Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Does Affirmative Action Discriminate Against White People?
First, Virginia's Governor passed a resolution honoring Confederate history. Now this.
In his Wall Street Journal article titled Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege, U.S. Senator James Webb (D-VA) wrote:
"Lyndon Johnson's initial program for affirmative action was based on the 13th Amendment and on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which authorized the federal government to take actions in order to eliminate "the badges of slavery." Affirmative action was designed to recognize the uniquely difficult journey of African-Americans. This policy was justifiable and understandable, even to those who came from white cultural groups that had also suffered in socio-economic terms from the Civil War and its aftermath.
The injustices endured by black Americans at the hands of their own government have no parallel in our history, not only during the period of slavery but also in the Jim Crow era that followed. But the extrapolation of this logic to all "people of color"—especially since 1965, when new immigration laws dramatically altered the demographic makeup of the U.S.—moved affirmative action away from remediation and toward discrimination, this time against whites. It has also lessened the focus on assisting African-Americans, who despite a veneer of successful people at the very top still experience high rates of poverty, drug abuse, incarceration and family breakup.
Those who came to this country in recent decades from Asia, Latin America and Africa did not suffer discrimination from our government, and in fact have frequently been the beneficiaries of special government programs. The same cannot be said of many hard-working white Americans, including those whose roots in America go back more than 200 years.
Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.
Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities. Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes."
I strongly oppose Senator Webb's arguments for several reasons. Although no group is monolithic, white privilege continues to be a reality. Contrary to Mr. Webb's assertions, the so-called "WASP" elites continue to dominate the American social, economic and political system. For example, the overwhelming majority of corporate leaders are white. As noted in George Curry's article titled Race, Gender and Corporate America,
"A 1995 report by the federal Glass Ceiling Commission observed, "At the highest levels of business, there is indeed a barrier only rarely penetrated by women or persons of color. 97 percent of the senior managers of Fortune 1000 industrial and Fortune 500 companies are white; 95 to 97 percent are male. In Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies, 5 percent of senior managers are women - and of that 5 percent, virtually all are White.
The Glass Ceiling report observes, "...The world at the top of the corporate hierarchy does not yet look anything like America. Two-thirds of our population, and 57 percent of the working population, is female, or minorities, or both." The commission projects that this year, people of color and women will make up 62 percent of the workforce.
In addition, all U.S. governors, except four, are white. All U.S. senators, except one, are white.
As a result of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, even poor and working class whites benefit from white privilege. By virtue of their skin pigment, they are treated better than African Americans and other minorities by police, teachers, employers and society in general.
Senator Webb's proposal may end all affirmative action programs. Mr. Webb cites the legacy of slavery and general societal discrimination as the only basis for continuing some government-directed affirmative action programs. However, in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that goal of affirmative action measures must be "far more focused than remedying of the effects of societal discrimination, an amorphous concept of injury that may be ageless in its reach." The court further stated that there must be "judicial, legislative or administrative or administrative findings of past discrimination." That is a very difficult standard to meet. Accordingly, if Mr. Webb's limited view was adopted, the number of affirmative action programs would greatly diminish. Many African Americans who "still need" would not be able to reap the benefits of affirmative action plans.
In addition to past discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that diversity is a compelling interest justifying affirmative action programs. As noted in Grutter v. Bollinger, diversity enables better understanding of persons of different races. The court noted that "the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints." In Grutter, military officers filed amicus briefs stating that diversity in the military is essential to national security. In sum, affirmative action benefits America, not just African Americans and immigrants.
Furthermore, Mr. Webb offers no proof that white workers have been marginalized by affirmative action programs. On the other hand, there is substantial proof African Americans and other minorities continue to be marginalized. According to Julianne Malveaux, "The unemployment rate for black people nationwide is twice that for whites." According to Nikitra S. Bailey, "African American have a median net worth of $5,998, compared to $88,651 for whites." African Americans and Latinos continue to be denied employment opportunities based on race. As noted in the ACLU's position paper on affirmative action,"the National Urban Institute...sent equally qualified pairs of job applicants on a series of interviews for entry-level jobs. The young men were coached to display similar levels of enthusiasm and “articulateness.” The young white men received 45% more job offers than their African American co-testers; whites were offered the job 52% more often than Latino “applicants.”"
In conclusion, if lawmakers and courts adopt Mr. Webb's view, the doors of opportunity will be closed to many African Americans, Latinos and other minorities. For example, in his article titled The Fall of Affirmative Action, William C. Kiddler cites a study of college admission rates following the end of affirmative action in California, Texas and Washington. The study found that admission rates for African Americans at elite public colleges fell from 6.65 percent to 2.25 percent.