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Misdirections and Misconceptions: Welfare & Affirmative Action Part 2

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The same racial-scapegoating and demonization of Black folk in regard to welfare can also be seen in attitudes towards affirmative action programs. The term "affirmative action" was first introduced by President Kennedy in 1961 as a method of redressing discrimination that had persisted in spite of civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. It was developed and enforced for the first time by President Johnson. "This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson asserted. "We seek... not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result." In the "discussion" regarding affirmative action, phrases and words such as "quotas," "reverse discrimination" and "racial preferences" are vehemently and venomously flung about. Here I would like to address what is called affirmative action and what is not; what the dominant culture protests and what they disregard. I would like to first analyze the erroneous notions that are often connected to affirmative action. To answer the charge that affirmative action means quotas, one would have only to look to the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke of 1978 (I will be addressing more concerning this case further on) when the Supreme Court effectively barred quota systems in college admissions (and thereby barred its use in other venues as well). So quotas are dismissible because they are illegal. What is allowed under current affirmative action instead are benchmarks, targets and goals. Goals and timetables are set by employers for the employment of people of color and women, along with time frames for achieving these goals. Employers are encouraged to make good faith efforts but there are no legal penalties if they make good faith efforts and are unable to meet the goals.

To the question of affirmative action as reverse discrimination, let me begin by saying the phrase reverse discrimination itself needs to be done away with. Discrimination is discrimination and the reverse (or opposite) of discrimination is equity---the irony is that affirmative action in its conception sought to redress the impact of discrimination. Nevertheless, how can something be deemed reverse discrimination when White men still hold 95% to 97% of the high-level corporate jobs---and that's with affirmative action programs in place; when 93 percent of all college scholarship money goes to whites; when whites are more likely than members of any other group-once again, even with affirmative action in place--to get into their first-choice school. Additionally, in an analysis, the U.S. Department of Labor found that affirmative action programs do not lead to widespread reverse discrimination claims. It also found that a high proportion of claims that are filed are found to lack merit. These findings firmly refute the charge that affirmative action has helped minorities at the expense of whites.

Now, let's take a look at the "actual" racial preferences that do indeed take place. For example, the Jennifer Gratz case versus the University of Michigan in which she protested the 20 admission points awarded to students of color. The University of Michigan has a 150-point evaluation scale for admissions: Michigan awards twenty points to any student from a low-income background, regardless of race. Since these points cannot be combined with those for minority status (in other words poor Blacks don't get forty points), in effect this is a preference for poor whites. Then Michigan awards sixteen points to students who come from the Upper Peninsula of the state: a rural, largely isolated, and almost completely white area. Ten points are awarded to students who attended top-notch high schools, and another eight points are given to students who took an especially demanding AP and Honors curriculum--- according to Harvard's Civil Rights Project, Black students are only half as likely as whites to be placed in Honors or AP English or math classes and on average, schools serving mostly black and Latino students offer only a third as many AP and honors courses as schools serving mostly whites. As with points for those from the Upper Peninsula, these preferences may be race-neutral in theory, but in practice, because of intense racial isolation they are anything but (and Michigan's schools are the most segregated in America for Blacks according to research by the Harvard Civil Rights Project). Four more points are awarded to students with a parent who attended the U of M---because of past discrimination this is overwhelmingly white. So while Gratz and others focused on the mere 20 points allowed for underrepresented ethnic groups, they ignored the combination of 58 points that were overwhelmingly in favor of white applicants. Ironically and hypocritically, the Gratz case also focused on the few dozen students of color, with lower SAT's and grades who were admitted ahead of her, while disregarding, altogether, the 1400 white students who were admitted who also had lower SAT's and grades---and to their shame, the Supreme Court went for it. What has to be understood is that in a society that is saturated in racism and white privilege, even when policies appear to be race-neutral or color-blind, they are not.

