WHITE WOMEN AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: WHICH SIDE WILL YOU STAND ON?

Affirmative Action is the set of public policies and initiatives designed to help eliminate past and present discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, is under attack. Everyone who knows anything about the attack on Affirmative Action by now should know of the name Ward Connerly. Numerous articles have been written about his attacks upon AA and his initiatives that have been put on elections in many states to destroy AA. This recent article gives a report on Connerly’s vicious agenda to dismantle AA since he is dead-set on destroying the few paltry gains of AA that black Americans have acquired, as well as the few they might acquire if AA remains in place:

FROM MISSOURI TO ARIZONA

 

WARD CONNERLY MAINTAINS he has simple reasons for campaigning to end affirmative action. “I’m not just fighting to end racial preferences—I’m fighting to alter the way people still see Black people as weak and lazy,” says Connerly, a Black real estate consultant who founded and chairs the anti-affirmative action American Civil Rights Institute. “People are rethinking race, and as they do, they’re having a hard time thinking that Black people whose ancestors overcame slavery can’t make it on their own. Because, let’s face it, at the end of the day, when we talk about affirmative action, we’re talking about Black people.”

Affirmative action supporters concede that during the last decade, Connerly has been successful at connecting with voters in California, Washington and Michigan as they’ve passed measures banning race- and gender-based “preference” programs. But they contend he’s done it by getting white citizens to act on their suspicions about the inferiority of people of color. “In Michigan, voters were being asked to give up a small modicum of white privilege, and they wouldn’t do it,” says Shanta Driver, national co-chair of By Any Means Necessary, a pro-affirmative action group known by its acronym BAMN. “They voted against integration.”

The debate over how and why California, Washington and especially Michigan voted to gut their affirmative action programs has intensified since Connerly announced last fall that he and his allies would be taking their crusade to as many as nine more states for the 2008 elections. While Connerly now says his team has narrowed the list to five—Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma—he still argues that it could be the last stand for affirmative action.

Read the rest of the article here:  http://colorlines.com/article.php?ID=258

Black people are perceived of as “weak and lazy” when AA comes to mind? So, what of the many white women who benefit more than black people from AA? Are not those white women weak and lazy for using AA to benefit themselves? Are not their white husbands and sons benefitting when white women make gains from AA?

To hear the ilk such as Connerly tell it, only black Americans benefit from AA, and no one else.

The following excerpt from Tim Wise speaks to how AA affects white women, and how they have benefitted from AA even when many white women across America are voting to end the continuance of AA:

“IS SISTERHOOD CONDITIONAL? WHITE WOMEN AND THE ROLLBACK OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION”

Despite the significant benefits to white women from affirmative action programs in education, employment, and contracting; and despite the likelihood that gender discrimination, like its racial counterpart, would intensify in the absence of these programs, white women have been noticeably absent from the front lines of affirmative action’s defense–even in the face of open assaults on such policies, like Proposition 209 in California. This paper will first demonstrate the degree to which affirmative action has benefitted white women in terms of education, and employment; then focus attention on continuing gender bias facing women in the United States–a reality that one might expect to heighten white women’s opposition to ending affirmative action; next, the paper will examine the backlash against affirmative action and demonstrate the degree to which white women have been largely silent in the face of this backlash; and finally, the paper will discuss various theories to explain this silence and complicity–with particular attention to the vote in California–and what, if anything, can be done to mobilize white women to defend affirmative action. In We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action, Georgetown law professors Charles Lawrence and Mari Matsuda argue: “If all women supported affirmative action, no politician would dare oppose it. The political power of women united, combined with men of color and progressive white men, would render any challenge to affirmative action futile. The current backlash against affirmative action is made possible, in part, by women’s ambivalence” (Lawrence and Matsuda 1997, 152). Although such a statement is substantively true, as will be seen, the reality is more complex; after all, for decades, women of color have consistently expressed high levels of support for affirmative action (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Zia 1992). In essence, the “women’s ambivalence,” toward affirmative action, about which Lawrence and Matsuda are so justifiably concerned, is largely white women’s ambivalence.Despite the benefits that have accrued to all–and particularly white–women as a result of affirmative action, there has been an alarming silence on the part of most white women even as reactionary forces have begun to chip away at these civil rights gains. In California, white women actually joined with white men in November 1996, to cast the decisive votes for Proposition 209, which ended affirmative action in state hiring, contracting, and college admissions. Despite attempts to target those white women with campaign ads and a voter education drive highlighting the gender-based benefits of affirmative action, white women largely ignored the overtures made by opponents of 209, voting in favor of the initiative by 58-42% (Chavez 1998, 239).The important question is why? Why would white women increasingly come to view affirmative action in largely the same negative terms as the “angry white men” about whom the media has made such an issue in recent years? Are white women thinking and voting more like white men on this issue because they identify their interests as being largely tied to those of white men–perhaps their husbands, or sons–and as such, are afraid affirmative action might restrict opportunities for loved ones and family members (Ladowsky 1995)? Is their ambivalence due to a false sense of efficacy and opportunity? Since white women have made some impressive gains over the past 30 years, do they now feel affirmative action is no longer needed (Burkett 1998)? Are white women essentially identifying more with their perceived racial interest, than gender or individual interest, and thus responding predictably to the “racialization” of affirmative action in mainstream discourse? In other words, are white women hostile to affirmative action largely because of their own racial prejudice (Frankenberg 1993)? Or, was the failure to convince a majority of white women to vote against 209 simply a failure of resource mobilization? Not enough money? Not enough time? In other words, the message was right, the strategy sound-to target white women and emphasize the gender aspect of affirmative action–but the “good guys” were simply outgunned and outspent?1

