1). If preferences for minorities and the underprivileged are not created, we will not live in a preferenceless society. Even if the history of this country had no present impact, preference is alive and well. Preferences in universities for alumni and sports or competitive stars will naturally privilege, respectively, white families who attended universities before they had yet to completely desegregate, and rich families who have the capacity to buy the best tutors for their children. White men still get 93% of all government contract dollars.
2). 86% of jobs, according to the National Center for Career Statistics, are never advertised. This means, in practice, that the job goes to those with connections to the employers. The history of this country is such that the “old boy’s networks” will give these jobs, especially the good jobs, to those with the historical power, with the families that have been affiliated with the good colleges and the big businesses for generations. This is part of the reason why the very same blacks who presumably take white jobs are two to three times more likely to be unemployed, even when their credentials are equal to their white counterparts. Women receive 12% more Ph. D yet get 20% less tenured track positions. When women have the exact same statistics, 80% of executives say that women are kept down in their own companies and are paid less, according to a study conducted by Fortune magazine. Qualified black men with degrees in executive position earn 21% less, even when controlling for all other variables (age, time in workforce, location, etc.). Affirmative action therefore forces companies to open their positions to some kind of competitive market in order to fill the required slots.
3) The OFCCP review that determines compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act (the legislation that prevents private or public sector discrimination) is only able to survey 4000 companies, yet even there about three quarters of the company are in patent violation. However, the OFFCP review can only perform the type of spot checks it needs to enforce the Civil Rights Act every 38 years per business. In this sense, affirmative action is an alternative way of enforcing the law that actually exists on the books. The hypocrisy of the neo-cons is again drastically shown: finding a new way to enforce murder or even public decency laws, even if those enforcement mechanisms violated or infringed upon civil rights, would meet with instant approval by these maniacs, yet something to insure that the rich and powerful do not totally run away with the bank is stringently opposed.
4) Individual anti-discrimination suits are incredibly difficult to file. Note that the most recent high-profile case that I can think of (aside from the Wal-Mart debacles), the case against Texaco, was only successful because the executives were caught on tape. This is not the case the majority of the time, and even if the courts were not biased towards the rich due to deep pockets and the way judges are elected, it is incredibly difficult to prove that one refused to hire or decided to fire an employee because of racism. According to a review of Federal Affirmative Action programs in 1995, “Even after passage of the civil rights laws . . . judicial and legislative victories were not enough to overcome long-entrenched discrimination . . . . Formal litigation-related strategies [were] often dependent upon clear “smoking gun” evidence of overt bias or bigotry, whereas prejudice can take on myriad subtle, yet effective forms. Thus, private and public institutions alike too often seemed impervious to the winds of change, remaining all-white or all-male long after court decisions or statutes formally ended discrimination. As a result, both the courts and Republican and Democratic administrations turned to race- and gender-conscious remedies . . . developed after experimentation had shown that other means too often failed to correct the problems.”
5) Even mainstream organizations, like the Glass Ceiling Commission, a think tank created by Bob Dole and George HW Bush, said that an “ongoing pattern of injustice” perpetuates a system where 43% of the workforce (white men) are 97% of upper management, 80% of tenured professors, 85% of all private management position, NOT because of qualifications. The GCC also said that affirmative action would need to continue.
6) There is virtually zero basis to reverse racism cases that are taken to the courts. Alfred Bloomrosen looked at the court cases in which affirmative action “reverse racism” cases were litigated (i.e. cases that claimed that a less qualified minority or woman applicant was given the job or the seat in college); 3000 cases were reviewed in the study, in which 100 were won and 6 were true. In all 100 cases, even though 94 had no merit, there was ample compensation. A study published in the Journal of Economic Literature–actually an analysis of over 200 other studies–found that persons who have benefited from affirmative action perform equal to or better than their white contemporaries, indicating that they are meeting whatever standard exists for everyone else. When a University of Texas applicant sued the state of Texas saying that her LSAT scores were higher than several black applicants, she conveniently ignored that 100 white applicants also had inferior LSAT scores. She wouldn’t have bothered to take the case if there hadn’t been a reverse racism opening because she has no inherent right to get into UoT, yet when a college decides to include as one of their standards for designing their campus a reasonable requirement that the campus be ethnically and culturally diverse, spoiled privileged individuals complain.
