Most people would agree that fatherhood is not a bad thing, in and of itself. But, patriarchy--the rule of fathers--is not a good thing. Patriarchy is both an ideological and social position. Its fundamental premise is that by natural (genetic) inclination, divine rule, and historical practice that which men rule is primary and what is primary is ruled by men. It is also presumed that this is as it should be. This idea of male superiority, like white supremacist ideology, uses existing unequal social arrangements as evidence of the validity of its premise. The fact that whites/males run most of the world and have for some time is offered as evidence enough of who should be in charge. It is my argument that this marriage of patriarchy and racism informs the assault on Affirmative Action.
The Myth of American Democracy
The fact that the U.S. has never been a just and fair society is not news. In his study of American citizenship laws Smith argues, "... through most of U.S. history, lawmakers pervasively and unapologetically structured U.S. citizenship in terms of illiberal and undemocratic racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchies" (Smith, 1997, p 1). Speaking of "restrictions on immigration, naturalization, and equal citizenship," Smith insists that U.S. political culture and practices "manifested passionate beliefs that America was by rights a white nation, a Protestant nation, a nation in which true Americans were native-born men with Anglo-Saxon Ancestors" (p. 3). The body of historical scholarship that attests to struggles against the antidemocratic disposition in North America is voluminous (Zinn, 1995; Higgibotham. 1978).
The rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the structure of U.S. government, are regularly invoked as evidence of the alleged egalitarian core of political culture and social values in the United States (Zinn, 1991). The realities of slavery, indentured servitude, genocide against Native peoples. widespread and vicious forms of discrimination against people with disabilities, the aged, women, racial and ethnic groups, gays, lesbians and transgendered persons are cavalierly dismissed as occasional slippages of the democratic impulse presumed to undergird life in the United States. This essay argues that, on the contrary, a fundamental principle of U.S. law, politics, and social values is the presumption of the rule of fathers--patriarchy. Embedded in this principle are ideas about race, class and gender that explain historic and enduring opposition to policies and practices that advance egalitarian and democratic praxis. Contemporary debates about affirmative action and other efforts to close the gap between the U.S.'s alleged egalitarian promise and apparent disparate social realities, are best understood within a framework that insists the egalitarian promise is not advocated in the fundamental documents of U.S. law and politics. Rather, the promise has been fashioned over time by oppositional movements that have challenged ideas, documents and practices designed to protect, enrich, and support the rule of fathers. Affirmative Action policies constitute one such challenge.
It has been forty-two years since President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 (1961) and first used the term "'affirmative action," compelling federal contractors not to engage in discriminatory acts that limited employment opportunities for African Americans. Subsequent actions by Presidents Johnson and Nixon, Congress, the courts, and private corporations suggested the nation was willing to confront a sordid past that included treating African Americans and women as "less than full citizens"(Curry, 1998). The ideological groundwork was laid to justify new policies that outlawed racial and, subsequently, gender discrimination. The urgency and righteousness of the policies, and the price paid by social movements that fought against racism and sexism, strengthened the resolve and convictions of proponents of the new egalitarianism. Immediate, intense, and well-organized opposition to such policies revealed a precarious consensus ruptured by the enduring distributional challenges that are at the heart of most political conflicts. Having decided and encoded into law what must be done, allocating resources to implement policies in a roller coaster economy became the test of will. Despite tour decades of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action, and modest signs of progress toward creating a society ready, allegedly, to practice democratic values, inequalities persist (Farmer, 2003: Fields and Wolff, 2000, Gibelman, 2003).
Critics of affirmative action insist that such policies dilute the quality of the workforce and academic life, and violate the right to due process protected by the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Political and ideological opposition to affirmative action and related Civil Rights policies and initiatives focuses on race as a "suspect" category that (in a reversal of the original language and reasoning of such policies) allows historically oppressed racial groups to foster or benefit from unfair preferences that categorically disadvantage individual whites. This is the claim of the three most important cases that have challenged the use of race in college-based admissions--Bakke (1978), Hopwood (1998), and the Michigan case the Supreme Court will rule on this summer. Hopwood in Texas, and Gutter in Michigan involve white women plaintiffs. Both are 'cause' cases of the right wing Center for Individual Rights (CIR). Both cases highlight the tension between racial and gender oppression in the U.S. These cases reveal the effectiveness of using both racism and sexism to dismantle policies designed to end these and other forms of discrimination.
