against minority-owned businesses. Not surprisingly, some studies found significant evidence of discrimination, and based on these findings some post- Croson affirmative action plans were approved. 103 The Clinton administration responded to the Adarand ruling by ask- ing the Justice Department and various federal agencies to assess their policies and practices and determine whether federal affirmative action programs met the strict scrutiny standard. The Thernstroms characterize this decision as “rationalization, denial, and deception” because, like many conservatives, they would like to use Adarand to justify an imme- diate end to all affirmative action policies. But the Court did not hold that affirmative action plans were illegitimate. These decisions were more of an alarm bell than a death knell. The Clinton administration’s CIVIL RIGHTS AND RACIAL EQUALITY 189
response was entirely appropriate, and by the end of the review, they had “eliminated or altered” seventeen affirmative action programs, which “led to sharp decreases in the amount of Federal contracts awarded to companies owned by minorities or women.” 104 Where it decided to retain programs, the Bush administration has defended the Clinton administration’s decision. THE POLITICS OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: SYMBOLS AND REALITIES The 1960s antidiscrimination policies are not the failure conservatives and critics make them out to be. On the contrary, these policies are very cautious but partial remedies for a long history of exploitation and racial discrimination. Conservatives are wrong: the Supreme Court did not audaciously rewrite the 1964 Civil Rights Act in Griggs v. Duke Power and replace discrimination against African Americans with discrimina- tion against whites by extending Title VII to unintentional discrimina- tion. Instead, the Court recognized what many of its critics refuse to see: Congress intended Title VII not just to outlaw racial discrimination in labor markets but also to open up economic opportunities for African Americans and other people of color. If Title VII had been narrowly restricted to specific acts of intentional discrimination as conservatives would like, it would not have reached so-called race-neutral practices like nepotism and would not have been effective. Enforcement of Title VII and the federal government’s contract com- pliance program opened up jobs and a better life to many African Americans, from unskilled black textile workers in the South to college- educated black women. Just as important, these laws helped transform labor markets by breaking down distinctions between “white work” and “black work” while eliminating the most egregious discriminatory employment practices. The evidence also suggests that these changes did not, as conservatives argue, lead to reverse discrimination or impose large disadvantages on white workers. The 1960s antidiscrimination policies are controversial because they minimized the advantage whites brought to labor markets and thus devalued whiteness. On the other
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