This same distorted view can be seen in the Bakke case as well. Goodwin Liu in his essay "The Causation Fallacy: Bakke and the Basic Arithmetic of Selective Admissions," states that "in 1974, Bakke was one of 3,109 regular applicants to the medical school. With the racial quota, the average likelihood of admission for regular applicants was 2.7 percent (84 divided by 3,109). With no racial quota, the average likelihood of admission would have been 3.2 percent (100 divided by 3,109). So the quota increased the average likelihood of rejection from 96.8 percent to 97.3 percent." Liu goes on to further stress:" But even among these highly qualified applicants, eliminating the racial quota would have increased the average rate of admission from 16 percent (84 divided by 520) to only 19 percent (100 divided by 520). Certainly a few more white applicants would have been admitted were it not for affirmative action. But Bakke, upon receiving his rejection letter, had no reason to believe he would have been among the lucky few." Additionally, using 1989 data from a representative sample of selective schools, former university presidents William Bowen and Derek Bok showed in their 1998 book, "The Shape of the River," that eliminating racial preferences would have increased the likelihood of admission for white undergraduate applicants from 25 percent to only 26.5 percent. So if we rollback recognized affirmative action programs, while keeping in place the unrecognized and unacknowledged "racial preference" that works heavily in favor of whites we only perpetuate injustice. White preference remains hidden because it is more subtle; more ingrained, and isn't called white preference or privilege, even if that's the result.

There are other racial preferences to consider, such as jobs, mortgages and car loans. A recent Princeton University study of nearly 1,500 private employers in New York City, titled "Discrimination in Low Wage Labor Markets," showed that Young White high school graduates were about twice as likely to receive positive responses from New York employers as equally qualified Black job seekers; Ex-offenders face serious barriers to employment; a criminal record reduced positive responses from employers by about 35 percent for White applicants and 57 percent for Black applicants. The most profound discriminatory practice revealed in this study was that Black applicants without criminal records were no more likely to get a job than White applicants just out of prison. Also on the job front, another recent study revealed that dark-skinned African-Americans face a distinct disadvantage when applying for jobs. The University of Georgia study found skin tone more important than educational background for Blacks seeking jobs, even if they have resumes superior to lighter-skinned black applicants. This research is believed to be the first significant study of "colorism" in the American workplace. The evidence concluded a light-skinned black male can have only a bachelor's degree and typical work experience and still be preferred over a dark-skinned black male with an MBA and past managerial positions, simply because expectations of the light-skinned black male are much higher, and he didn't appear to be as "menacing" as the darker-skinned male applicant---so there appears to be a pecking order within Black applicants, with the greatest plums being reserved who are positioned, in terms of skin color, closer to whiteness. Add this to the 2002 General Social Survey that found that 71 percent of the people polled considered whites to be hardworking -- just 37 percent thought the same about blacks. About two in three people believed whites to be "well-educated." Just a little over one in three believed the same about blacks. Let us also consider the MIT-University of Chicago study that sent resumes to employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. Some applicants were given "white" names, such as Greg; others were given "black-sounding" names, such as Tyrone. The resumes with "white" names got 50 percent more callbacks, and well-qualified Black applicants drew no more calls than average Black applicants. Even the lower-skilled White applicants got more callbacks than the highly skilled Blacks. It is interesting that foreign-born workers in America (either legal citizens or those here on a work visa) are not penalized for their East Indian, Nigerian or Japanese names. On the contrary, their work has been sought and applauded by a great many companies---even to the point where "highly-skilled" immigrant workers would receive greater consideration than the "lower-skilled" laborers in the original draft of the defunct immigration legislation. How can we continue to say that racism is a thing of the past? How can we continue to deride affirmative action measures and turn a blind-eye and muted-voice to these pressing discriminatory practices?

Another area of concern is automobile purchases and financing. A 2003 Vanderbilt University study showed that Blacks were almost as three times as likely as Whites to be charged markups or loans financed by General Motors Acceptance Corp. When charged a markup, Black borrowers paid an average of $1229 in extra interest over the life of the loans, compared with the average of $867 paid by Whites---the study covered more than 1.5 million GMAC loans made between 1999 and April of 2003. The report found the differences to be nationwide, although they varied greatly among states. The biggest difference was in Wisconsin with Blacks paying 5 times more than Whites, and California with Blacks paying 1.3 times more. The report further showed that this discrimination was across the board regardless of the profession and credit rating of the buyer or the model of the car purchased. Another analysis of the most recent Federal Reserve Board's Survey of Consumer Finances data, completed on behalf of the Consumer Federation of America, found that in 2004, African-American car buyers paid much higher loan rates on new and used autos than white Americans.