Arguments about affirmative action ask whether it is fair to disadvantage individual whites in the interest of protecting a particular "preferred" group. This is the question posed by the Michigan litigants. In an ironic twist of logic, the Center for Individual Rights works on behalf of litigants who file class action suits complaining discrimination leveled against them as members of a group. This is so despite the Center's assertion that the Constitution only protects individuals and that the central fallacy and problem of Affirmative Action is that it protects groups. This paper argues that the claim and the question are steeped in classic patriarchal notions of authority that share and support assumptions of the "racial worldview" (Smedley, 1993) and the rule of fathers.
What is Racialized Patriarchy?
Racialized patriarchy is a complex system of beliefs and practices that, in combination, defend the doctrine of white male supremacy (Goldberg, 1999; Harris, 1855). Even when those who believe in the rule of fathers invite African Americans and women into their circles, it is to protect the rule of fathers and to limit the influence of racially identified groups. Racialized patriarchy justifies political and ideological assaults on women. It has an exaggerated adverse effect on African American and other racially identified women. As well, convergence of racist and sexist reasoning results in alliances between white men, women, and African American men who serve, curiously, as designated gender and racial spokespersons articulating and justifying positions and policies that deny or pathologize the significance of gender or racial discrimination (Rice, 2001 ; Steele, 1998; McWhorter, 2000, 2002, 2003).
In the African American community, defense of patriarchy has partnered with the idea of the emasculation of African American males by racism, with calls for family values and attribution of the problems of the African American community to abortion, female-headed households, and welfare dependency. Such was the logic behind Clinton's welfare reform (Jennings, 2003; Rice, 2001). According to some scholars, emasculation denied African American men the opportunity to exercise their appropriate patriarchal duties or to enjoy privileges of patriarchy conferred on a select group of males. The promotion of male supremacy among enslaved Africans would have undermined slavery (Davis, 1983). Some critics suggest that dismantling appropriate gender roles is responsible for the "decline" of the black family since doing so displaces males as heads of households and "deprives" families of leadership, role models, and breadwinners (Moynihan, 1965; Staples, 1986; Murray, 1984). Such arguments diminish the significance of persistent racism and sexism that are the more likely culprits responsible for enduring inequalities.
Opponents of Affirmative Action policies claim their opposition advances justice and equality. As demonstrated in the Michigan case, these critics maintain they hold to abstract principles of fairness that are neutral and unbiased and that proponents of affirmative action use racial classification to discriminate (Center for Individual Rights; National Association of Scholars). While opposition to affirmative action has been spearheaded by white male conservatives, they have sought and secured support from members of constituencies that, categorically, benefit from the very policies being challenged. What the alliance does suggest, however, is the limitation of the notion of racial or gender 'linked fate' as a sufficient condition for predicting support or rejection of Affirmative Action (Dawson, 1994). The alliance reveals, but exaggerates, ideological schisms in the African American community by providing widespread coverage and platforms decidedly out of proportion to the pattern of viewpoints revealed in polls of African American public opinion, particularly regarding Affirmative Action and Civil Rights issues. This alliance does not diminish the extent to which opposition is predicated upon underlying anti-democratic, racist and sexist philosophical assumptions. Although clearly not committed to equality and fairness, oppositional agendas are masked in rhetoric that claims liberal altruism. Participation in their agendas by members of groups the policies were created to benefit is erroneously translated into authenticity and legitimacy. That is, while there are clearly philosophical differences between those for and against Affirmative Action, because the demographics of the opposition is so conspicuously homogeneous, opponents play the very 'identity politics' they claim to oppose.
