A failed policy

April 18, 1995|By Carlos Munoz Jr.

Berkeley, Calif. -- AS THE DEBATE over the issue of affirmative action intensifies in California and throughout the nation, I find that both its critics and advocates base their arguments on the false premise that affirmative action has actually worked.

Both believe affirmative action has made it possible for people of color and women to receive "preferential treatment" in employment and education.

Critics argue that such treatment has not been fair to white people, and especially white males, while the advocates argue that without it, people of color would never have made the few gains they have made so far.

In reality, the few gains people of color have made, since the 1964 Civil Rights Act won passage in the U.S. Congress, have been limited with few exceptions to the few who have had the same or better qualifications than their white competitors.

People of color continue to be underrepresented in better-paying jobs.

They have been the first fired and the last hired. That's one reason why they have the highest unemployment rates. They remain underrepresented in all of our society's political and economic institutions.

The facts indicate most clearly that affirmative action has not changed the reality of white class privilege in general, of white male power in particular. Multiculturalism and changing demographics notwithstanding, our society remains predominantly under white control.

With the exception of Hawaii, all of the candidates and winners of gubernatorial races in the 1994 elections were white.

The Congress remains a predominantly white institution, as does the presidency. The corporate world is filled with white JTC institutions -- 97 percent of the managers are white males.

Of teachers in the public schools throughout the nation, 93 percent are white; college professors -- more than 90 percent are white; tenured faculty -- 80 percent are white males.

Affirmative action has not drastically changed the status quo. Instead, it has been a safety valve. It has offered hope of upward mobility to poor people of color. It has reinforced the idea that indeed equal opportunity is possible in employment and education without having to take to the streets to demand it.

As put by UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young, "If we hadn't done it, it wouldn't be an occasional uprising in South Central Los Angeles or midtown Detroit . . . . We'd be in a battleground."

The notion that we're doing it for "them" is wrong.

We're doing it for ourselves.

Mr. Young is one of the few white males in charge of public and private institutions who realize that affirmative action has been good for the relative stability of our society.

They know it has been good for business. They know that promoting cultural diversity helps increase corporate profits.

They know that the elimination of affirmative action may well result in a race and class war that will make the mass protests of the 1960s look small.

Americans of all races and cultures who are being hurt by the present economic crisis have a right to be angry, but not at each other.

The politicians who create scapegoats to divide them and fan the flames of racial hatred by campaigning against immigrants and affirmative action are the ones to blame.

In the final analysis, there is only one minority in our society that receives preferential treatment. It is the nation's rich and their multinational corporations.

They get special tax breaks and property tax rebates that undermine our public schools and universities. They put both whites and people of color out of jobs by "downsizing" and moving their plants and factories to Third World countries so they can maximize their profits. It is this affirmative action that hurts us all.

Carlos Munoz Jr. teaches politics and history in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California-Berkeley.

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