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Unformatted text preview: TEN MYTHS ABOUT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION SCOTT PLOUS any other time in its 35-year history. Many-issupporters View affirmative ac— tion as a milestone, many opponents see it as a millstone, and many oth— ers regard it as both or neither—~as a necessary, but imperfect, remedy for an intractable social disease. My own view is that the case against affirmative ac— tion is weak, resting, as it does so heavily, on myth and misunderstanding. Here are some of the most popular myths about affirmative action, along with a brief commentary on each one. Myth 1: The only way to create a color—blind society is to adopt color—blind poli~ cies. Although this statement sounds intuitively plausible, the reality is that color~blind policies often put racial minorities at a disadvantage. For in- stance, all else being equal, color—blind seniority systems tend to protect White workers against job layoffs, because senior employees are usually White (Ezorsky, 1991). Likewise, color—blind college admissions favor White students because of their earlier educational advantages. Unless preexisting inequities are corrected or otherwise taken into account, color~blind policies do not correct racial injustice—they reinforce it. Myth 2: Aflirmative action has not succeeded in increasing female and minority representation. Several studies have documented important gains in racial and gender equality as a direct result of affirmative action (Bowen & Bok, 1998; Murrell & Jones, 1996). For example, according to a report from the US. Labor Department, affirmative action has helped 5 million minority members and 6 million White and minority women move up in the workforce (”Reverse Dis~ crimination," 1995). Likewise, a study sponsored by the Office of Federal Con- tract Compliance Programs showed that between 1974 and 1980 federal contractors (who were required to adopt affirmative action goals) added Black and female officials and managers at twice the rate of noncontractors (Citizens’ Commission, 1984). There have also been a number of well~publicized cases in which large companies (e.g., AT&T,,IBM, Sears Roebuck) increased minority employment as a result of adopting affirmative action policies. Myth 3: Aflirmative action may have been necessary 30 years ago, but the play— ing field is fairly level today. Despite the progress that has been made, the play— ing field is far from level. Women continue to earn 76 cents for every male dollar (Bowler, 1999). Black people continue to have twice the unemployment rate of White people, twice the rate of infant mortality, and just over half the proportion of people who attend four years or more of college (see Figure 1). In fact, without affirmative action the percentage of Black students at many selective schools would drop to only 2% of the student body (Bowen & Bok, 1998). This would effectively choke off Black access to top universities and se— verely restrict progress toward racial equality. In recent years, affirmative action has been debated more intensely than at Racism Now Ratio of White/Black Advantage T I I X I 1' l 1 l 1975 1980 1985 1990 ' 199 ~0- Household Income —0—- Unemployment + 4Years of College --I- Infant Mortality FIGURE 1 Common Standard of Living Indices Despite Black gains in median family income and the number of students ati college during the past 25 years, the ratio of White—to-Black advantage has re: virtually unchanged with respect to several common standard—of—living (based on data from the US. Bureau of the Census, 1984, 1994, 2000). Myth 4: The public doesn’t support afi‘irmatioe action anymore. Public 0 polls suggest that the majority of Americans support affirmative acti pecially when the polls avoid an all—or-none choice between affirmat tion as it currently exists and no affirmative action whatsoever (see Te For example, a Time/ CNN poll found that 80% of the public felt ”affiri action programs for minorities and women should be continued at level” (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995a). What the public oppo; quotas, set—asides, and ” reverse discrimination.” For instance, when th: poll asked people whether they favored programs ”requiring busine: hire a specific number or quota of minorities and women,” 63% oppose a plan (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995b). As these results in most members of the public oppose racial preferences that violate noti procedural justice—they do not oppose affirmative action. Myth 5' A large percentage of White workers will lose out if afifirmatioe is continued. Government statistics do not support this myth. Accord the US. Commerce Department, there are 1.3 million unemployed civilians and 112 million employed White civilians (US. Bureau of th: sus, 2000). Thus, even if every unemployed Black worker in the I States were to displace a White worker, only 1% of Whites would be afl Furthermore, affirmative action pertains only to job—qualified applica: the actual percentage of affected Whites would be a fraction of 1 %. Ths sources of job loss among White workers have to do with factory reloc Responses in % Don’t know / Refused: 5 Don’t know / Refused: 6 Don’t know / Refused: 9 Favor Without quotas: 47 Oppose all: 28 Keep but change: 43 Favor with quotas: 16 Favor: 58 Oppose: 36 ~Favor: 56 Oppose: 39 Increase: 27 Keep the same: 34 Decrease: 30 Favor: 58 Oppose: 33 Not sure: 9 Leave as are: 24 Do away with: 25 Not sure: 8 Don’t know: 9 Sample size 1,523 1,523 2,004 1,027 9 1,258 1,006 IDate 8/01 8/01 7/01 1/00 12/97 7/95 f Sourcea Gallupb GallupC Gallupd CNN / USA Today“3 CBS/ New York Times Associated Pressg Item e w f wurce: aAll polls are from the Roper Center for Public Opinion [RCPO]. bRCPO (2001a). CRCPO (2001b). C1RCPO (2001c). RCPO (2000). RCPO (1997). XBLE 1 Survey Results Suggesting Majority Support for Affirmative Action :cro (1995c). 