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.


  1. "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

    I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

    I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

    Dr. King would turn over in his grave if he saw all this bickering. Had he seen and felt the results of Affirmative Action. Had he seen the behavior of John Lewis and Jesse Jackson over the last 20 years.

    That's NOT what he wanted.

  2. @longhorn...Affirmative action has helped expand the African American middle and upper classes. It has promoted the integration of public and private universities. Affirmative action has brought this country closer to fulfilling Dr. King's dream. John Lewis and Rev. Jesse Jackson are stellar champions of civil and human rights. They and countless activists have help forge a more perfect union.

  3. Affirmative action has been an important program for redressing the past wrongs of slavery and Jim Crow. But make no mistake about it, it DOES come with a cost. And it is not accurate at all to say that whites aren't impacted by it. in the 1990s, there was a wholesale purge of Whites from the federal government to meet diversity goals set by the Clinton Administration.

  4. @Anonymous...If you are referring to the firing of U.S. attorneys in 1993, Presidents routinely replace U.S. attorneys when they take office. Based on my research, I do not see any proof that Clinton's decision was based on race.

  5. Mr Anson, in the begging affirmative action did what its suppose to, today it does the complete opposite and opens the door to segregation and discrimination. I today's age everybody has an equal chance however people of "preferred" backgrounds should have more opportunities just because of their skin color. By the way Jesse Jackson is not a rev. by any means and is in fact a racist himself

  6. @Anonymous 2/16/11...Affirmative action has helped integrate public and elite colleges and universities. Several studies reveal that significant racial disparities in education, economics, criminal justice and health continue to exist. Talk of "equal chance" is just talk, not reality. Finally, Rev. Jackson is not a racist. He has devoted his life to ending racism.

  7. I think students should get into college based on their acedemics, not based on their skin color. Affirmative action has been spotted for what it really is and it's time has ended. BTW you make a lot of statements but never list any sources. Did public school fail you, or did you skip the elemenary years? I learned how to site my sources in the 3rd grade. You really ought to take plagarism more seriously.

  8. For most affirmative action programs, race is one of several factors considered. Academic achievement remains a major factor for consideration.

    Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with you. The Court has determined that diversity is a compelling interest which justifies affirmative action.

    Since you are unable to provide any substantive arguments, you decide to raise a non-issue. The source for the Julianne Malveaux and Nikitra Bailey quotes is "Accessing Good Jobs, Wealth, and Economic Prosperity", The Covenant with Black America, Introduction by Tavis Smiley, Third World Press, pages 170, 171, 184 and 185. All of the other sources are properly noted.

  9. I am a white middle aged woman, and I have certainly experienced discrimination. I have applied to companies that hire black human resources managers who get away with discrimination, which can be blatantly seen by the color of the people working in that particular store. Take for instance, Verizon, I live in a southeastern town and when you go into the local Verizon store, you will see that 90% of the work force there is black, and I have seen this in several majority white towns. So, do NOT tell me that there isn't a culture of discrimination against whites brewing in this day and age. Shame on Verizen and all other employers who discriminate against white people, you are doing the very thing against innocent whites that happened to blacks during the Jim Crow era. One wrong, does not justify another wrong.

    1. It's a shame that you experience that in an area you 'claim' is primarily white. Perhaps you should move to a location where you can get more work because your odds of being successful in that instance is STILL a LOT better a chance than a person of color moving around and getting an opportunity of permanent employment in America with equal pay to the white counter-parts.