`Reverse Discrimination'? Affirmative Action
Thompson, Garland L., Black Issues in Higher Education
'Reverse Discrimination'? Affirmative Action:.
by Garland L. Thompson
WASHINGTON--Two recurrent claims have energized the national attack on affirmative action launched by the "angry white males" President Clinton cited in his recent speech to the California Democratic Party Convention:
Affirmative action benefits only middle-class Blacks and those prepared to become middle-class, not poor Blacks;
Affirmative action is really "reverse discrimination."
The best answer to the first claim is found in the University of Maryland at College Park's Supreme Court brief in Podberesky v. Kirwan, appealing the Fourth Circuit's ruling disallowing the Banneker Scholarships: Racial discrimination makes no distinctions between Blacks.
"... in the [lower] court's view, the Program benefitted the wrong blacks. Non-resident and 'high-achieving' blacks, the court stated, 'are not the group against which the University discriminated in the past.'... This statement, however, ignores the University's undisputed prior exclusion of all blacks -- in-state, out-of-state, high-achieving and all others -- from its campus."
The second claim, stridently advanced now that Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole has questioned the fairness of affirmative action, is politically popular. Congress blocked Viacom Corp.'s sale of a multi-billion-dollar cable TV network to a minorityled investor group because critics labeled as a "quota" the FCC's tax-relief provisions encouraging such sales.
A few white professors at historically Black colleges and universities actually have won lawsuits for tenure and back pay based on reverse-discrimination claims. Dr. John Moore received more than $42,000 in back pay and tenure at Albany State College in 1992, and Dr. Allen Cooper won a $745,000 judgment against Saint Augustine's College in May 1993. In 1991, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated a $65,000 judgment in favor of a white professor suing Southern University Law Center. An earlier lawsuit against Howard University had resulted in a $125,000 judgment for another white faculty plaintiff.
But such cases are rare. A new report by the U.S. Labor Department's Glass Ceiling Commission demonstrates that, regardless of white males' beliefs, white males still crowd the ladder to the top in corporate America. Dr. Marshall Drummond made the same argument about the predominance of white males at the top in academia (See Black Issues' March 23 edition). The continuing spiral of corporate buyouts, downsizing and "flattening" of corporate hierarchies has caused whites in middle management to fear that minorities will gain unfair advantages in the competition for the best jobs, but the Glass Ceiling Report laid bare the painful disparities between belief and reality:
"Consider: 97% of the senior managers of Fortune 1000 industrial and Fortune 500 companies are white; 95 to 97% are male. In Fortune 2000 industrial and service companies, 5% of senior managers are women--and of that 5%, virtually all are white."
Another recent salvo came from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCC), albeit through an irregular channel. The March 23 edition of the Daily Labor Report, published by the Bureau of National Affairs, ran an advance copy of a New Jersey law professor's close examination of "reverse discrimination" claims. The "Draft Report on Reverse Discrimination," commissioned by the OFCC, debunks the idea that white men are treated unfairly. The contract compliance agency, which exercises vast oversight powers in the hiring and promotion of women and minorities by federal contractors, has not signed off on the report. Still, the conclusions of Rutgers University's Alfred W. Blumrosen's exhaustive analysis of federal court reverse-discrimination cases between 1990 and 1994 are telling:
"Reverse discrimination" cases are only 1 to 3 percent of all discrimination opinions reported. Of 3,000-plus opinions, fewer than 100 involved such claims. …