Job disparities still exist, but an increasing number of minority Americans want to turn away from race-conscious hiring.
Affirmative action appears to have reached a crossroads. The critique of racial preferences, first advanced by conservatives in the 1970s, resonated with enough African Americans during the '80s that, by the mid-'90s, black activists such as California's Ward Connerly were interested in taking up the fight.
The term affirmative action is not all of a piece. Originally it meant only that the institutions practicing discrimination would do more than simply stop discriminating.
One example of nonquota affirmative action is aggressive advertising to let people in minority communities know that opportunities previously dosed to them are now available. This is "affirmative" in the sense that it constitutes a concrete way for employers to add minority members to their applicant pool. In the late '60s, advertising was seen as an important step that employers, clubs, and lenders could take beyond merely ceasing to discriminate against minority members who applied.
But the decline into quotas was precipitous. While hiring by the numbers is theoretically illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, quotas come through the back door of enforcement. How could the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission--the regulatory agency instituted by President Kennedy in 1961 and empowered by the Civil Rights Act in 1964 to handle complaints …