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Over the last few years, affirmative action programs have come under attack on college campuses around the country. Opponents of affirmative action argue that since the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which introduced affirmative action to American policy), America has become a diverse, integrated and tolerant society. They maintain that such programs are no longer needed and that college admission policies should reflect America's new color blindness. There is no denying that there has been progress in race relations over the last 30 years of history. Legal segregation of public accommodations, schools and transportation no longer exists. Outright racist acts are no longer tolerated and occur rarely. However, to say that America currently is an integrated and color-blind society is a na‹ve assertion at best. Although the country is no longer legally segregated, it is far from being either integrated or color-blind. American school systems currently exist under conditions of de facto segregation and with huge disparities between schools in different communities. In some states, school systems in urban minority communities receive 50 times less funding than those in richer, whiter suburban communities. While students in some communities are the benefactors of paid field trips to Washington D.C. and Hershey Park, students in other classrooms must share books because there are not enough for every child. Teachers in urban schools are paid less and given fewer resources. And often, the most qualified urban teachers are attracted to the suburban schools because of higher salaries. All these factors have left minority communities mired in a vicious circle of poverty and substandard elementary and secondary school education -- and that has left them in an inherently unequal playing field that severely limits their opportunities for success. We must come to see these sad realities that exist in some circles of American life. Opponents of affirmative action seemingly want us to ignore these problems that plague our society. They want us to believe that the presence of one or two minorities within a neighborhood, classroom or corporation suggests that America is now a fully diverse and integrated nation. That is not enough. The presence of a few minorities within professional or social environments is not a sign of America's growth as a diverse or integrated society. America will not become a diverse nation until minorities and their issues, ideas, concerns and beliefs are fully incorporated within the social and political power structure of America. Affirmative action programs -- which attempt to bridge some of these gaps within America's social, economic and political structure -- are not handouts or attempts to coddle minorities. Instead, they try to further the racial progress started over 30 years ago when some of the legal gaps and hurdles for minorities were removed. These programs are designed to offset the effects of discrimination. They also serve to provide minorities and women access to education and employment opportunities in order to establish their voice within that power structure. For the past 40 years, affirmative action has offered women and other minorities a greater influence within that power structure than ever before. Beneficiaries of affirmative action programs have not only empowered themselves, they have also been more likely to return to those poor and impoverished communities to facilitate that empowerment within the next generation. However, despite this progress, affirmative action is still needed because there are significant gains that need to be made to decrease the effects of the substandard education of minority children. As the great Malcolm X once said, "Education is the key to unlocking the chains of oppression." And thus, integration and diversity in America will not come until its minority peoples are provided with the educational opportunities needed to catapult their own upward social mobility. Affirmative action programs must serve as vehicles for providing minorities the educational opportunities needed to make a difference in their lives and within their communities. Until those opportunities are fully provided, America can ill afford to part ways with its those policies.

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