was the pastor and activist Martin Luther king Jnr, who organized non violent protest which culminated to passage into law of the civil rights act of 1964. The law went along way to level the issues surrounding labor disputes, wages, terms and condition of employment among other things (Gibson, 2004). The provision of the act prohibited discrimination on the basis race or sex in hiring promoting and firing. Most importantly the act provided a leeway for the enactment of the equal employment opportunity act of 1972 that in turn provided an avenue for enforcing the civil rights act. Title vii of the civil rights of 1964 covers people against employment discrimination on the basis of gender/ sex, race, national origin, color and religion. The law applies to both private and public sector employers at the local, state and federal levels. It prohibits making employment decisions on the basis of assumptions and stereotypes about abilities, performance other traits of individual on the basis of their protected status. Title ix further ruled that No person shall be excluded from participation on the basis of sex, color or race or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity which is under federal financial assistance (NARA, 1988). While substantial legal outcome having been achieved in the past regarding public employment discrimination and the affirmative action, the minorities remain among the most disadvantaged group in United States and continue to suffer in poverty, high level of alcoholism and suicide. However in 2008, the country witnessed yet another step against racism when the majority white American voted in large number to the Black president Barrack Obama.
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Beckwith, J.F & Todd E. J. (1997). Affirmative Action: Social Justice or overturn
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Clark, C. (1991). Sexual Harassment: Men and Women in Workplace Power fights. Washington,
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Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. NY: Routledge.
Gibson, R. (2004). Against Racism and Nationalism. Retrieved on February 4, 2009 from
National Archives and Records Administration, (NARA). (1988) The Civil Rights Act of 1964
and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved on February 4, 2009