‘Affirmative action” was the logical sequel to the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s. The initial reasoning was attractive enough. New guarantees of equality of opportunity were insufficient to achieve the promised social parity, given the legacy of slavery and the existence of ongoing racial bias. Therefore, to counteract the effects of historical discrimination, the race of individuals must be weighed into contemporary hiring and admissions practices. The key was to avoid the word “quota.” That did not sound very “affirmative” for a program that supposedly was about growing (or “enriching”) the pie, not a crass zero-sum game of taking a college spot or a job from one person and giving it to another on the basis of race.
Second, although slavery was confined to the Confederacy, there was the general assumption that, as blacks in the postbellum era had migrated northward, they were subjected to all sorts of bias, and so the recompense was to be a national, not just a southern, obligation.
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