Blocking access to the workplace

March 20, 1995|By Derrick Z. Jackson

You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?

-- From a television ad Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., used when he was behind in the polls in his 1990 reelection bid against African-American Harvey Gantt.

We have always factored in . . . that race would probably play a role. We obviously may have miscalculated on how much it would play a role.

?3 -- Harvey Gantt, after losing to Senator Helms. THE NEXT THING you know, great suffering masses of white people will march on Washington, singing "We Are Overwhelmed." On the steps of the Lincoln Monument, President Phil Gramm will say, "I have a dream, that every qualified white man shall be exalted, every affirmative action program shall be made low, glass ceilings shall be made steel, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed in a workplace where you will never see a black caucus at the water cooler again."

So let freedom from black people ring: from California, where a proposed ballot question would end affirmative action; from Texas, where Mr. Gramm has said that his first act as president would be to eliminate affirmative action by executive order; from the Senate, where Mr. Helms wants to file a federal bill ending affirmative action; from Beacon Hill in Massachusetts, where Gov. William Weld has ordered a review of affirmative action programs; from Boston City Hall, where City Councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen called for their outright end; and from the White House, where President Clinton has said he wants to base affirmative action on economic need rather than color.

The white civil rights movement has grown quite cocky. Its attempt to claim the moral high ground has gone so far as to invoke Martin Luther King Jr.'s wishful words for a nation where his children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

The content of this movement is clear. It knows this nation is nowhere close to judging people only on character. This is not about visions of colorblind laws. This is about whitewashing the law until it is blind to racism.

For all the screaming about pea-brained black applicants taking jobs from white supermen, there is no body of facts to support the fantasy that African-Americans have destroyed white privilege or that the white elite has stopped ghettoizing African-American workers.

White Americans make up 75.6 percent of the nation's population. They are 89.2 percent of officials and managers and 85.7 percent of professionals in private industry, according to 1993 data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

White Americans match or exceed their percentage of the population in all job categories except in semiskilled, unskilled and service labor. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet are only 5.3 percent of officials and managers and 5.5 percent of professionals. We are 18.7 percent of laborers and 23.8 percent of service workers.

In other words, according to new data from the Census Bureau, the rate of white-male employment in managerial and professional specialties is nearly twice that of African-American men while the rate of African-American male employment in service occupations is twice that of white males.

White outrage is even more ridiculous when you look within industries. In the construction trades, one out of every four white workers is a manager, a professional or a technician (I'll call that an MPT). Only one in every 23.5 African-Americans is an MPT. African-Americans make up a whopping 2 percent of construction MPTs.

In the manufacturing of durable goods, one of every three white workers is an MPT, compared to one in 10 African-Americans. In the retail trades, one in every 6.5 white workers is an MPT, compared to one of every 16.4 African-Americans. In the service professions, white managers and professionals outnumber white clerical workers and laborers. African-American clerical workers and laborers outnumber MPTs 3-to-1.

Peggy Davis-Mullen, Boston's self-appointed beacon of ignorance, says affirmative action should be abolished because "the world has changed and the needs of people have changed." The African-American unemployment rate has stayed double that of white Americans, regardless of recession or boom. African-American unemployment even with a college degree is still double that of like-educated white Americans.

So let freedom from black people ring. And when this happens, if we abolish affirmative action, the white civil rights movement can speed up that day when all of their children, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, can join hands and sing in the words of an old white spiritual: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free to hire black people last."

?3 Derrick Z. Jackson is a Boston Globe columnist.

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