0 you favor or oppose affirmative action programs for inorities and women for job hiring in the workplace? 0 you favor or oppose affirmative action programs for inorities and women for admission to colleges and liversities? L general, do you think we need to increase, keep the :me, or decrease affirmative action programs in this Juntry? 0 you generally favor or oppose affirmative action rograms for women and minorities? ’hat’s the best thing to do with affirmative action pro- ‘ams giving preference to some minorities—leave the :ograms as they are, change the programs, or do away ith the programs entirely? lhat about affirmative action programs that set quotas . . . 0 you favor affirmative action programs with quotas, or 3 you favor affirmative action programs only Without iotas, or do you oppose all affirmative action programs? Racism Now and labor contracting outside the United States, computerization z tomation, and corporate downsizing (Ivins, 1995). Myth 6: If Jewish people and Asian Americans can rapidly advance e cally, African Americans should be able to do the same. This comparison the unique history of discrimination against Black people in America. torian Roger Wilkins has pointed out, Blacks have a 375-year history continent: 245 involving slavery, 100 involving legalized discriminath only 30 involving anything else (Wilkins, 1995). Jews and Asians, on tl hand, are populations that immigrated to North America and includi tors, lawyers, professors, and entrepreneurs among their ranks. Mc European Jews are able to function as part of the White majority. To Blacks to show the same upward mobility as Jews and Asians is to C11 historical and social reality that Black people face. Myth 7: You can 't cure discrimination with discrimination. The proble this myth is that it uses the same word—«discriminationmto describe tv different things. Job discrimination is grounded in prejudice and exc whereas affirmative action is an effort to overcome prejudicial tre through inclusion. The most effective way to cure society of exclus practices is to make special efforts at inclusion, which is exactly whe mative action does. The logic of affirmative action is no different tl' logic of treating a nutritional deficiency with vitamin supplements healthy person, high doses of vitamin supplements maybe unneces: even harmful, but for a person whose system is out of balance, supple are an efficient way to restore the body's balance. Myth 8: Affirmative action tends to undermine the self—es teem of women an minorities. Although affirmative action may have this effect in some case: man, Simon, 8: Repper, 1987; Steele, 1990), interview studies and publi. ion surveys suggest that such reactions are rare (Taylor, 1994). For inst; 1995 Gallup poll asked employed Blacks and employed White women w they had ever felt others questioned their abilities because of affirmative (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995d). Nearly 90% of respondents s (which is understandable—after all, White men, who have traditionally fited from preferential hiring, do not feel hampered by self—doubt or a self-esteem). Indeed, in many cases affirmative action may actually ra self-esteem of women and minorities by providing them with employme opportunities for advancement. There is also evidence that affirmative policies increase job satisfaction and organizational commitment among ficiaries (Graves (it Powell, 1994). Myth 9: Aflirmatioe action is nothing more than an attempt at socia neering by liberal Democrats. In truth, affirmative action programs spanned nine different presidential administrations—six Republica three Democratic. Although the originating document of affirmative was President Lyndon Johnson’s Executive Order 11246, the policy w; nificantly expanded in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and then Sec of Labor George Schultz. President George Bush also enthusias 210 Section IV of affirmative action. Thus, affirmative action has traditionally enjoyed the support of Republicans as well as Democrats. Myth 10: Support for aflirmative action means support for preferential selection procedures that favor unqualified candidates over qualified candidates. Actually, most supporters of affirmative action oppose this type of preferential selection. Pref- erential selection procedures can be ordered along the following continuum: 1,. Selection among equally qualified candidates. The mildest form of affir- mative action selection occurs when a female or minority candidate is chosen from a pool of equally qualified applicants (e. g., students with identical college entrance scores). Survey research suggests that three—quarters of the public does not see this type of affirmative ac- tion as discriminatory (Roper Center for Public Opinion, 1995c). 