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Transcript
Affirmative Action and Racism
Marco MARTINIELLO
The question I would like to raise is the following : can
affirmative action be a remedy against racism ? This is a very
difficult question since both affirmative action and racism have
lead to highly emotional political and academic debates in which
the initial stand point of the speakers often determines the
possibility or the impossibility to engage in a discussion
between opponents. Both racism and affirmative action are
essentially contested issues.
The
literature
on
affirmative
action
is
massive.
Philosophers have written extensively on issues at
the
core
of
the
affirmative
action
debates:
are
collective rights compatible with liberal democratic
theory
(Kymlicka
1995)
?
Does
affirmative
action
produce some form of reverse discrimination at the
expenses of the so-called majority and its members
(Dworkin
1986)
?
Do
justice
and
equality
conflict
(Ezorsky 1991) ? What type of distributive justice is
fair ? Economists from various schools have discussed
the economic impact of affirmative action programs
not only on
the national economy but also on the
achievements
of
relevant
questions
members
here
economic advantage of
of
are
target
in
groups.
essence:
who
The
takes
affirmative action ? What is
the cost-benefit balance of these programs ? As to
legal
perspectives,
the
constitutional
debate
has
been intense as to whether or not affirmative action
challenges the fundamental principle of equality, or
non-discrimination, before the law. The role of the
courts has also been studied with care, for example
the role of the Supreme Court in the United States of
America
(Urofsky
1992;
Calvès
1998).
In
political
science, policy studies approaches have examined how
affirmative action programs have been implemented in
the field of public contracting, public employment
and
education.
published
Furthermore,
by
backgrounds
affirmative
scholars
and
essays
from
activists
action.
many
in
Political
have
various
favour
essays
academic
or
and
been
against
pamphlets
represent a substantial part of the recent literature
on
affirmative
action
(Bergman
1996;
Bolick
1996;
etc.). This includes the rise of the so-called Black
conservatives
affirmative
who
strongly
action
or
any
oppose
kind
of
race-based
preferential
policies (Carter 1991; Steele 1998; etc.)
Four
main
features
characterise
the
literature
on
affirmative action. Firstly, it is often difficult to
distinguish
between
analytical
and
normative
concerns. The passions of the political debate often
permeates
in
academic
publications.
Secondly,
the
literature on affirmative action deals mainly with
single national settings. Some valuable attempts to
develop international comparative works do exist (Lee
Bacchi 1996; Faundez 1994; Sowell 1990) but a truly
international
research
further.
Thirdly,
education
and
attention,
agenda
while
employment
the
ways
should
affirmative
have
in
be
which
developed
action
received
in
widespread
affirmative
action
affect or not the political process and substantial
citizenship
still
need
to
be
better
understood.
Fourthly, many studies refer more or less explicitly
to a specific group, such as either women or racial
minorities,
and
do
not
consider
the
other
groups.
This can lead to results which can not easily be
generalised.
The
literature
on
racism
is
as
massive
with
numberless theoretical and conceptual disputes some
of which were referred to the first session of this
conference. Is racism different from antisemitism and
xenophobia ? Is it an ideology, a set of prejudices
against the members of a racialised group, a set of
forms of institutional and structural mechanisms of
segregation
and
discrimination?
Does
is
translate
into forms of speech and acts of violence, etc. ? The
points
of
contention
remain
numerous
despite
the
incredible amount of energy spent by researchers to
make sense of racism.
Therefore, one can not be too ambitious when dealing
with
the
question
as
to
the
remedial
effect
of
affirmative on racism. My presentation is simply an
introduction to the debate and it does not claim to
present an clear-cut and overarching answer to the
initial question. In any case, it is a good idea to
start with a working definition of both affirmative
action and racism in order at least to state clearly
what I am talking about.
What is affirmative action ?
Affirmative action refers to a broad set of social
policies aimed at reversing historical trends that
have
located
position
minority
mainly
in
groups
work,
in
a
education
disadvantaged
and
political
institutions. Basically, affirmative action involves
actively
encouraging
educational
public
institutions
and
and
private
political
employers,
institutions
to grant a better access to members of groups who
have
suffered
collective
forms
of
exclusion
and
discrimination. If Affirmative action is always about
a
specific
policy
treatment
for
members
of
historically disadvantaged and discriminated against
groups, it does not necessarily translates into rigid
quotas allowed to minorities either in universities,
public institutions or political elected assemblies.
