Thus Spake Zuska

From the Chronicle of Higher Education daily update yesterday:

The strongest source of white opposition to affirmative action today is neither racism nor a sincere conviction that any favoritism, even if compensatory, is wrong, but rather a “desire to protect fellow whites,” three scholars argue in a paper released last week by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. That finding, the authors contend, offers a new window into white opposition to affirmative-action programs.

The Chronicle article needs a subscription but the paper it refers to, Why White Americans Oppose Affirmative Action: A Group-Interest Approach, is available online.

The authors surveyed 136 people who self-identified as white and had them evaluate, using a Likert scale, four different hypothetical affirmative action policies. They were asked to evaluate how much they thought the policies would affect the hiring chances of whites and of minorities, and whether they supported or opposed the policy. The policies were ranked as “strong” or “weak” depending upon how they would affect hiring chances for minorities.

The results showed strong opposition to policies that were perceived to negatively affect the hiring chances of whites. The authors state:

We found that opposition to affirmative action was better predicted by the policy’s anticipated harm to whites than by the policy’s anticipated benefit to minorities. Moreover, support for affirmative action was lower for the stronger policies. This finding is typically interpreted as evidence for the principled opposition perspective. Further analyses found, however, that support dropped for stronger policies because these policies were perceived as causing greater harm to the in-group. This finding suggests that opposition framed in terms of “principled opposition” might really be a veiled attempt to protect the in-group.

The authors say that whites tend to equate any affirmative action policy with “strong” policies and therefore to resist it. They recommend educating the public to stress that affirmative action is intended to mitigate inequality that does not just disadvantage minorities, but also advantages whites.

I agree with this description of what affirmative action is intended to do. I am just not certain that explaining this to someone who resists affirmative action because he or she thinks it will harm whites, is going to convince them otherwise. Even though I think this is what needs to be done – I talk about this in regard to gender bias. We need to educate men about giving up their gender privilege. I am just pessimistic about how gladly this message will be received.

I suppose I could be wrong. Hey, you guys are always after me to “be nice”. So here’s your opportunity: If I just say to you nicely that social inequalities exist between men and women that disadvantage women and advantage men, and affirmative action policies are intended to ameliorate the disadvantages and remove the advantages, not to harm men, will you all just come along now and be in support of affirmative action? Pretty please? I asked nicely.

I won’t hold my breath, but maybe you’ll surprise me.


  1. #1 Gerard Harbison
    April 25, 2007

    Show me an affirmative action policy that helps women and doesn’t harm men, and I’m with you.

  2. #2 Zuska
    April 25, 2007

    Read the paper and look at their four examples of hypothetical affirmative action policies. Substitute “women” for minorities and “men” for “whites”. Tell me what you think of those four hypothetical policies. Do they harm men? Or do they work to ameliorate women’s disadvantage and to take away men’s advantage?

  3. #3 bigTom
    April 25, 2007

    I don’t that much about attitudes, but I do know about things that at one time in my life pissed me off. First as a wanna-be scientist I was graduating just as Affirmitive Action has getting going. It looks to us white males at the time, that it was going to me my age cohort that paid the price, as we feared it would be “white-males need not apply” for sveral years until long-term imbalances were addressed. I don’t know if that actually happened, but clearly those who thought they might have been excluded were made resentful. I think that was how uber-Oger Michael Savage first got his hatred of liberalism.

    Fast forward a quarter century, my son was a promising athlete in a non-mainstream mens sports (i.e. not football/basketball), and title-nine comes along which says the same amount of scholarship money for womens/mens sports. Well that basically meant the college-professional sports (football/basketball) were going to get 100% of the mens scholarship budget. So yes in some circumstances well meaning programs can go through the system in such a way as to create new groups of discriminated against groups. Those proposing programs should be careful not to give that impression, as otherwise they can create bitter enemies.

  4. #4 Dan S.
    April 25, 2007

    “Do they harm men? Or do they work to ameliorate women’s disadvantage and to take away men’s advantage?”