Tracking the Benefits of Affirmative Action

The reluctance of white women to stand up for affirmative action, a subject to which we will return, seems particularly surprising, given the measurable dividends such policies have paid over three decades. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a substantial step towards equity for women and people of color, it became obvious after the Act’s passage that passive non-discrimination would be insufficient to alter the nation’s opportunity structure. The development of affirmative action–and its essential rationale–was summarized in the 1995 Review of Federal Affirmative Action Programs, prepared by the President’s staff, with the help of various government agencies. According to the Review:

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. (Review of Federal Affirmative Action Programs 1995)

President Johnson’s initial Executive Order mandating that “affirmative action” be taken to remedy and prevent racial discrimination by government contractors was expanded to include women in 1968. By the early 1970s, any company meeting a particular threshold for number of employees and amount of business with the federal government was subject to affirmative action requirements. In cases where a “manifest imbalance” existed between the number of available, qualified women or people of color in a given location, and the number of such persons actually hired by entities in those locations, the federal government was empowered to intervene, requiring that goals and timetables for more equitable representation be set, and that good faith efforts for meeting these goals be made. Educational institutions were added to the list of covered parties beginning in 1972.

That such straightforward requirements have worked to the benefit of women–particularly white women–is hardly disputable. Thanks in large measure to affirmative action and civil rights protections that opened up previously restricted opportunities to women of all colors, from 1972-1993:

_ The percentage of women architects increased from 3% to nearly 19% of the total;_ The percentage of women doctors more than doubled from 10% to 22% of all doctors;

_ The percentage of women lawyers grew from 4% to 23% of the national total;

_ The percentage of female engineers went from less than 1% to nearly 9%;

_ The percentage of female chemists grew from 10% to 30% of all chemists; and,

_ The percentage of female college faculty went from 28% to 42% of all faculty. (Moseley-Braun 1995, )

Furthermore, since only 1983, the percentage of women business managers and professionals grew from 41% of all such persons, to 48%, while the number of female police officers more than doubled, from 6% to 13% (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1995, Table 649). According to a 1995 study, there are at least six million women–the overwhelming majority of them white–who simply wouldn’t have the jobs they have today, but for the inroads made by affirmative action (Cose 1997, 171).

The gender benefits of affirmative action have extended beyond economically privileged women, expanding opportunity for working-class women as well: The 1985 Perkins Act, which requires states to set aside 10.5% of federal vocational-education funds for girls and women–such as displaced homemakers and single-mothers–has helped these women find new jobs to support themselves and their families. In Florida, thanks to this program, more than 70% of women receiving voc-ed funds found new jobs, at pay levels averaging twice their prior salaries (National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education 1995).

Often, the setting of fairly rigid goals and timetables has been necessary before significant gains for women have come about. For example, in 1979, women represented only 4% of entry-level officers in the San Francisco Police Department. By 1985, after the Department of Justice forced the SFPD to adopt an aggressive affirmative action plan, the number of women in entry-level positions increased to 14.5% of the total (Review of Federal Affirmative Action Programs 1995). Thanks in part to affirmative action in higher education, the number of women receiving Ph.D.’s grew from 14.4% of all Ph.D.’s in 1971, to 37% by 1991–many of these in fields like science and engineering, which were for so long effectively the exclusive domain of men (National Research Council 1993, 11).

There is also little doubt that affirmative action has promoted the proliferation of women-owned businesses, by expanding the work opportunities for women that then often led to entrepreneurship, and by increasing the ability of such businesses to receive government contracts, capital, and small business loans. Prior to the passage of civil rights and other protective laws, women faced often insurmountable obstacles to starting their own businesses. Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, discrimination against women in lending was ubiquitous: single women were often considered unworthy of credit; married women often had difficulty establishing credit since their financial records were in their husbands’ names; and sources of income like alimony and child support were regularly excluded from consideration when women applied for bank loans (Review of Federal Affirmative Action Programs 1995).

Since the early 1970s, however, the percentage of U.S. businesses owned by women–again, the vast majority of them white–has exploded from only 5% of all businesses to more than 37% (Taylor 1997, 2). There are now eight million women-owned businesses in the United States, with nearly $3 trillion in combined sales, employing approximately 18.5 million employees. One in four workers employed by companies in this country now work for women-owned firms (National Association of Women Business Owners 1998). That the strength of such companies–not to mention their ability to compete fairly against their white male counterparts–is of vital importance to the economic health of the nation, is made plain by these and similar figures.

Although the gains to American women from affirmative action have extended in varying degrees to women of all colors, white women find themselves today in significantly better economic shape than women of color. In 1993, for example, the median income for white women was 16% higher than for black women, and the median white family income was 45% higher than that for black families (Bennett 1995). In states like Washington–currently facing a voter initiative similar to Proposition 209–affirmative action has apparently aided white women more than people of color, be they male or female. According to state data, white women hold 35% of top administrative jobs in Washington, compared to 5.8% for women of color; furthermore, white women receive about 5% of state government contracts, which, although it is a paltry percentage of the total, is still larger than the 4% received by all people of color combined (Washington State Commission on African American Affairs 1995).

The benefits of affirmative action to women extend throughout society. Higher wages for women–due in large part to affirmative action raising, albeit not eliminating, the glass-ceiling–are of substantial benefit to millions of families. More than 80% of married first-time home-buyers must rely on both spouses’ income to make their mortgage payments, according to a 1995 survey by Chicago Title and Trust Insurers (Lawrence and Matsuda 1997, 159-60).  Even the cause of public health has been advanced thanks to affirmative action for women. Since the number of women entering medicine has expanded, research on women’s health concerns has progressed dramatically, helping to lessen the historic imbalance whereby most medical research was conducted on male subjects, often to the detriment of scientific knowledge generally and women’s health in particular (Bergmann 1996, 107).

