Early Efforts Focusing
on Equality of
The history of discrimination directed against minorities and women in the United States because of racist, ethnocentric, or sexist attitudes has been long and painful. Discrimination has bred violence, fear, and desperation and has left an indelible mark on the American psyche. It is based on the notion that some people, distinguished by their cultural identities or immutable characteristics such as sex or the amount of melanin present in the skin, are inferior to others. Such attitudes flourishing in a country whose founding documents eloquently embrace notions of equality are ironic and disappointing. Writing in the mid-i940s, Gunnar Myrdal described the problem of race relations in the United States as one of the most urgent dilemmas facing American society. Since the time of Myrdal's influential book, Americans have been struggling with the question of how to deal with discrimination most effectively. Not until the later decades of the twentieth century, however, were substantial efforts undertaken to address practices that kept untold numbers of women and minorities from achieving what their talents and abilities would allow. Affirmative action, in all of its various forms, is an outgrowth of those efforts.
This chapter examines major developments in the struggle to overcome the problem of discrimination against minorities and women and explores the emergence of the earliest affirmative action programs. As the discussion