    Ah, but you see, taking away men’s/whites’ advantage is perceived as harm (by some men/whites. How dare they take away my unfair advantage!, etc. Privilege, la.

  5. #5 Cats are Snakes
    April 25, 2007

    I have been thinking about Affirmative Action and racism a great deal lately; Mr. Imus put it into my path again. Given that equal pay equity day for women was yesterday, I can understand extending the thoughts toward women. (For those not in the know, equal pay equity day is the day that women have finally earned the same amount of money as men did in 2006 – in similar positions, with the same level of education and experience.)

    I wonder at studies such as the one discussed here. It seems people tend to view job/enrollment opportunities as a zero sum situation. I realize that it is when viewed on a microeconomic scale. However, I believe that on a macroeconomic level, opportunities for everyone expand when minorities/women are given access. Can I prove it? Heck, no. But it seems logical in the long run.

  6. #6 Scienceavenger
    April 25, 2007

    From the report: …oposition among whites with a weak group identity was not affected by whether the policy was said to hurt whites or benefit blacks

    It wasn’t? The graph I am looking at on the link sure looks like it shows much higher support among those with a low racial identity for the hypothetical policy when it is said to harm whites (around 48%) than when it says it benefits blacks (around 38%). That does seem strange, am I reading something incorrectly?

    In any case, there conclusion doesn’t seem to follow from their description of the data. All they’ve shown is that people obsessed with their whiteness are going to be against anything that hurts whitey. Gee, ya think? In our next report, fat people are heavier on average than skinny people, and illiterate people score worse in spelling bees.

    I was more interested in how many people qualified as having the various ratings on the group identity test, because that is the root of the problem IMO, and they didn’t even give that. Now sure, if there were far more people with strong group identity than weak, their conclusion would follow, but that’s far from clear. Their implication, therefore, that those of us with strong opposition to affirmative action policies are probably hiding some racist agenda seems reckless to say the least.

    Personally, I’d score very low on the group identity measure, and I have many principled reasons why I oppose some affirmative action programs. Citing this study and claiming it applies to me and people like me is surely not going to seem very persuasive to me. Yet that is surely what is going to happen.

    If I just say to you nicely that social inequalities exist between men and women that disadvantage women and advantage men, and affirmative action policies are intended to ameliorate the disadvantages and remove the advantages, not to harm men, will you all just come along now and be in support of affirmative action?

    No. I am not interested in intent. I am interested in results, and I think I speak for a lot of people. I also am far more interested in making sure no one is harmed who has not personally earned it, than I am to reward someone because of a perceived social injustice. I’m not sure how many agree with me on that. 🙂 I just don’t think it is right to hire Nancy instead of George if George is the better qualified candidate, unless George himself is the source of the social injustice, say by being the incompetent son of the President. Doing otherwise not only harms George unjustly, but also harms everyone depending on whatever he would be doing. It might even harm Nancy if she ends up in over her head.

    The people with the strong group identities are a lost cause. That’s the real lesson of this study. If you want support for affirmative action from the rest of us in the reasonable middle, do it in a way that does’t harm innocents. Special private training programs are a good example. No one is harmed by you volunteering your time to read only to poor minority girls for example.

    Also, stay away from situations where the affirmative program is likely to result in people getting whatever it is being far less qualified than whoever would have gotten it otherwise. And for God’s sake, gag the people on your side of the aisle who act like that doesn’t happen, or worse yet doesn’t matter.

    I once saw an old 60 minutes episode on women trying to be fireman failing the standards the men were held to. The feminists interviewed said things like “any standard that men pass more than women is unfair”, and “the standards should be changed so the women can pass, such as allowing them to drag a body rather than carry it. There may be less smoke down there anyway.” Those women did your cause no favors.

    I believe most Americans have a strong sense of fairness, and that’s why the historically recognized disadvantaged groups of racial minorities and women have made the strides they have (that and lots of old racists and sexists dying). The fairer your policies are perceived to be, among reasonable people anyway, the more support you are going to get.

