Fathering Injustice: Racial Partriarchy and the Dismantling of Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

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. …