E-Racing History: America's Struggle with Diversity, Race, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education

Article excerpt

E-Racing History

America's Struggle with Diversity, Race, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education

In light of the strident, mounting attacks on race-conscious affirmative action programs, those in higher education woud benefit from an analysis of American racial history. Otherwise, well-meaning individuals are susceptible to simplistic notions.

Affirmative Action in Antidiscrimination Law and Policy: An Overview and Synthesis Samuel Leiter and William M. Leiter Albany, State University of New York Press, 2002

Reverse Discrimination: Dismantling the Myth Fred L. Pincus Boulder, Colo., Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003

Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society Michael K. Brown, Martin Carnoy, Elliott Currie, Troy Duster, David B. Oppenheimer, Marjorie M. Schultz, and David Wellman Berkeley, University of California Press, 2003

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court considered two major affirmative action cases from the University of Michigan. One involved law school admissions procedures (Grutter v. Bollinger), and the other, admissions to the undergraduate college (Gratz v. Bollinger). In both cases, white female plaintiffs charged that the University of Michigan discriminated against them and other whites by granting black, Latino, and Native American applicants special consideration under a race-conscious admissions system.

The battle lines were drawn for a struggle that would engage the nation's attention. The cases grew out of a long debate in our national history and had their roots in compelling beliefs, values, and ideals about race and the nature of equity and fairness in America. The Court's decisions (to support the law school in Grutter and to overturn the undergraduate college in Gratz) resolved the debate over affirmative action and raceconscious admissions for the moment. Myriad questions nonetheless remain about race, opportunity, equity, and public policy in higher education and in society generally.

Champions and critics of race-conscious affirmative action in U.S. higher education run the gamut, defying simple categorization. On both sides of the issue are sincere (and some not-so-sincere) people of different race, gender, class, cultural, religious, and regional backgrounds. The arguments are complex, the evidence is often contradictory, and the policy prescriptions are elaborate. At points, the confusion becomes nearly overwhelming, leaving people susceptible to simplistic notions. Three recent publications provide a context for better understanding the affirmative action debate. These books should help readers navigate this complex terrain as they decide or defend their own positions on the matter.

In Affirmative Action in Antidiscrimination Law and Policy: An Overview and Synthesis, Samuel Leiter and William Leiter present an evenhanded, comprehensive review and synthesis of the voluminous literature on affirmative action. The Leiters' goal is to provide a simplified but comprehensive account of the main conceptual, legal, and public policy dimensions of affirmative action, which they describe as "the flash point of America's civil rights agenda."

Reverse Discrimination: Dismantling the Myth examines the notion that affirmative action programs constitute "reverse discrimination" against white males. Using published literature, an exploratory study of alleged victims of discrimination, unpublished data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and content analysis of discrimination cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fred Pincus assesses these claims. In the process, he highlights the continued dominance and privileged position of white males relative to that of women and other racial groups in all areas of American life.

In Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society, Michael Brown and his co-authors confront another fundamental tenet of opposition to affirmative action: the belief that America has transcended color prejudice and that racial inequality is fast receding in the rearview mirror. …