  7. #7 jeffk
    April 25, 2007

    I think a few posters here are missing a fundamental point about affirmative action and inequality. Let me say first that I really, really, really wish we didn’t have to have affirmative action, since we do, I really really wish it could be based on a quantitative metric only, such as income. But there are racial and gender inequalities in this country, seeded in historical issues, and if one accepts the premise that this is a bad thing inherently (another discussion to be sure), then the next question is, what can we do about it?

    The thing is, “harming” a middle-class white male in this country is like taking money from a thief. There’s a lack of understanding of privilege here, and a naive assumption that whatever we have, we’ve earned rightfully. And that includes skills we’ve earned in colleges we’ve been admitted to because we were born rich/white/male and had statistically better opportunities.

    There are better ways, I think, of attacking all sorts of inequalities, and they involve making sure that every child in this country gets a good education from the start, something we apparently are refusing to do. If the upper classes would cough it up and pay for serious education funding, they’d solve a lot of problems at the root and not have to deal with awkward after-the-fact fixes like giving jobs to people who are less qualified.

  8. #8 Deborah
    April 25, 2007

    It does not surprise me. White males feel entitled to the whole pie because they have always had it. Making them divide it up so other people can share will always seem like taking away.

    My husband (middle class white male with college educated family) lost out on a scholarship that was awarded to a minority person. He is not a generally a racist, but he felt that it was unfairly given to the minority person. You cannot argue that the winner was more qualified, more needy, etc. It all comes down to being robbed of something because it was given to a minority.

    I come from a place where whites are (or used to be) a minority in terms of population. While there is racism against whites in certain neighborhoods, it always amuses me that anytime they get slighted they are not afraid to call the race card.

    There is a wealthy private school that has a policy of admitting people of a certain minority ethnic group over other applicants. There are several better schools in the area in terms of college admissions, but white people go to court just because they can’t stand to be denied something even if they have better pickings elsewhere.

  9. #9 Lisa
    April 25, 2007

    bigTom: “we feared it would be ‘white-males need not apply'”
    Perhaps you are just exaggerating for effect, but if women and minorities got so big of an advantage that white males should just throw up their hands, there would simply be a whole lot of women and minorities in the best jobs now. I understand the argument that even a very slight “advantage” is unfair, but seriously, if the advantages were very significant then we would soon see tons of women and minorities showing up, and then we would be have fulfilled the goal and be able to stop the programs.
    One (white) man I went to school with, complained to me (a woman) that he couldn’t get a job because all the companies wanted to hire women for “diversity”. This person was not a close friend of mine nor had any apparent reason to discuss these feelings with me. So after my initial confusion at his comments (since most of the men in our class had great jobs), I began to wonder . . . if he couldn’t keep his offensive and condescending comments to himself when talking to me, perhaps his problem was that his personality was showing through in interviews . . .

    Whenever I am feeling like I could’ve done better if I could’ve checked a different box under race (I actually haven’t felt this way in a long time, since I understand the world a little better than I used to), I remember what my father used to tell us after close games of softball when we would whine about how we could’ve won except for the bad calls of the refs–he’d say, “you have to be good enough that you can win even with a few bad calls.”
    I’m not saying you shouldn’t fight against the policies you don’t like, but on an immediate personal level, you can focus on doing well enough that you are very clearly better than the other candidates. That way, they won’t say “well, these candidates are about the same but this one brings in certain demographic characteristics that we’d like to have . . .” Do you really want to be hired because you’re almost unnoticeably better than the other candidate, even though the other candidate likely had more obstacles in their career than you?

  10. #10 Kevin
    April 25, 2007

    Both perspectives offered in the paper from various studies to explain widespread antagonism to affirmative action themselves smack of racism. They treat “white Americans” as some monolithic ideological group. The group identity perspective is presumed by all the alternatives here.

    Whatever happened to rational discourse and argumentation? I am incredibly offended by the suggestion that my rational and logical support of hiring the individual most qualified for a position without regard for any complicating factors is due to my skin color or even my own perception of my skin color. Somehow the notion that epistemology takes a back seat to racial identity has become prima facie acceptable?