Gender vs. Race
Most students of feminism are familiar with Abigail Adams' letter to her husband, John, in 1776 in which she admonishes him to "Remember the Ladies" as he is penning the "'new Code of Laws" that would become the Constitution. The quote we do not hear often is her assertion: "That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute ... Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity.... Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us as the vassals of your Sex." John Adams' response was that "men knew better than to repeal our Masculine system" (Andrews, 1995, pp. 33-34). Abigail and John owned slaves. Thus, the appeal to attend to the needs of women did not translate into concern about the plight of enslaved Africans. John Adams recognized that slavery and the subjugation of women were dimensions of the masculine system from which white males benefited. Frequently, racists and patriarchs have claimed they have the best interests of their subjects at heart, that existing arrangements must be conserved, to protect everyone. Similarly, opponents of Affirmative Action indict the paternalism inherent in such policies that, they insist, presume women and African Americans cannot compete on equal terms. Opponents advocate forms of neutrality that are heavily laden with biases that privilege white males (Guinier, 1997). Recent research suggests that colleges "routinely ac cept boys over girls who have better applications" to maintain gender balance at a time when more girls than boys are attending college" (Lewis, 2003). Since colleges also admit athletes, children of alumni, and state residents who have lower overall admission scores, the question many people ask is why hasn't the CIR filed suit against institutions engaged in such conspicuous forms of Affirmative Action? Could it be because most athletes are male and personify traditional notions of masculinity that patriarchs consider vulnerable to displacement by demands for gender equality? Could it be that money (alumni contributions) buys access?
Disputes in the 19th century suffragist movement, classic racist statements by its leaders, and mid-twentieth century racism inside the women's movement provide an historical backdrop that cautions African American women about linking their fates to those of white women. Indeed, contemporary discourse about affirmative action is reminiscent of this antecedent discourse, laws constitutional principles, and social practices. The persistent juridical inclination to situate context and specifics within overarching principles that should inform and shape decisions in individual case law provides a 'one size fits all' approach to inequality (Guinier, 1997). But, "Terminological hedging in the nation's character may disclose moral and legal tension, but the equivocation illuminates rather than obscures the reality that founding principles of liberty for practical purposes were selectively afforded" (Lively, p 2). While polite language masked constitutional protection of slavery, the document is less obscure with regard to gender. U.S. law and custom "has left out silenced, misrepresented, disadvantaged, and subordinated women" (P Smith 1993, p. 1), but African American women faced the added threat and insult of bondage, a fact that caused Frederick Douglass to emphasize the importance of securing the franchise for African American men when the choice was forced (Philip Foner, 1976). Rationalizations against extension of the franchise to women in the 19th century reappear as justifications for dismantling Affirmative Action in the 21st century. This includes discourse about appropriate gender roles, states' rights, the role and responsibility of government, family structure and values (Murray, 1984; Staples, 1986; Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan, 1995). However, one new consideration joins these 19th century anxieties about women, family structure and the franchise when discussing 20th century compensatory and ameliorative laws and social policies: the vulnerability of white males in the face of demands for gender and racial equality. This claim is easily refuted by commonly used measures of social well being. However, this cultivated hysteria about women taking over is reminiscent of classic claims about dangers of granting the franchise to African Americans that is dramatized in the film Birth of a Nation. Advances in the status of African Americans do not outweigh enduring inequalities (Farmer, 2003: Hinton, 2003). What holds true for inequalities based upon gender also holds true for race:
Because formal barriers ... have ... been removed--women can vote, hold office, attend college, participate in business, own property, execute contracts, and so forth--may people think that legal equality has been achieved. So, discrepancies in accomplishments--the wage gap, for example--must be explained by differences in abilities or by social factors that are beyond the purviews of law. (Smith, 1993, p. 12)
For the past ten years, racial discrimination charges constitute the highest percentage of discrimination charges filed with the EEOC. Racial discrimination charges accounted for 35.4% and sex discrimination charges 30.2% of all charges filed with EEOC in 2002. Despite the increase in filings, the numbers of suits that make it to litigation and the monetary compensation have declined, significantly (EEOC Charge Statistics). Even though discrimination has been outlawed, thirty years of scholarship on racial and gender discrimination documents the persistence of both.
The Meaning of Michigan
The Michigan case is a metaphor for the age-old clash between race and gender in the U.S. In this case, a white female challenges a law school admissions policy that addresses the legacy of discrimination against African Americans. Rather than going after the 'group' responsible for discrimination against women and African Americans (white males), the CIR vigorously recruits white plaintiffs ready to challenge the most stigmatized group and thus, the group most vulnerable to claims that 'preferring' them results in unfair treatment of a white female.
