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.