Backlash Against Affirmative Action: “Racialization” and White Women’s Ambivalence

It is with the above-mentioned facts in mind that the growing anti-affirmative action movement has sought to remove women as women from the affirmative action picture, and instead emphasize the racial benefits to people of color and supposed white racial victims of these policies. Hoping to create in white men and women a shared sense of victimization at the hands of people of color, conservatives have made sure to ignore whatever gains have come to women through affirmative action and have sought to “racialize” the debate and its attendant imagery. As many as 26 states are now considering following California by eliminating race- and gender-based affirmative action, and in every case, the focus has been squarely on the supposed unfairness of “racial preferences”–the ideologically-loaded term that has replaced the more benign-sounding (and popular) “affirmative action,” in the parlance of right-wing attacks.

As the political manipulation of the affirmative action issue by far-right figures took hold in the early 1990s, it was clear the attacks would be exclusively race-based. In Louisiana, where white supremacist David Duke received between 50-60% of the white vote in his bids to become a U.S. Senator and the state’s governor–with no statistically significant difference between men and women–affirmative action was presented as a racial zero-sum game, with whites the aggrieved victims. In North Carolina, when Jesse Helms found himself trailing in polls to challenger Harvey Gantt–the African American former mayor of Charlotte–in his 1990 bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate, he began airing a television commercial emphasizing the harm to whites from “having to hire a minority because of a quota” (Feagin and Vera 1995, 113). After successfully pressuring the University of California Board of Regents to abolish affirmative action in 1995, Pete Wilson announced that the vote “was the beginning of the end of racial preferences” (Wise 1995, 15), neglecting to mention that gender-based affirmative action at the schools had also been eliminated and would remain in the crosshairs of Proposition 209 a year later.

Assisting in the racialization process has been a steady shift in the presentation of affirmative action’s “victims” by the right; thus, while most, if not all of the early public victims were “angry white men”–Bakke, DeFunis, Weber, or the white men at the Ward’s Cove Packing Plant —increasingly, conservative legal advocates have latched on to cases with white women in the forefront. The highest profile cases recently have been those of Cheryl Hopwood, at the University of Texas, who claimed she was denied admission to the Texas School of Law because of race-based affirmative action, and the case–recently settled while awaiting a Supreme Court ruling–of Sharon Taxman, a white public school teacher laid off in order to retain a black woman in the same department at a school in Piscataway, New Jersey. In the case of Hopwood, and in a pending suit brought by the same lawyers against the University of Michigan, male plaintiffs were and are involved, but the “public face” of the suits has been that of a white woman, her dreams supposedly dashed by racial preferences (Marklein 1997, 4A). White women are also emerging, at least publicly, as the new victims of affirmative action in Washington State, where Katuria Smith is suing the University of Washington because its law school supposedly admitted “less qualified” people of color ahead of her; and in Boston, where a young white woman’s father brought suit against Boston Latin school–an academic magnet institution–because of affirmative action preventing her admission there. By shifting the public’s attention from angry white men to “aggrieved white women,” the opponents of affirmative action are no doubt hoping to cast the debate in stark racial terms, ignoring the degree to which white women have generally reaped benefits from these policies far beyond whatever individual victimization may or may not have occurred in a specific instance.

Of course, it is not surprising that men opposed to affirmative action would prefer to focus on the racial rather than the gender component of the issue. However, the fact that white women have proven so willing to accept this version of reality, rather than the contrasting one offered earlier here, is testimony either to the amazing persuasive powers of conservative white male commentators, or to something else altogether, which cries out for explanation.

Consider that according to many commentators on the left, women are desperately concerned about gender inequities, and “rank their own inequality, at work and at home, among their most urgent concerns” (Faludi 1991, xv; also see Feminist Majority Foundation, “The Glass Ceiling” 1995). If such claims are to be taken seriously one must then wonder, how can such persons be both knowledgeable and concerned about their own oppression, and still so uninformed or unconcerned that they think nothing of passively accepting, or even actively supporting the elimination of affirmative action? How and why this process plays itself out will be discussed below, but first, it is necessary to document the attitudes of white women with regard to affirmative action and the degree to which they seem increasingly hesitant to endorse the concept.

Ultimately, white women’s views on affirmative action are hardly different from their male counterparts, particularly when the issue is framed as one of “preferences.” Since the preference framework is the likely one to which affirmative action proponents will be responding in coming years, it is white women’s attitudes on this issue that must concern us. According to National Election Studies since 1986, white women are not substantially different from white men when it comes to their feelings on this issue. Opposition to “preferential hiring and promotion” has grown from 86% for white men and 79% for white women in 1986, to 90% for white men and 88% for white women in 1994. Similarly, opposition to admissions preferences in colleges stands at around 76% for white men and 70% for white women (Citrin 1996, 43).

Although only about a third of whites wish to eliminate all affirmative action programs when discussed without the preference framework, the differences between white men and white women, although present, are hardly massive. In effect, both are more or less equally hostile or supportive, although both are far less hostile and far more supportive, when preferences are not mentioned or are explained in context, so that voters know what they are voting for or against (Chavez 1998, 99). As mentioned previously, 58% of white women voted for Proposition 209, as opposed to 66% of white men. This is a gender gap, to be sure, but hardly the kind hoped for, expected, and needed to defeat the initiative.