7) Whites in this country favored affirmative action programs before the right racialized and politicized the issue, and by now even the Supreme Court has come around to the idea that taking holistically into account the background of a person is acceptable. Northwestern has a policy that I learned when I was there for a summer debate camp, which involves analyzing your transcript not on some ridiculous absolute scale, but based on what was conceivably possible in your area.
8) If we want to encourage a meritocracy (i.e. a society where the “best [wo]man” gets the job, then we need to do exactly what any sensible individual would do. Let’s say that you’re a talent scout for a sports team. You see two quarterbacks. One is technically deficient but has amazing reserves of speed, precision and skill and is an effective leader; the other is technically sufficient but is at the peak of her/his game and will reach his/her apex fairly quickly. Which one would you take? The latter may lead to more immediate success, but the investment in the former is worthwhile. Simply put: If a black student has to brave inner city violence and the knowledge that gang warfare may be occuring in his very school while he is in class, if he has to take tests while plaster is falling around his ears, if his school does not offer AP classes (and, if it did, it would almost inevitably track him into remedial or lower level classes), if he does as most black students do and avoid drinking and drugs (even though they have far more opportunities to take them than white students), and still manages to get an 1100 on the SAT and a 3.5 GPA, then he is demonstrating intellect, merit and talent that far overrides my 3.8 and 1370 GPA. (This is putting aside the value of the SAT and high school grades in determining college performance, which is essentially nil).
9) The government is a stable organization with debts that do not disappear after some pre-ordained time period. It has debts that outlast the individuals that pay it taxes and compose it. Because government at all levels, local, state and federal, was complicit in the terror and indignity inflicted on blacks for centuries, it has a debt to pay. Private citizens also have an obligation, though for different reasons. People say, “I didn’t enslave anybody! I wasn’t alive during Jim Crow!” As true as this is, this only proves no direct involvement in the crimes, but complicity and accessory to the crimes still applies. A concrete example: Your grandfather hands you a bike that is covered with blood that is obviously not his. You know for a fact he violently stole it. Is it within your rights to accept it? No, obviously not, because doing so makes you involved with and in fact encouraging of this type of behavior. The same applies here. White males like myself have had privilege precisely because others have not, and as long as this is the case, we are complicit in ways that are almost impossible to describe. One example: Government created the white middle class in the 1950s and 1960s. 35 million white families got underwritten FHA loans and went to the suburbs, while those who were black were denied those loans. The home equity caused by the FHA loans is about $10 trillion. $10 trillion is more than all the outstanding mortgage debt, all the credit card debt, all the savings account assets, all the money in IRA’s and 401k retirement plans, all the annual profits for U.S. manufacturers, and our entire merchandise trade deficit combined.
10) This struggle is not about the rights or needs of any one group, whether it be blacks, women, Latina/os, or Asian-Americans. All of these groups are harmed. Asian Americans with college degrees make 11% less than whites with high school diplomas. Latina/os as a community lose 12 billion dollars a year that they would get if their job conditions are fair. Economist Andrew Brimmer estimates that $240 billion is siphoned off of the economy each year because of mistreatment of blacks alone, due to lost productivity stemming from restricted talent, ability and output. Further, this inequity lowers growth rates: Dani Rodrik, a Harvard professor, discovered that a 10% gain in the Gini index of inequity reduces growth rates by 1.2%. No, this struggle is about the dignity and rights of all human beings. And if we are unable to resolve the inequity and injustice in our society, then any President’s ringing declarations of civil rights and a crusade for democracy will always ring false in the eyes and ears of the world and of history.
June 10, 2014 Note: This is mostly drawn from Tim Wise’s statistics on the topic. Obviously the statistics have changed somewhat but I don’t think the underlying logic has.