However, only in the past thirty years of feminist scholarship has the relevance of patriarchy begun to expose "the subordination of women ... relegating them to a single role and reserving the rest of life for men" (P. Smith, 1993, p. 3). Women, like African Americans, have met incredible resistance to efforts to be included in broader spheres of life in the U.S. The 1960s mark the second wave of the struggle for women's rights. During the 1970s, while the courts were expanding the rights of women, invoking rhetoric of support for equal rights, the larger culture was reacting with increasing hostility and opposition to civil and women's rights. For women, as with African Americans, contemporary assaults on limited and gradual inclusion invoke traditional biological and cultural arguments that initially justified inequality. What makes these contemporary assaults so remarkable is that they come after years of scholarship and actions that conclusively demonstrate the absurdity of such claims. The public's ability to discern these summarily ignorant claims is hampered by the successful masking of them in rhetoric of fiscal accountability, fairness, and romanticized retrievalism that nostalgically invokes earlier ages when women and African Americans "knew their place." However, the language is not quite that candid. Instead, Louis Farrakhan would organize the Million Man March, rallying African American men around self-help strategies and the need to establish their proper place in the family (Carbado, ed., 1999). The call would reflect extant conservative rhetoric and a similar agenda inside the men's movement. These men, of all ethnicities and racialized groups, would talk about absent fathers' needing to assert their patriarchal authority. Social scientists would speak of the 'problem' of female-headed households (more recently--implying a gender neutrality not apparent in the statistics--"single-parent households'). Politicians of every stripe babbled endlessly and nostalgically about "family values."
The last twenty years witnessed resurgence in white (mainly male but many women) 'racial' solidarity buttressed by African American abandonment of legal political strategies in favor of mutual self-help agendas (Humphreys and Hamilton, 1995). African American males either did not recognize or did not care about the implications of using the gender privilege of maleness to advance the struggle against racial discrimination. While the tenuousness of the Civil Rights and franchise victories of the 19th century ought to have delivered a different lesson about race and gender to African American men and white women--that the use of gender as a cleavage worked against everyone except white males--it did not. It was a lesson not lost on white men who have vigorously recruited African American men and white women into ideological and political opposition to anti-discriminatory policies.
The feminist rejection of patriarchy and the African American struggle for civil rights have resulted in a remarkable backlash. That backlash reframes the rejection of social stratification constructed in support of patriarchy as instead, a rejection of men. Mistaken correlations between the declining status of African American men and the improved status of white women has fostered animus toward feminist agendas. The resultant African American call for racial solidarity is, at heart, more about saving and preparing sons to inherit the mantle of father rule than achieving justice. It is a call masked in rhetoric that squares, too easily, with the very same background assumptions that inform efforts to dismantle Affirmative Action and defend racial inequality. Even a cursory look at the organizations and persons involved with the assault on Affirmative Action is revealing. The occasional inclusion of African Americans or women as racial and gender spokespersons in behalf of oppositional arguments ought not blind us to agendas bent on buttressing patriarchy and, relatedly, racism.
Andrews, Pat (1995). Voices of Diversity Perspectives on American Political Ideals and Institutions. Connecticut: The Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc.
Bergmann, Barbara R. (1996). In Defense of Affirmative Action. New York: Basic Books
Burbridge, Lynn C. (1995) "Policy Implications of a Decline in Marriage Among African Americans," in The Decline in Marriage Among African Americans, M. Belinda Tucker and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, ed. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 323-344.
Carbado, Devon W., ed. (1999). Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality--A Critical Reader. New York: New York University Press.
Center for Individual Rights. Website available at: http://www.cir-usa.org/.
Curry, George E., ed. (1996). The Affirmative Action Debate. Massachusetts: Perseus Books.
Davis. Angela Y. (1983). Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Books.
Dawson, Michael C. (1994). Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African American Politics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Farmer, Melanie Austria (2003). "Asian Americans Divided Over Michigan Affirmative-Action Cases," DiversityInc.Com, April 1. (accessed May 20, 2003). Available at http://www.diversityinc.com/members/4707print.cfm
Farmer, Melanie Austria (2003). "Race-Based Discrimination in Housing Market Rises," DiversityInc.com, April 18, 2003 (accessed March 19. 2003). Available at http://www.diversityinc.com/members/4802print.cfm
Fields, Judith and Edward N. Wolff (2000). "Gender Differentials in Industry Wage Premia, Affirmative Action, and Employment Growth on the Industry Level," Gender Issues, Fall, Vol. 18, 3-24.
Flax, Jane (1998). The American Dream in Black and White--The Clarence Thomas Hearings. New York: Cornell University Press.