White women’s ambivalence to affirmative action is evidenced even among many feminists. A 1992 survey of Ms. magazine readers found that while most supported affirmative action, high levels of concern were apparently absent, owing perhaps to the fact that only one in five white women thought they had benefitted from affirmative action, while over half said they had not; this, compared to the one-half of black women and Latinas who said they had personally benefitted from affirmative action, as opposed to only one-quarter who said they had not (Zia 1992, 21).

Apart from progressive women and women’s organizations, many groups claiming to represent women show no indication of understanding, or wanting to acknowledge the importance of affirmative action to the people they claim as constituents. For example, there is no mention at all in the recent materials of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), or the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), or the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) as to the importance of affirmative action for opening up opportunities and making possible many of the individual successes that these organizations regularly trumpet in their publications and on their websites.

NAWBO, for example, discusses female business gains as if they took place entirely in a meritocratic vacuum (National Association of Women Business Owners 1998), while NAWIC, which claims to “promote and support the advancement and employment of women in the construction industry,” says nothing about the importance of affirmative action in opening up such opportunities, nor do they seem concerned with the impact that affirmative action rollbacks might have on women in the industry (National Association of Women in Construction 1997), despite the fact that even with affirmative action and NAWIC’s efforts, women are less than 2% of construction workers in the United States (Feminist Majority Foundation, “Affirmative Action: Expanding Employment Opportunities for Women 1996a). NAFE’s website and printed materials emphasize the importance of women knowing how to respond to job criticisms like “you’re an idiot,” from male superiors, and how to get a NAFE Gold Card “at low interest rates,” but make no mention of the importance of civil rights laws or affirmative action; nor do they show concern for the assaults on affirmative action that, if successful, would make the advancement of women as executives–ostensibly their mission–more difficult (National Association of Female Executives 1997). So long as groups such as these refuse to speak out publicly about the importance of affirmative action, it will be difficult to mobilize white women into a pro-affirmative action coalition, since most are not connected to feminist organizations, and may even be hostile to the overtures of such groups, thanks to the steady backlash against feminism in recent years.9

Furthermore, polls indicate that whatever differences do exist between white women and white men on this issue apparently have little to do with differences in perceived personal interest, either in maintaining or eliminating affirmative action. Few white women think themselves beneficiaries of affirmative action, and most are simply not open to the idea that they have been; few if any expect it to help them in the future; and most share the same concerns as white men regarding “reverse discrimination,” or the perceived hiring of unqualified minorities. The one factor that seems to explain virtually all the slightly greater support for affirmative action evinced by white women is their higher level of agreement with the notion that people of color still face substantial barriers and discrimination, and thus, it is simply too soon to abandon these programs (Garin and Molyneaux 1996). These facts are highly significant for supporters of affirmative action, as they indicate that in order to gain support for affirmative action, appealing directly to these women as women may be fruitless, while emphasizing the ongoing problem of racial discrimination may prove more effective.

Lessons From California: What Went Wrong and Why

The difficulty of building substantial support for affirmative action among white women was never more apparent than in California, where, despite constant repetition by anti-209 organizations of the gender-based benefits to be had or lost, there was virtually no change in white women’s feelings on the measure from May 1995 until the vote in November 1996 (Citrin 1996, 44-45). The primary opposition groups chose to focus on gender and to “de-racialize” the debate from 1995 on, prompted to do so in part by pollsters like Lou Harris, and even President Clinton (Chavez 1998, 153, 204). The opposition to 209 operated on the assumption they would need–and could receive–60% of the white female vote; 70% of the black vote; 60% of the Latino/a vote; and only 25% of the white male vote. As it turned out, they substantially overestimated the degree to which they could sway white women–seeing as how only 42% voted to retain affirmative action–while underestimating the degree to which people of color and white men could be swayed: 74% of African Americans voted against 209; 76% of Latinos/as did so; as did 34% of white men (Chavez 1998, 136). Sixty-one percent of Asians also opposed 209, despite attempts by its backers to woo them with arguments that they were losing out in college admissions to less qualified blacks and Latinos/as (Chavez 1998, 236).

Once the opposition to 209 decided on a gender-based strategy to target white women, its every public move reflected this thrust. Early educational and media efforts focused on discussing Clause C of the Proposition, which, it was explained, would actually lower the current legal standard for evaluating gender discrimination claims, making certain types of gender discrimination legal, in areas where it had never been before (Feminist Majority Foundation, “Women’s Campaign to Defeat ‘CCRI’ Launched” 1995). Virtually all the public statements made by 209 opponents throughout 1996 attempted to focus attention on the potential consequences of Proposition 209 to women. When 209 opponents launched “Freedom Summer 1996,” bringing students from 52 college campuses across the nation to California to educate voters, their message was uniformly tailored to stress the harms to women and girls (Feminist Majority Foundation, “Freedom Summer” 1996). As the election drew near, and the campaign became a war of radio and television commercials, gender was once again the focus, with race and racism largely pushed to the side. No On 209 ran a series of gender-focused radio advertisements featuring prominent entertainers like Candace Bergen, Alfre Woodard, and Ellen DeGeneres (Chavez 1998, 230-232). The main opposition television spot, released in the final days of the campaign, showed a woman being stripped of a stethoscope, medical lab coat, hard hat, police cap, and then business suit–representing the gains to women because of affirmative action–while lecherous men chanted “take it off, take it all off” (Stop Prop 209, “Stop Prop 209 Releases TV Ad” press release 1996).

