Academic journal article American Studies

PROTESTING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: The Struggle over Equality after the Civil Rights Revolution/RACING FOR INNOCENCE: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash against Affirmative Action

Academic journal article American Studies

PROTESTING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: The Struggle over Equality after the Civil Rights Revolution/RACING FOR INNOCENCE: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash against Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

PROTESTING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: The Struggle over Equality after the Civil Rights Revolution. By Dennis Deslippe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2012.

RACING FOR INNOCENCE: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash against Affirmative Action. By Jennifer L. Pierce. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2012.

Amidst the legal and cultural imperatives for racial and sexual diversity in American workplaces and universities over the last half-century, why do white men still dominate positions of power? Two recent monographs address this question by analyzing opponents of affirmative action in the decades before and after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Bakke decision (1978), respectively. In Protesting Affirmative Action: The Struggle over Equality after the Civil Rights Revolution, Dennis Deslippe examines the range of middle- and working-class Americans who sought to limit the proactive steps taken by employers and universities to boost diversity from the mid-1960s until the late 1970s. In tracing what he terms "the longer, more varied history of affirmative action" (3), Deslippe uncovers state-centered and social movement opposition that developed alongside of the civil rights laws and executive orders established in the mid-1960s, an opposition that emerged well before the Bakke decision, the emergence of the New Right, or the rising tide of neoliberalism at the end of the 1970s.

With a fine-grained lens, Deslippe analyzes why and how diverse grassroots constituencies came to see certain forms of affirmative action as running against their interests. He first presents labor liberals, mostly industrial unionists who attempted to square affirmative action with the preexisting industrial order-and who initially viewed affirmative action as buttressing their social justice objectives. Yet in the mid-1970s, economic uncertainty and massive layoffs caused affirmative action advocates within the labor movement to see such policies as attempts to weaken unions by undercutting the seniority principle of "last hired, first fired" and other similar time-honored labor movement prerogatives. Deslippe turns next to the realm of higher education, where colorblind liberals who favored minority rights argued that race-conscious affirmative action policies would segregate and stigmatize minorities. They found their moderate position increasingly tenuous as identity politics gained traction and the economy faltered. In the middle section of the book, Deslippe shows how these liberal opponents of affirmative action tested and refined their arguments in struggles over the DeFunis case (1974) and the personnel policies of the Detroit Police Department.

According to Deslippe, the muddled context of overlapping and moderate approaches to affirmative action could not survive the polarized social and political climate and the transcendence of neoliberalism in the late 1970s. The New Right politicians and conservative groups that rose to prominence recast the affirmative action debate using the precise language of merit, individual rights, and protecting the rightful turf of meritorious white men against baseless attacks by undeserving women and minorities. In uncovering the murky and complex pre-history of contemporary affirmative action debates, Deslippe shows how changing social and economic circumstances shaped diverse understandings of the meaning of race, sex, opportunity, and disadvantage-ultimately elevating certain theories of state-enforced equality and extinguishing others.

Where Deslippe describes the fractious politics of affirmative action at the grassroots, Jennifer L. Pierce explores how elite white male power became re-naturalized in the 1980s and 1990s in Racing for Innocence: Whiteness, Gender, and the Backlash against Affirmative Action. Pierce points out that affirmative action churned up considerably vitriolic opposition among the professional white men whose status and authority at work were little affected by it. …

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