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Affirmative Action describes policies in a variety of contexts where individuals from certain groups or backgrounds are given preferential weight or treatment, such as in employment applications or school admissions. The term comes from US President John F. Kennedy, writing an Executive Order in 1961: "The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin." Proponents of affirmative action see such policies as means to address previous discrimination or harms, or as a way to remove bias in a selection process.

The topic is controversial in the United States, and polling shows conflicting beliefs: Gallup found that 47% of Americans supported affirmative action policies for racial minorities in 2001, with that share growing to 62% in 2021, while Pew polling in 2022 found 74% of respondents thought that race should not be a factor in the college admission process.

As of April 2022, 9 US states ban affirmative action.