There were signs early on, however, that the gender strategy was having problems. Early focus groups showed that many white women were convinced affirmative action was preventing their husbands and sons from getting jobs (Chavez 1998, 98). In addition, the six months of steady repetition regarding Clause C appears to have been fruitless, prompting no movement among white women in the polls, largely because of the complexity of explaining legal issues like “standards of review” to laypersons (Chavez 1998, 137, 152). Finally, the anti-209 gender-focused advertisements were undercut completely by radio and television spots run by 209 supporters. These ads featured Janice Camarena, a white, widowed, low-income single mother of three discussing how she had been told by an instructor at San Bernadino Valley Community College that she couldn’t enroll in an English 101 class because it was reserved for blacks. Although her version of the “reverse discrimination” tale was questionable–she hadn’t preregistered for the class, nor had she taken prerequisite classes, and there was an additional section of English 101 being taught at the same time with slots available–the truth hardly mattered. The anti-209 arguments about gender were simply too abstract and hypothetical when compared to the tangible–albeit flawed–image of Camarena, a flesh and blood human, more sympathetic than statistics about glass ceilings and comparable worth (Chavez 1998, 215-216).10

The decision to target white women in opposing 209 made sense, stemming as it did from a logical belief that since there were not enough people of color to sway the vote, some whites would be needed, and women were more likely targets than men. The problem seems to have come in the fashioning of the message so as to capture the votes of those white women. Evidence indicating that the most effective message might have been one reminding voters of the ongoing problem of racial discrimination, and that “ending racial and gender preferences” really meant eliminating all affirmative action,11 was discounted in favor of telling women and anyone who would listen that mentoring programs for teenage girls and women’s centers on college campuses might be closed if 209 passed (Chavez 1998). As history has shown, something prevented this strategy from succeeding.12

There are a number of theories as to why attempts to pare white women away from white men in their opposition to “racial and gender preferences” failed specifically in California, and why convincing a majority of them to support affirmative action in general has proven difficult. First is the problem of overcoming the “preference” language. White women are just as likely as white men to think “preferences” unfair; thus, if affirmative action’s supporters can’t succeed in keeping such loaded words off initiative ballots–unlikely given the current trend–they will have to fully explain the ramifications to likely voters. This is not impossible, but does take time.

Second is the difficulty of de-racializing an issue that has been so thoroughly racialized in the public imagination. Most white women in California and elsewhere simply refuse to believe that affirmative action is about them. National focus groups as early as January 1996, seemed to indicate this problem. In many cases, even after group moderators would initiate a lengthy discussion among white women about the gender element of affirmative action, as soon as conversation wasn’t specifically steered in that direction, participants would shift their discussion–and anger–back to race (Garin and Molyneaux 1996). Thus, even if it had been possible in the abstract to change the paradigm under which white women, like men, were apparently operating with regard to affirmative action, doing so in the short period of time called for by an electoral campaign would have been highly unlikely.

A third problem, closely related to the problem created by racialization, is the identification it forces between the interests of white women and white men. If white women perceive affirmative action in racial terms, they will be just as likely as white men–if they are heterosexual–to think they would be harmed by affirmative action, thanks to supposedly reduced opportunities for their husbands or partners (Ladowsky 1995). In this way, years of racialization have encouraged many white women to identify their own interests with those of the larger patriarchal structure that has kept them disempowered. As Lawrence and Matsuda argue (1997, 161-162), if angry white men are perceived as victims, any white woman who “defines self-fulfillment as loving that man” may be reluctant to support affirmative action.

But even women who are the most independent professionally and least tied to traditional patriarchal family structures are far from sufficiently supportive of affirmative action. The fourth problem for those seeking to enlist the support of white women in an affirmative action coalition is pointed to by Madeline Heilman, professor of psychology at New York University, who has found that many women feel uncomfortable with the thought they may have benefitted or could benefit from affirmative action, since to do so may call their own abilities and accomplishments into question (DeAngelis 1995). As white women have made substantial gains in the workplace, it is not at all surprising that many would be reluctant to embrace affirmative action as having been largely implicated in their personal achievements. The popular meritocratic explanation is after all more comforting in a culture where success is largely believed to be solely dependent upon one’s personal characteristics, effort, and ambition. Ironically, thanks to the successes of the women’s movement, millions of white women now find themselves intellectually able to eschew the very policies that have fundamentally improved their professional life chances. Indeed, targeting white women in a pro-affirmative action effort by focusing on gender bias and its likely intensification in the absence of such programs probably seems disempowering to many white women. It reminds them of their potential victimization by sexist structures, a subject about which they would rather not be reminded, particularly since they have a significant stake in believing the system is fair–namely, their racial stake, which guarantees them opportunities generally off limits to most people of color.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the salience of white racial attitudes, and the fact that perceived personal interest seems to have little or no effect on these attitudes. According to Kinder and Sanders (1996, 62), there is no statistically significant difference between whites on racial issues, including affirmative action, owing to perceived personal self-interest; nor from the degree to which one perceives a threat to one’s own job or education; nor from differences in income or occupational status. Thus, attempts to gain support from white women on the basis of what they have gained and stand to lose personally because they are women, were questionable given what is known about white racial attitudes. The only form of self-interest that does seem to affect white racial attitudes is perceived racial group interest: in other words, whites–male and female–perceive their racial interests as threatened by affirmative action. Unless this perception can be undone, reducing what Kinder and Sanders refer to as “white racial resentment” and subsequently increasing white support for affirmative action will prove problematic.