Most of the time, affirmative action has been about
setting goals for a better inclusion of individual
members of historically excluded groups as well as
monitoring of the evolution of the situation.
In
the
which
United
Sates,
developed
in
affirmative
the
wake
of
action
the
programs
Civil
Rights
Movement were initially an attempt to ensure a better
de
facto
equality
of
opportunities
for
previously
excluded ethnic and racial minorities citizens. De
jure citizenship and equality for African-Americans
did not put an end to daily racism, discriminations
and negative prejudice suffered by African-Americans.
Something more was to be done in order to reduce the
gap between formal equality and continued inequality
and
exclusion.
Affirmative
action
programs
were
therefore designed and implemented initially with a
widespread support of the population. But since the
Reagan
years,
recurrently
affirmative
under
attack
action
in
liberal
has
been
California
as
well as in other states such as Texas and Florida
just
to
mention
a
couple
of
examples.
Opponents
advance various arguments to call for a total end of
affirmative action programs: they would have caused a
culture of dependency among Blacks; they would have
profited only those Blacks who have made it without
them anyway; they would contradict the principle of
equality
of
all
American
citizens
and
also
the
principle of individualism at the core of American
culture, they would harm other minorities but also
the
white
majority
which
would
now
suffer
reverse
discrimination, they would jeopardise social cohesion
by
favouring
groups, etc.
conflict
between
American
ethnic
Declared
affirmative
action
programs
or
public
discussions about such programs can be found only in
the
US
but
also
in
India,
in
South
Africa,
in
Malaysia but also in the European Union in the case
of gender equality policies (Stone, 1999). Undeclared
affirmative action programs are also implemented in
other
countries
in
which
the
debate
about
preferential policies remains highly taboo. This is
the case of France and Belgium.
What is racism ?
My
intention
here
is
not
to
replicate
the
first
session of the conference. Still, it is useful to
recall that the word racism can be associated with a
variety of phenomena. Racism has several dimensions
which have too be distinguished in order to think
about possible answers to the initial question. But I
agree
with
Wieviorka
on
the
issue
based
of
of
a
unity
of
racism (1991).
Racism
is
an
ideology
the
belief
that
humanity is divided into races, that is in biological
and/or
cultural
groups
which
reproduce
over
the
generations with the same characteristics. Some races
are
considered
Racist
to
ideologies
biological
and
be
are
superior
based
cultural
on
and
the
other
inferior.
belief
inferiority
of
in
the
groups
conceived
colour
as
of
different
their
on
members
the
basis
which
is
of
the
skin
associated
to
natural and/or cultural deficiencies. Racism rests on
a
logic
of
hierarchisation
and
homogenisation.
It
leads to a logic of preservation of the purity of the
superior
race
though
the
interdiction
of
mixed
marriage, the separation of the races in social life
or some times though the destruction of the
race
seen as danger to that purity. In my view racism is
broader
than
antisemitism
even
though
it
rests
on
similar assertions and beliefs.
Racism is also a set of prejudices which govern the
individual's behaviour and thinking when he or she
faces
or
belonging
thinks
to
about
another
an
race
individual
as
his
or
allegedly
hers.
Just
because he or she is supposed to belong to a race, a
specific attitude or behaviour is expected from him
of her: Arabs are violent, Blacks are childish and
not intelligent, Jews are mean or whatever.
Racial ideologies and prejudices
acts
such
as
hate
speeches
and
can translate into
violence
directed
individually or collectively at the members of the
inferior and/or dangerous races.
The
latter
can
also
suffer
all
sorts
of
direct
discriminations in daily life in the labour market,
in the welfare system; in the education system, in
housing,
becomes
in
the
judicial
institutional
system,
and
or
etc.
Racism
structural
then
when
the
state excludes certain racial groups from the benefit
of
what
should
be
seen
as
collective
goods
or
resources. This can lead to the formation of a racial
political order such as the de jure apartheid regime
in South Africa or the Jim Crow system in the US in
which
rights.
members
When
political
of
different
this
is
government
the
is
races
case
in
have
and
charge
different
when
I
a
speak
racist
of
a
complete political racism.
Is affirmative action a remedy to racism ?
Let me know come back to my initial question : Is
affirmative action a remedy to racism ?