    And the broad lumping of white males into a privileged overclass by the posters is no better. I am incredibly disheartened that on no more evidence than hypothetical speculation about skin color, white males are across the board characterized as “thieves”, selfish, hypocrites and overt or covert racists. The principled opposition to judging people by some non-essential metric like skin color is not that people possessed of the dominant color are evil, but that skin color is simply irrelevant. How is affirmative action supposed to counter the fundamental problem with racism by embedding the non-essential characteristic ever more strongly into the political and social discourse?

  11. #11 bigTom
    April 25, 2007

    Lisa, since I was talking about motivations for strong anti-affirmative action (and often anti-liberal) views, I was talking about perceptions. In any case for myself, these things are decades in the past, I have no current resentments surrounding this issue. Perceptions do matter, even or especially if they are blown all out of proportion. The period I was talking about was the early days of AA. If
    the goal had been to as quickly as possible equalize sex ratios in certain occupations, it would have meant hiring ONLY one sex for roughly half the length of a typical career, clearly career ending for those whose group was identified as having been unfairly priveledged in previous generations. The perception was of being punished for the sins of the fathers.

    Again you had some men who didn’t get the position they thought they earned, whether or not it had anything to do with AA, if they thought it was, many of them became bitter likely forming ill-liberal attitudes.

    There is anecdotal evidence today that schools in trying to advance girls sense of self-esteem and empowerment, and sometimes denigrating males as part of that process. (I haven’t seen this in my son’s school careers -so at least this issue is not personal to me). In any case girl/boy school performance has become heavily skewed, with something like 60% of college students now being female (I would have loved that!). At this point it seems that it is the boys who need special help.

  12. #12 Markk
    April 26, 2007

    In the early 90’s I had been working for some time and went back to graduate school. I was a white male with ok income coming in. I took a look at any grant or subsidized loan opportunities available to me at the time. There were none. If I did one thing only – changed my sex, I could have gotten about half of my school expenses paid. If I changed my race also, I could have easily gotten almost full pay of all living expenses as well as school. Looking around, I realized that even with these great incentives, there were few minorities or women in the engineering school. So something else was keeping the people out. Lack of knowledge of the available resources? Reduction of the possibilities beforehand so the population of people applying was too low to be meaningful. Whatever. I thought that this meant there was something rotten with these incentives – they weren’t working! They didn’t stop me from getting my degree, and didn’t seem to be encouraging under-represented groups. These things didn’t hurt me at all.

    I think from a self interested perspective as a professional that I want as widespread a demographic in my field as possible, because the real threats to my job or profession aren’t women or minorities taking my job, it is more political shifting of whole areas of business out of the country, or simply de-emphasizing them as goals, and the more people I’ve got at my back in those times the better off I’ll be – at least I think so. So I want effective actions to increase minorities – even if they can bite me a little, over my career, they will help. I don’t know what the effective actions should really be though, although my ideas are pretty draconian.

  13. #13 Lisa
    April 26, 2007

    (btw, my last paragraph wasn’t really directed at you, although I guess it sounded like it was. Just a general comment.)
    I agree that boys need special help, too–sexist attitudes harm everyone. I think if society stopped telling boys to be macho and not to cry, and parents stopped saying “boys will be boys” when they get in fights (or punch me in the mouth for no reason . . .) maybe they would go to college in larger numbers, and go to jail in fewer numbers. Maybe if boys are taught to see girls as true equals, much of this stupidity will go away.

  14. #14 Zuska
    April 26, 2007

    I would just like to point out that, contrary to what some commenters here are saying, the article I posted about is NOT saying that white people resist affirmative action out of racism. That is precisely what the article is trying to challenge. The authors say their research shows that resistance to affirmative action does not stem from racism, but neither does it really stem from “principled opposition” to favoritism. They say it stems from the desire to protect the in-group, which is not the same thing as racism.