White Women and Racism: Invisible Realities, Visible Consequences

Although progressives are hesitant to acknowledge it, the fact remains that white women are not significantly more liberal on racial attitudes than white men, obviously complicating attempts to get them to think positively about a topic like affirmative action. According to survey data, white women’s racial attitudes are something of a mixed bag. While white women are more willing than white men to accept structural explanations for racial inequity and generally more accepting of affirmative action–so long as the issue isn’t presented as one of “preferences”–many of the racial attitudes of white women are no better and perhaps actually worse than those of white men. For example, when asked if the federal government should intervene to create jobs and opportunities for blacks, there is no statistically significant difference between the responses of white men and white women. Similarly, there is no gender gap between white men and white women in response to the question: “Would you be willing to send your child to a school where half the students were black?” When asked if they would be willing to send their child(ren) to a school in which the majority of students were black, white women are actually more likely to object than their male counterparts, and white women are more disapproving of interracial marriage between whites and blacks than are white men (Schuman, Steeh, Bobo and Krysan 1997, 235).

This data indicates that white women are slightly more prone to giving a racially hostile response when the situation calls for more intimate contact between whites and people of color. So although women may be less racist in some abstract sense, it appears that if they perceive policies or gains for African Americans as requiring closer contact with themselves, white women are no different than white men, and perhaps even more racially hostile. Since affirmative action serves increasingly to integrate the workforce and schools, these concerns over close contact could spill over to a generalized anxiety, ambivalence, or even hostility with regard to affirmative action. Given the tendency for racial prejudices to cluster and operate as free-floating anxieties (Allport 1954), such a relationship between attitudes on seemingly unrelated aspects of racial thinking is all the more possible.

The degree to which “average, everyday” white women may be burdened with their own substantial racial prejudices can be anticipated by the significant extent to which even committed feminists and progressive white women are seen to model racially prejudiced attitudes and behavior. According to a 1992 survey by Ms. magazine, a third of their white female readers admit being uncomfortable talking to people of color about racial issues, and only 16% have “many” friends of another race, compared to 75% of Asian Pacific Americans, 74% of Latinas, 67% of Native Americans, and 53% of African Americans. Over one-third of white women say they have few if any friends of color (Malveaux 1992, 25-26). Although one can hardly measure racial prejudice by looking at friendships, the level of interracial isolation that seems to burden white women alone signals a degree to which white women, like white men, are largely cut off from the life experiences of people of color. Such isolation can lead to a less sympathetic outlook regarding issues of importance to people of color, like affirmative action.

As with most Americans, white feminists also deny in large measure that they suffer from significant racial prejudice, let alone racism. Only one in five in the Ms. survey admitted to prejudice, while only 18% claimed to be racist. Interestingly, white lesbians were the least likely to suffer from denial of their own racism problem: 42% admitted they were racist (Malveaux 1992, 27). Such disparities between white heterosexual women and white lesbians are hard to explain, short of acknowledging that at least to some degree, so long as white women are intimately linked with white men–a problem which, by definition is less of an issue for lesbians–they have a harder time perceiving the effects of their own racial conditioning. White male privilege operates as a veil, clouding the ability of many white women–even committed progressives–to perceive the degree to which they too are implicated in the system of racism.

It should come as no surprise that convincing white women of their shared interest with people of color–with regard to affirmative action or any other issue–would be challenging. After all, centuries of racist propaganda, particularly concerning the physical “danger” posed to white women by people of color–especially black men–was bound to have some residual effects. For white women to identify with these men of color now would require them to cast off the psychological detritus of anti-miscegenation laws, as well as the historical discourse that has posited white women as the victims of people of color and white men as their “defenders and rescuers” (Frankenberg 1993, 237). This psychosexual dynamic has been well established in discursive history, and continues to have measurable results in the present. Consider that the contemporary discourse on black crime and violence–from Willie Horton, to Susan Smith, to the “Central Park Jogger”–has sought to recreate and reinforce this victim/victimizer dichotomy, with white women seen as at risk from racialized others. Such discourse makes it difficult for white women to identify with these racial “others,” particularly when those others are typified as the black men whose mere presence in an elevator seems to regularly make white women clutch their purses or briefcases more tightly. Popular books, like Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s The Bell Curve and Dinesh D’Souza’s The End of Racism, even attempt to excuse the white fear responses to blacks under the guise of “rationality.” Blacks according to these authors really are more dangerous and violent, either due to bad genes or a “civilizational deficit.” In light of the persistent onslaught of such racist invective masquerading as social science, it will no doubt prove difficult to create in whites, male or female, a shared sense of destiny and interest with their fellow citizens of color. [1]

Since many white women think they like white men are harmed by the continuance of AA (and they are not) and many white women refuse to see that blacks benefit the least from AA polices, what can be done to get white women to see that not only do blacks and other women of color stand to lose much from the abolition of AA, but so too will white women stand to lose with the eradication of AA, what can be done to help white women see that their attack upon AA destroys chances for their prospering just as much as it destroys chances for women of color to prosper? Is the siuation in 2008 America so dire and hopeless that nothing can be done to help white women see the light that their attacking AA hurts them just as much as it does women of color? The author of the article stated the following:

“At this point, the reader may conclude that all is hopeless. If white women are too bound in racial privilege, or patriarchy, or false efficacy, to see how they have gained from affirmative action, and what they stand to lose in its absence, then what in the world can be done? Luckily, there are arguments made by the supporters of affirmative action that seem to work with white women, and even with some white men. That these arguments are not apparently the ones stressing the particular benefits of affirmative action for women, or even stressing gender at all, may be surprising, but should hardly be troubling.”

