Beyond Black and White: General Support for Race-Conscious Policies among African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Whites

Article excerpt

The study of racial attitudes in the U.S. has largely focused on white attitudes toward African Americans and policies designed to assist African Americans. We go beyond this black-white dichotomy by comparing African American, Latino, Asian American, and white attitudes toward opportunity-enhancing and outcome-directed policies. Data from the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality, 1992-1994 are used to test the effects class and ethnic/racial identities play in shaping respondent's policy preferences. Because both of these programs are designed to apply equally to African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, we model general support for these policies. In other words respondents who supported each program for all three groups were coded as favoring the particular policy. Our coding method more accurately captures the real world application of these programs. We find that even when we control for class status, measures of racial prejudice, as well as a host of other factors, ethnic and racial differences persist. African Americans strongly support both policies, while whites were the least supportive. Latinos and Asian Americans in varying degrees took intermediate positions on these issues. The research considers the reasons for the persistence of ethnic and racial differences on race-conscious policies and suggests future avenues for research.

Affirmative action programs and policies are under assault in America. The term affirmative action first appeared in President Kennedy's Executive Order 10925 and later in Title VII of the 1964 Rights Act, both dealing with discrimination in employment. Over time, through judicial interpretations and administrative guidelines, the term has come to mean and include "goals," "timetables," and "quotas" to remedy discrimination in the workplace, education, and other related public spheres. President Johnson first articulated the rationale for affirmative action in a well-known speech given at Howard University in 1965 where he stated that, "You don't take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all others' and still justly believe you have been completely fair." Thus, from its inception, affirmative action was rooted in the belief that by "leveling the playing field" through some form of governmental assistance, racial socio-economic inequalities and discrimination would come to pass in America.

At the core of contemporary debates over race-conscious programs are concerns by proponents who argue that past and present discriminatory practices warrant such corrective policies whereas opponents argue that these policies simply amount to reverse discrimination. The schism between proponents and opponents has also fallen along racial lines. Researchers have found that racial preferences are widely favored by African Americans but largely opposed by a majority of whites (Schuman, Steeh, Bobo and Krysan 1997; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Smith 1981; Taylor, Sheatsley and Greeley 1978). This racial divide was most recently highlighted with the passage of the 1996 California's Civil Rights Initiative (Proposition 209), designed to end affirmative action programs. While 63 percent of whites voted in favor of the proposition, African Americans opposed it by 74 percent, and Latinos by 76 percent (Fraga and Ramirez 2001).

What accounts for this opinion polarization? Despite the plethora of studies investigating the sources underlying white opposition to race-conscious policies, few studies include the perspective of racial minorities (e.g., Bobo 2000, 1998; Hughes and Tuch 2000; Bobo and Hutchings 1996). The purpose of this study is to go beyond the black-white dichotomy by comparing African American, Latino, Asian American, and white support for job training and educational assistance programs (an opportunity-enhancing policy) and racial preferences in the workplace (an outcome-directed policy). …