    I would also like to note that Title IX has NOT resulted in fewer athletic opportunities for men. It has opened up athletic opportunities for women. It is disingenuous to claim that because women are now being afforded somewhat similar athletic opportunities, that men are suffering. I don’t understand why men are so fierce and bitter about women having access to athletics. Don’t men have daughters as well as sons? Don’t they want their daughters to have opportunities as well as their sons?

  15. #15 Frumious B
    April 27, 2007

    Wow, “dear god what about the men” in the very first comment. Nice work, Zuska.

  16. #16 Stephen
    April 27, 2007

    Show me an affirmative action plan in implementation that has been so good that we don’t need it anymore, and i’ll consider support to remove it in isolated instrumented trials.

    I’m also very leery of de-listing endangered species.

  17. #17 yevgeniy
    April 28, 2007

    There is nothing wrong with opposing affirmative action or identifying as white. It’s a fee country and you can start a club or join some party (Republican?). Hey, you can hang out on campus with a placard denouncing affirmative action. Last time I checked stuff like that wasn’t verboten.

    I care about my minority above others too. I know it’s bad and stuff, but I don’t want my people to become average. We have to stay ahead of all the regular whiteys in science (at least in America, Jews are white: bonus!) be it man or woman. If you’re Jewish, don’t donate the usual large amount to the underrepresented minorities charities! We need to make sure that at least one Nobel Prize winner per year is a Jewish man or woman so let’s funnel a bit of money there too.

    See, America is great, identifying with you race/culture/ethnicity isn’t bad. Start a white club against affirmative action if you want. I won’t join, but I’m sure there will be a lot of takers.

  18. #18 Bunjo
    April 29, 2007

    Tricky stuff AA. How do you know when it has worked?

    Over here in the UK it is a matter of public information that the overwhelming majority of primary (kids aged 3 – 11) school teachers are women. Many reasons have been advanced to explain this, from pay (primary school teachers are paid a little less than senior schools), careers (there is less opportunity for advancement), fear of false accusations of paedophilia, sexist recruitment, through to speculation that ‘men’ think small children are less interesting to teach. There is probably a little truth in all of these ‘reasons’, but no single Truth.

    It is also now believed by some politicians and members of the public that exposure to male role models in primary schools would be beneficial to both girls, and especially, boys.

    If we took AA what methods can we use? A guaranteed job for any minimally qualifed man that applies? Extra efforts to invite applications from men? Compulsory filling of vacancies with men (to the detriment of women)?

    And what will success look like? A 50/50 woman/man balance in primary schools irrespective of ability or inclination? Or a situation where 100% of teacher jobs are filled by the most able people, whatever their sex?

    Difficult questions, which probably have no single solution for every circumstance. If you can decide on what you want to achieve (in measurable terms) and what level of freshly created disadvantage ‘society’ is willing to put up with to allay greater longstanding disadvantage, then you have probably got an answer to your question. One you can apply to any situation where the expectations of self identified minorities and majorities can be dealt with.

    In the UK most AA is limited to making a special effort to invite applications from under-represented groups. Not very fast or devastatingly effective, more of a slow course correction. Not too many waves generated either.

  19. #19 JYB
    May 1, 2007

    Zuska, you can try and try, but by now you must realize that change comes from within. You can yell at men all you want, but it’s us men that have to change. A male has to be that ally. Similarly, the only way to stop racism is for the white folks to get together and make it happen. It will start and end with the oppressors.

    Of course, I don’t always agree with you, but I appreciate the effort.

  20. #20 Gaius
    June 17, 2007

    Affirmative Action is okay as long as it does not involve discriminating against white males. The problem is that it is used for just that purpose. I think it is legitimate to reach out to minority communities for good job applicants, but I reject any decision that hires or promotes anyone based on their minority status. That is illegal and should be. You do that, you should be punished.

    It does seem that this whole AA debate by some on the pro side is just a cover for their need to get back at white male society. It just seems like it is nothing but their Will to Power.

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