Mr. Wise advocates some most effective points in convincing whites of both genders to support affirmative action–or at least be hesitant to slow down the mad rush to dismantle AA since there is still much need for the continuance of AA, before AA is completely abolished from America at the detriment to all Americans. He states the following suggestions in how to broach the subject of AA with white men—-and white women:

_ The problem of racial discrimination–particularly the closed nature of the “old boy’s network”–makes it too soon to eliminate affirmative action. Although polls show most whites reluctant to acknowledge racism is still a large problem, once evidence is provided on this score, movement is possible, particularly among white women._ The persons pushing to eliminate affirmative action have questionable motives: In an attempt to divert people’s attention from real economic and social problems, politicians are trying to scapegoat and pit the races against one another for their own political gain. Given the general distrust of political figures, this point has become increasingly important.

_ The consequences of “backsliding” on discrimination would be particularly terrible given the changing demographics of the American population, with whites becoming less and people of color more of the nation’s citizenry. In an increasingly non-white United States, anything that would lock out the new majority of the population from equal opportunity is seen as unfair, and economically and politically suicidal.

_ Affirmative action does not mean the hiring of unqualified people. It is particularly important to make this point, since popular perception assumes the opposite is true. Recent evidence from a study at Michigan State, indicating that persons hired under affirmative action actually have higher performance ratings than white men, hired under traditional mechanisms, makes the point effectively (Feminist Majority Foundation 1997).

_ Affirmative action and quotas are not the same thing. Both white men and women typically perceive “quotas” as the problem that abolishing “preferences” will solve. Pointing out the distinction between affirmative action–largely recruitment and outreach programs, flexible goals, and “taking a second look” to make sure women and people of color aren’t excluded unfairly from consideration–and quotas, can make a significant difference. (Garin and Molyneaux 1996; Southern Regional Council 1996) “

White women need to realize what they stand to gain, not lose, with AA, and they need to realize what they lose with the destruction of AA. 

That so many people, especially white women, are willing to believe the lies and myths surrounding AA is the biggest obstacle to gaining the solidarity of white women to fight against those like Ward Connerly who seek the eradication of AA. AA was never meant as a hand -out; it was meant as a hand-up to non-whites who sought to better their station in life. The myths that assail AA have created  distorted lies of the original intent of AA:  to make level an uneven,unlevel playing field that is a result of centuries of racial white supremacy that favored for whites, better jobs, better education, better living conditions/neighborhoods, and better pay, and better advances—-advances that have put whites generations ahead of black people and other minorities. Advancements that have caused a huge unequal rift in the Wage Gap and the Wealth Gap between whites and the rest of America.

The major criticisms of AA come from the uninformed, and the unreasonsable who accept the many myths that proponents of AA seek to dispel in the minds of those who believe the most negative about AA. Some myths that people believe about AA:

Many people argue that affirmative action has caused reverse discrimination against Whites.

However, a 1995 analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor found that affirmative action programs do not lead to widespread reverse discrimination claims by Whites. In fact, a high proportion of such claims filed were found to lack merit. The analysis found that fewer than 100 out of 3,000 discrimination cases filed actually involved reverse discrimination, and in only six cases were such claims substantiated (Wilson, 1995).

Critics of affirmative action usually believe that people should be selected for positions based on merit alone.

The reality is that most, if not all, hiring decisions involve some sort of unspoken preferential treatment. Sometimes the decision is based on a personal connection or relationship; sometimes it is based on likability or comfort level (Wilson, 1995). In fact, the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995) confirmed that white men tend to be more comfortable with, and therefore more likely to hire and promote, other white men, thus revealing the prevalence of racial- and gender-based preferential treatment.

Opponents of affirmative action argue that these policies move America away from the goal of achieving a color-blind society.

Yet, as Justice Harry Blackmun noted in the Bakke case, ‘In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race.’ A color-blind society cannot exist in the face of racism or prejudice that continues in the workplace.

Some critics state that young minorities joining the workforce expect that affirmative action will get them promotions.

This charge is one of the most serious, but there are no data to support this notion.

Many people argue that affirmative action stigmatizes recipients.

Although the data support this contention, it should be acknowledged that stigma and negative stereotypes associated with race and gender existed in this country long before affirmative action was implemented. This does not mean that stigma and negative stereotypes are acceptable, but rather that they exist independently of affirmative action. There are, however, steps that can be taken to reduce stigma, as noted in the answer to the next question.” [2]

In what ways can affirmative action be more effective?

Organizations can put into practice some of the following general principles that research has shown to improve the effectiveness of affirmative action and remove the preferential selection stigma (Pratkanis and Turner, 1995).

Improve effectiveness

  • Establish unambiguous, explicit, and focused qualification criteria to be used in selection and promotion decisions.
  • Communicate these requisite criteria clearly.
  • Assure that selection procedures are perceived as fair by relevant audiences.
  • Emphasize the recipient’s contributions to the organization and his or her specific competencies.
  • Establish the conditions under which employees, including affirmative action recipients, must cooperate to meet organizational goals.
  • Monitor the affirmative action program to see what works and what does not.

Decrease the level of stigmatization

  • Inform others both in the workplace, and in society, in general, about the recipient’s qualifications.
  • Inform others of the discriminatory barriers operating in the situation.
  • Limit the appearance of prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. [2]

Is AA still needed?