My first point is that affirmative action is worth
discussing only when there is a formal equality of
all individuals before the Law. In a situation of
complete political racism, affirmative action is not
on the agenda since the differential allocation of
resources to different races and the corresponding
inequality
of
life
opportunities
is
legal
or
considered to be normal and unavoidable. Therefore,
the idea that racial inequalities should be corrected
does not make sense. Clearly, the destruction of the
political
prerequisite
and
for
juridical
a
racial
discussion
on
order
the
is
a
possible
benefits of affirmative action. It is only when this
has happened and when it is observed that de facto,
and even institutional and structural forms of racism
continue to produce unacceptable racial inequalities
that affirmative action can be fruitfully envisaged.
In the case of the US, debates on affirmative action
were
obviously
impossible
in
the
pre-civil
rights
period: formal racial equality is a necessary but not
sufficient conditions to launch such a debate.
The
second
point
is
that
the
direct
impact
of
affirmative action on the racist ideology will most
probably
rarely
be nil or negative. Racist ideologues only
change
adoption
of
their
mind
affirmative
on
racial
action
issues.
programs
The
seen
as
unfair and detrimental measures for the dominant race
can
even
exacerbate
their
ideology
and
their
campaigning.
These
Racist
ideologues
have
campaigned
against
affirmative action and this has probably stimulated
law
suites
started
by
whites,
not
necessarily
all
openly racists, claiming that affirmative action is
actually a form of reverse discrimination affecting
mainly white middle-aged men.
The effect of affirmative action on racial prejudice
may be more complex. At first, affirmative action can
probably reinforce racial prejudice. If Blacks for
example need special programs to reach the university
level or to find a job, is it not because they are
really inferior and unable to make it on their own ?
This
line
of
reasoning
can
be
shared
by
white
liberals and conservatives alike as well as by some
Blacks
who
reject
because
they
believe
the
view
the
affirmative
Affirmative
mainstream
action
precisely
Action
reinforces
society
has
of
them
as
inferior and as deficient.
Now in the longer term, affirmative action can also
contribute to reduce the racial prejudices suffered
by
minority
racial
groups
though
the
promotion
a
better mutual knowledge between individuals socially
classified
servant
in
different
works
servant,
he
or
day
she
races.
after
can
day
When
a
with
hopefully
a
white
civil
black
civil
slowly
start
to
realise that the characteristics generally affected
to
blacks
in
American
society
do
not
actually
correspond to the reality and that there is no racial
difference in terms of intelligence and ability. By
the
same
token,
the
good
performance
of
an
affirmative action baby in college can maybe have the
same effect.
As
to
the
effect
of
affirmative
action
on
hate
speeches and racial violence, there is no evidence as
far as I know of this type of backlash.
The most crucial effect of affirmative action is on
institutional and structural racial discriminations.
In
the
case
of
the
US,
it
seems
to
me
that
the
representation of Blacks in civil service, political
elected
assemblies
and
in
higher
education
institutions would not be as good (or as bad) as it
is without affirmative action. The enlargement of the
Black and Hispanic middle-class is also the result of
affirmative action.
In countries where institutional racism is rooted in
a long history of problematic race relations, formal
equality before the law and anti-discrimination laws
and
policies
may
not
be
enough
for
balancing
out
inequalities. As President Johnson thought, you can
not expect two people in a race to have the same
probability to win when one of the two has started to
run long after the other. Something has to be made to
make the race fairer. That is affirmative action.
In Clinton's view, when affirmative action is done
right, it is flexible it is fair and it works. The
question
is
affirmative
then
action.
how
A
to
build
general
that
answer
type
is
of
very
difficult to give but 3 general principles have to be
taken
into
direction.
account
in
order
to
move
in
that
Firstly, affirmative action should be thought of as
temporary. When the reasons why it has been designed
and
implemented
programmes
disappear,
should
disappear
affirmative
as
well.
action
This
would
impede to consider affirmative action as an unfair
advantage granted to some racial minority groups.
Secondly, it is worth examining the possibility to
design affirmative action policies based on various
criteria such as race, ethnicity, class and gender in
order to target with more accuracy the groups more in
need of specific policy treatment.
Thirdly,
affirmative
action
programs
should
be
accompanied by clear information campaign directed at
all majority groups in order to show them they are
not victims of reverse discrimination processes.
If these principles are taken into account, the fact
that
affirmative
ideologies
and
action
racial
can
also
prejudice
reinforce
is
not
racist
a
major
obstacle to their implementation since they remain a
major
weapon
institutional
to
fight
against
discriminations
structural
based
on
and
race.
Affirmative action remains a interesting way to try
to
secure
equal
opportunities
to
each
regardless of her or his racial background.
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