On 2004 loans for new car purchases, blacks paid a median interest rate of 7 percent - compared with 5 percent for white borrowers and 5.5 percent for Hispanic borrowers. On used car loans, African-Americans and Hispanics both received considerably higher interest rates. The median rates for African-Americans and Hispanics were 9.5 and 9 percent respectively, compared with 7.5 percent for whites.

Additionally, CFA found that more African-Americans paid auto loan rates of at least 15 percent. For new car loans, 6 percent of African-American borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with just 1.7 percent for whites and 1.8 percent for Hispanics. On used car loans, 27 percent of black borrowers and 18.5 percent of Hispanic borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with only 9.2 percent of white borrowers, the analysis found.

Now let us turn our attention to another "racial preference," mortgage rates. A new report from the Federal Reserve finds black and Hispanic home buyers pay more for their mortgages than do whites. The analysis of 2005 home lending data found that nearly 55 percent of black borrowers paid a higher interest rate on home mortgages up sharply from 32 percent the year before. More than 46 percent of Hispanics paid more for their mortgages last year more than double the number reported in 2004.

In contrast, only 17 percent of whites paid higher interest on their home mortgages last year. Still, that was nearly double the number reported for 2004. Moreover,
The Center for Responsible Lending said either loan sellers are charging higher rates to the minority customers or those borrowers are being steered to loan sellers that specialize in higher rates.

Using an industry database, the Durham-based nonprofit center compared credit scores, down payments and other financial information on about 177,000 loans made in 2004 by "subprime" lenders - companies that charge higher interest rates than banks. The lenders provided the borrowers' income and race. The study found that blacks were 29 percent more likely to pay a high interest rate on a fixed-rate home purchase loan. A Hispanic borrower also was more likely to pay a high rate, it found. So when these findings are coupled with the practice of redlining and predatory lending it means economic devastation to many Blacks and people of color---additionally, properties in predominantly Black neighborhoods appreciate at a much lower value than those in predominantly White neighborhoods. Robert Westley in essay Many Billions Gone wrote: "The practice of government-enforced and private 'redlining' in the home mortgage industry continued after 1950 through less blatant means than the restrictive covenant, leading to the current urbanization and ghettoization of Blacks, and the suburbanization and relative economic privileging of whites. Based on discrimination in home mortgage approval rates, the projected number of creditworthy Black home buyers, and the median white housing-appreciation rate, it is estimated that the current generation of Blacks will lose about $82 billion in equity due to institutional discrimination. All things being equal, the next generation of Black homeowners will lose $93 billion." Contrast Westley's hypothesis with the realization that the current baby-boomer generation of whites is currently in the process of inheriting between $7-10 trillion in assets from their parents and grandparents--property handed down by those who were able to accumulate assets at a time when Blacks and other people of color by and large couldn't.

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This detailed account of actual or real racial preferences should make clear to those who both believe that the days of racial discrimination are over and that past discriminations don't have any bearing on this country in the here-and-now, that nothing could be farther from the truth.

Sadly, the voices of those who benefit the most from affirmative action are by-and-large silent---white women. The unadulterated fact is that affirmative action has helped whites more than people of color. Consider that gender is a major component of affirmative action. As a result, no group has benefited more than white women. And given that white women are more likely to be associated with white families, one could reasonably argue that whites (as they are, for the most part, the daughters, sisters and mothers of white men) have been the main beneficiaries of affirmative action. Nevertheless, in 1996 when Proposition 209 came before the people of California, 57% of White women voted in favor of it---even though just the year before, the United States Labor Department confirmed that the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action were indeed white women ("Reverse Discrimination," 1995). It seems to me a betrayal of epic proportions that after accumulating advantages as result of these programs, they now appear to be at best ambivalent or at worst hostile towards them. Tim Wise, white antiracist author and activist, in his essay "Is Sisterhood Conditional? White Women and the Rollback of Affirmative Action," wondered: "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?"

The following statistics, to a great degree, can be traced back to affirmative action initiatives. 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;

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· 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,

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Dr Edward Rhymes, author of When Racism Is Law & Prejudice Is Policy, is an internationally recognized authority in the areas of critical race theory and Black Studies. Please view his Rhymes Consulting Services website at (more...)
 

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