Yes:

Research indicates that affirmative action is still needed for two related reasons:

  • A series of laboratory studies have shown that almost all people have trouble detecting a pattern of discrimination unless they are faced with a flagrant example or have access to aggregated data documenting discrimination (Clayton and Crosby, 1992). This inability to make accurate judgments about discrimination from isolated incidents or comparisons is just as true for fair-minded and intelligent people as it is for others. Aggregated data are needed, therefore, if decision makers are to avoid or correct imbalances before they become flagrant. As shown in the table opposite, affirmative action is the only policy that requires an organization to collect and scrutinize aggregated data.
  • Data indicate that the biases against minorities and women that humans show in laboratory settings are reflected in real-world practices. According to the March 1995 report of the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, for example, a large proportion of minorities and women are locked into low-wage, low-prestige, and dead-end jobs. Additional data suggest that these two groups have been disproportionately affected by current trends in workforce downsizing; many service-oriented industries, for example, disproportionately employ women and minorities and are likely to continue downsizing through the year 2002. It is likely that the minorities and women who work in these industries will be hardest hit (Murrell and Jones, 1995).  [2]

If more Americans would look into the truth of what AA seeks to do, then more Americans, especially white women, would realize they stand to gain more than just a better job that places them next to white men in higher positons. Affirmative action was never meant to be a cure-all.  It certainly will never eliminate racial discrimination which is the legacy of centuries of white supremacy. Affirmative action will not eliminate competition for scarce, and even scarcer resources. Affirmative action programs can only ensure that everyone has a fair and equal chance at what is available for all Americans. As long as there is racial discrimination against the chance of any American wanting to better herself, there will continue to be a need for Affirmative action programs. As long as the inequalities that are a result of centuries of institutionalized and structural white supremacy remain in place, there will continue to be a need for AA. The vicious backlashes against AA (Bakke, Hopwood, Gratz and now especially the venom of Connerly) seeks to tear apart the gains of 30 years of AA that have given many Americans a chance to go through the door and do for themselves.

For those white women who attack AA and wish to see it done away with, I would ask of them the following questions:

“What do you have to replace Affirmative Action, when you bring it down? What improvements do you have to take the place of AA that will insure an equal chance for all Americans? You give lip service that you support equal opportunity for all, but, yet you attack the very thing that can help POC elevate their positions in life in America. By attacking AA, you desire to leave intact the pernicious racial injustices that AA was created to correct.

To the many white women who have sided with Connerly in the past and in the present,  those of you who oppose AA, how do you propose to eliminate the disparities that continue from inequalities in the present conditions of economic and educational injustice?

How do you propose to eliminate racial dsicrimnation and white supremacy?

If you destroy all the gains of AA, and succeed in abolishing for good AA, what do you have that is of good for the overall society to replace AA?”

Those are the questions I would ask of the white women who stand against AA with Ward Connerly.

White women of America—which side will you stand on? For true justice and equality or a contniuation of a system which has crushed so many various groups of people in America: Blacks, Native Americans, women of all races, Asians, Latinos and many others who were not white males?

Which side do white women want to be on:  the side that seeks to turn back the clock to a more racist past of savage inequalities where only a few (white males) reap the benefits from a lop-sided favor that puts more into the hands of a priviledged few OR a more profoundly just society that gives equal treatment to all?

White women who learn of the true benefits of AA, instead of accepting the many lies that are hurled at AA, may learn that their tearing apart AA for Black, Latinos, Asians, Native American and other POC,  hurts white women themselves as well. As long as there many white women only want advancements for themselves and care not for the betterment of all Americans, the Ward Connerlys will continue to destroy AA with a vengeance, and with the help of millions of white women who vote against the continuance of AA. It is not just POC who stand to benefit from a more just and equal society in America—–white men and white women stand to gain just as much as well.

As President Lyndon Johnson stated in his Executive Order on Affirmative Action in his address to the June 4, 1965 graduating class of  Howard University, when he instituted the beginning of AA, in framing the concept underlying affirmative action, he asserted that civil rights laws alone were not enough to remedy a long sordid history of racial discrimination:

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”

A better society that truly treats all its citizens equally and with justice.  is what all Americans should work and strive for.

Inclusion for all, not the exclusion of many to their detriment, based on race, color, class, religion, sexual orientation—-or gender.

Until America equally treats all of her citizens fairly and decently in pay, education, neighborhoods and the quality of life, the need for Affirmative Action will continue.

So, what’s it gonna be?

What do YOU (AMERICA) have to replace AA?

RELATED LINKS:

EXECUTIVE ORDER 11246 (AKA, AFFIRMATIVE ACTION):  http://www.eeoc.gov/abouteeoc/35th/thelaw/eo-11246.html

KILLING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION REPORT BY ELLIS COSE: http://www.justicejournalism.org/cose/registration_success.asp

Affirmative Action: A Timeline:  http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html 

“Is Sisterhood Conditional? White Women and the Rollback of Affirmative Action”, by Tim Wise: http://iupjournals.org/nwsa/nws10-3.html

“Affirmative Action: A Policy That Suffers An Identity Crisis”: http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/affirmaction.html

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AGAINST RACISM: REDUCING PREJUDICE AND REMEDYING STIGMAS:  http://people.virginia.edu/~tej9c/words/law/AAARacism.pdf

“Affirmative Actions Works!”, by Paul Kivel: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/pkivel.html RELATED REFERENCES:

1. 
How White People Can Work for Racial Justice  
Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel (Paperback – May 2002)
 
 
 
3.1 out of 5 stars (9)
 
   
2. 
You Call This a Democracy?  
You Call This a Democracy? by Paul Kivel (Paperback – Aug 2004)
 
 
 
5.0 out of 5 stars (2)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “WHITE WOMEN AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: WHICH SIDE WILL YOU STAND ON?

  1. Pingback: PAT BUCHANAN: A COWARD, A LIAR. . . .AND A RACIST HATER « BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS

  2. Pingback: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES PUSH BALLOT INITIATIVES « BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS

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