2. Selection among comparable candidates. A somewhat stronger form occurs when female or minority candidates are roughly comparable to other candidates (e.g., their college entrance scores are lower, but not by a sig— nificant amount). The logic here is similar to the logic of selecting among equally qualified candidates; all that is needed is an understanding that, for example, predictions based on an SAT score of 620, are virtually in.— distinguishable from predictions based on an SAT score of 630. 3. Selection ai’nong unequal candidates. A still stronger form of affirmative action occurs when qualified female or minority candidates are chosen over candidates whose records are better by a substantial amount. 4. Selection among qualified and unqualified candidates. The strongest form of preferential selection occurs when unqualified female or minority members are chosen over other candidates who are qualified. Al— though affirmative action is sometimes mistakenly equated with this form of preferential treatment, federal regulations explicitly prohibit affirmative action programs in which unqualified or unneeded em- ployees are hired (Bureau of National Affairs, 1979). Even though these selection procedures occasionally blend into one another (due in part to the difficulty of comparing incommensurable records), a few general observations can be made. First, of the four different procedures, the selection of women and minority members among equal or roughly comparable candidates has the greatest public support, adheres most closely to popular conceptions of fairness, and reduces the chances that affirmative action beneficiaries will be per- ceived as unqualified or undeserving (Kravitz & Platania, 1993; Nacoste, 1985; Turner & Pratkanis, 1994). Second, the selection of women and minority mem- bers among unequal candidates—used routinely in college admissions—has deeply divided the nation (with the strongest opposition coming from White males and conservative voters.) And finally, the selection of unqualified candi~ dates is not permitted under federal affirmative action guidelines and should not be equated with legal forms of affirmative action. By distinguishing among these four different selection procedures, it becomes clear that opposition to stronger selection procedures need not imply opposition to milder ones. Racism Nou Some writers have criticized affirmative action as a superficial that does not address deeper societal problems by redistributing we developing true educational equality. Yet affirmative action was he posed as a cure—all solution to inequality. Rather, it was intended or dress discrimination in hiring and academic admissions. In asses value of affirmative action, the central question is merely this: In the of sweeping societal reforms—unlikely to take place any time soon— firmative action help counteract the continuing injustice caused by c nation? The research record suggests, unequivocally; that it does. REFERENCES Bowen, W. (3., & Bok, D. (1998). The shape of the river: Long-term consequences 0] ing race in college and universzty admissions. Princeton, N]: Princeton Universi Bowle;,3l\/£1(1999, December). Women’s earnings: An overview. Monthly Labc pp. — . Bureau of National Affairs. (1979 . Uni orm uia’elirzes on em I l ’ 'Washington, DC: Author. ) f g _ P 03/68 88 6Ci1071 P2 Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights. (1984, June). Aflirmative action to open of job opportunity. Washington, DC: Author. - Ezorsky, G. (1991). Racism and justice: The case for afiirmative action. Ithaca, NY University Press. . Grayesi L. M”. & Powell, G. N. (1994). Effects of sex-based preferential selec , discrimination on job attitudes. Human Relations, 47, 133—157. Heilman, M. E., Simon, M. C., & Repper, D. P. (1987). Intentionally favored, tionally harmed? Impact of sex-based preferential selection on self-percept self—evaluations. journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 62—68. IVins, M. (1995, February 23). Affirmative action is more than black—and-wh' Philadelphia Daily News, p. 28. KraVitz, D. A., & Platania, I. (1993). Attitudes and beliefs about affirmative a( fects of target and of respondent sex and ethnicity. [ournal of Personality a Psychology, 78, 928—938. Murell, A. ]., 8: Jones, R. (1996). Assessing affirmative action: Past, present, an Journal of Social Issues, 52, 77—92. Nacoste, R. W. (1985). Selection procedure and responses to affirmative act case of favorable treatment. Law and Human Behavior, 9, 225—242. Newport, F, Ludwig, I, 8: Kearney, S. (2001, July 10). Black— White relations in tl States. Princeton, NJ: The Gallup Organization. Reverse discrimination of whites is rare, labor study reports. (1995, March .’ York Times, p. A23, ' Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995a). Question ID: USYANKP.95007, Q1 tronic database]. Available from Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe VV http:/ /web.lexis—nexis.com/ universe Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995b). Question ID: USYANKR95007, Q18 tronic database]. Available from Lexis—Nexis Academic Universe W httpz/ /web.lexis—nexis.com/ universe Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995c). Question ID: USAP927K, Q4 [El database]. Available from Lexis—Nexis Academic Universe We httpz/ /web.lexis~nexis.com / universe . Roper Center for Public Opinion. (1995d). Question ID: USGALLUP9503 [Electronic database]. Available from Lexis—Nexis Academic Universe V‘ http: / / web.lexis—nexis.com / universe ...
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