Foner, Philip S., ed. (1976). Frederick Douglass on Women's Rights. Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
Gibelman, Margaret (2003). "So How Far Have We come? Pestilent and Persistent Gender Gap in Pay," Social Work, Vol. 48, 22-33.
Goldberg, Steven (1999). "The Logic of Patriarchy," Gender Issues, Summer, Vol. 17, 1-9.(accessed May 30, 2003). Available through InfoTrac One File, the Gale Group.
Guinier, Lani. Michelle Fine, and Jane Balin (1997). Becoming Gentlemen--Women, Law School, and Institutional Change. Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
Guinier, Lani and Gerald Torres (2002). The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power; Transforming Democracy: Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Gutman, Herbert G. (1977). The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925. New York: Vintage Books.
Harris, John (1855). Patriarchy. New York: Sheldon, Lamport & Blakeman. Electronic Access available at: http://80-www.hti.umich.edu.proxy.library.vcu.edu /cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=AED6473
Hine. Darlene Clark (2000). "Paradigms, Politic. and Patriarchy in the Making of a Black History: Reflections on From Slavery to Freedom," Journal of Negro History, Winter-Spring, Vol. 85, 18-21.
Higginbotham, A. Leon, Jr. (1978). In the Matter of Color--Race & The American Legal Process: The Colonial Period. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hinton, Eric L. (2002). "Blacks Denied Mortgages Twice as Often as Whites." DiversityInc.com, October 2, 2002, (accessed March 19, 03). Available at http://www.diversityinc.com/members/3610print.cfm
Humphreys, Kcith and Eric G. Hamilton (1995). "Alternating Themes: Advocacy and Self-Reliance," Social Policy, Winter. Vol. 26, 2, 24 33.
Jennings. James (2003). Welfare Reform and the Revitalization of Inner City Neighborhoods. Michigan: Michigan State University Press.
Lens, Vicki (2003). "Reading Between the Lines: Analyzing the Supreme Court's Views on Gender Discrimination in Employment, 1971-1982," Social Science Review, Vol. 77, March, 25-52.
Lewis, Adrienne (2(103). "Threats to College Diversity Programs Pose Risks for Boys." USA Today, May 23, 14A.
Lively, Donald E. (1992). The Constitution and Race. New York: Praeger.
Lords, Erik (2003). "Taking Sides: Legal Scholars May Be Divided on the Possible Outcome of the University of Michigan's Affirmative Action Cases, But They All Agree It Will Be Historic," Black Issues in Higher Education, February 27, 2003 (accessed May 15, 2003). Available through LexisNexis.
MacDonald, John A. (2003). "Diversity or Racism? High Court Will Hear University of Michigan Bias Case," Hartford Courant, March 30, 2003, A1.
McWhorter, John H. (2000). Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America. New York: Free Press.
-- (2002). "Need for Race Preferences Is Long Past," Richmond Times Dispatch. December 15, 2002, E1.
Moynihan, D.P. (1965). The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Washington, D.C.: Office of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor.
Mullings, Leith (1997). On Our Own Terms Race. Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. New York: Routledge.
Murray, Charles (1984). Losing Ground--American Social Policy 1950-1980. New York: Basic Books, Inc. Publishers.
National Association of Scholars. Website available at: http://www.nas.org/.
Rice, Joy K (2001). "Poverty, Welfare, and Patriarchy: How Macro-Level Changes in Social Policy Can Help Low-Income Women," Journal of Social Issues, Summer, vol. 57,355 (accessed May 30, 2003). Available through InfoTrac One File, the Gale Group.
Smedley, Audrey (1993). Race in North America--Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. Colorado: Westview Press.
Smith, Patricia, ed. (1993). Feminist Jurisprudence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Staples, Robert, ed. (1986). The Black Family Essays and Studies. 4th ed. California: Wadsworth Publishing.
Steele, Shelby (1998). A Dream Deferred--The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Zinn, Howard (1995). A People's History of the United States 1492 Present. New York: Harper Perennial.
-- (1991). Declarations of Independence--Cross-Examining American Ideology. New York: Harper Perennial.
Dr: M. Njeri Jackson is Director of the African American Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University and Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration. I am grateful to Tony Affigne and Manuel Avalos for many hours of conversation and collaborative writing that helped shape some of the ideas in this paper, particularly the notion of a racial patriarchy.…