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A History of Affirmative Action, 1619'2000

A History of Affirmative Action, 1619'2000

Philip F. Rubio
Copyright Date: 2001
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    A History of Affirmative Action, 1619'2000
    Book Description:

    What is it about affirmative action that makes this public policy one of the most contentious political issues in the United States today?

    The answer to this question cannot be found by studying the recent past or current events. To understand the current debate over affirmative action, we must grapple with all of America's racial history, from colonial times, through slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, to the present day. Philip Rubio argues that misunderstanding the history of affirmative action is the principal reason that most white people have difficulty in seeing their historical and current privilege.

    He combines African American, labor, and social history with thirty years of personal experience as a blue-collar worker, labor and community activist, jazz musician, and writer to examine the roots of this debate. He maintains that we are not asking the right question. The real issue, he argues, is not whether African Americans should receive compensatory treatment to correct past and present discrimination, but, rather, why whites should continue to receive preferences based on skin color.

    He argues that America was conceived and continues to reshape itself not on a system of meritorious achievement or equal opportunity but on a system of white preferences and quotas that are defended both actively and passively by white people. Tracing the development of the old legal initiative known as "affirmative action" (based on the principle of equity in English common law), he shows how affirmative action today has become transformed in American folklore and popular culture into something akin to the "Black Power" slogan of the late 1960s. Rather than a new and radical program, he shows that affirmative action is only the most recent challenge to the system of white privilege brought about by a long tradition of black protest.

    Affirmative action is not simply legislated public policy or voluntary corporate policy. Instead, as Rubio points out, it is a social history that represents a tug-of-war within working-class America over whether there should exist a property value in whiteness.

    In presenting this history, Rubio is firm in the belief that, after the facts have spoken, readers not only will marvel that these programs are not even tougher but also will understand why.

    Philip F. Rubio is a Mellon Fellow studying history at Duke University.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-031-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    Philip F. Rubio

    Just as the words ʺFreedmenʹs Bureauʺ once invoked anger and derision among many whites during Reconstruction according to the brilliant African American scholar, writer, and human rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois in his 1903 workThe Souls of Black Folk,merely advocating for ʺaffirmative actionʺ today often provokes a similar response—despite the potential and actual benefits for all people contained in both programs. Why does just the mere mention of those modest compensatory civil rights enforcement programs known as affirmative action drive so many white people crazy? And why does the principal and most effective opposition come...

  5. Chapter 1 “No Rights Which the White Man is Bound to Respect” Bonded Labor, White Preferences and Quotas, and American Citizenship Debates, 1619–1861
    (pp. 1-32)

    ʺWhat is freedom?ʺ cried abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass during a speech in Boston early in 1865, with the Civil War and the institution of slavery both coming to an end: ʺIt is the right to choose oneʹs own employment. Certainly it means that if it means anything; and when any individual or combination of individuals undertakes to decide for any man when he shall work, where he shall work, he or they practically reduce him to slavery.ʺ¹

    The roots of the 1990sʹ struggle over affirmative action in the United States go back to slavery and the invention (as historian Theodore...

  6. Chapter 2 “The Special Favorite of the Laws” Civil War, Reconstruction, and Americaʹs First ʺAffirmative Action Programs,ʺ 1861–77
    (pp. 33-56)

    It is plain that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to prohibit measures designed to remedy the effects of the Nationʹs past treatment of Negroes. The Congress that passed the Fourteenth Amendment is the same Congress that passed the 1866 Freedmenʹs Bureau Act, an Act that provided many of its benefits only to Negroes…. After the Civil War our Government started several ʺaffirmative action programs.ʺ¹

    Writing in his separate opinion in the landmark 1978Bakkedecision, United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cited Reconstruction as precedent, arguing in vain for stronger, more active civil rights measures.Bakkeultimately recognized...

  7. Chapter 3 Black Nadir, White Labor Segregation, Immigration, and How the Polish Became ʺWhiteʺ in America, 1877–1933
    (pp. 57-89)

    ʺThe last decade of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth century marked the nadir of the Negroʹs status in American society,ʺ wrote the pioneering Howard University historian Rayford Logan in 1954.¹ From the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the New Deal African Americans were subjected to the cementing of segregation across the country and especially the South—at a time when some whites were enjoying prosperity and opportunity while others experienced grinding poverty and labor repression. The black community responded by both withdrawing into itself as well as continuing its historic struggle for equality.² And...

  8. Chapter 4 “We Want Something That Is … Affirmative” Black Labor Confronts the New (White) Deal, 1933–45
    (pp. 90-113)

    In August 1935, an unusually titled article appeared inOpportunity, the monthly journal of the National Urban League. It was written, the journalʹs editor noted, by ʺa Southern white manʺ named Harold Preece, and was called ʺConfession of an Ex-Nordic: The Depression Not an Unmixed Evil.ʺ¹ In this personal narrative, the author describes his change of consciousness from youth to adulthood: from early prejudice, to revulsion with racism, to colonization as the solution, to romantic racialism, to insights gained from being laid off from his white-collar job as a result of the Great Depression. But hard as it was, Preece...

  9. Chapter 5 “The Evil That FHA Did….” White Suburbs, “Negro Quotas,” Red Scares, and Black Demands, 1945–55
    (pp. 114-134)

    Historical periods are imaginary creations, although what takes place within them is very real. Whether marked by historians or popularly conceived, they are typically distinguished by significant events, tend to overlap with other ʺperiods,ʺ and often then become packaged into decades. The historical period running from 1945 to 1955 represented more than an economic rebound from the Great Depression, an emotional and political lift with the end of World War II, and the emergence of the United States as a world power. It also became a prelude to an even larger battle over the domestic racial caste system.

    While federal...

  10. Chapter 6 “It Was Something That Was Hard to Describe” Black Movement, White Reaction, and Affirmative Action from the Civil Rights Movement to Reagan-Bush, 1955–93
    (pp. 135-166)

    The incubator of 1960s social protest was the organized and spontaneous struggle by African Americans in the South against white supremacy.¹ There is, however, a modern fable that holds that the civil rights movement was a black middle-class phenomenon and that affirmative action today is a product of black middle-class integrationist advocacy and liberal Democratic philanthropy. But both the civil rights and Black Power movements, as well as black urban riots and ʺwildcatʺ (unauthorized) industrial strikes, had black working-class origins, participation, and focus, even when there was middle-class leadership.²

    As sociologist Aldon D. Morris has shown, it was the mass...

  11. Chapter 7 “And the Last Shall Be First” Black Reparations, White Ambivalence, and Historical Memory, 1993–2000
    (pp. 167-198)

    Almost four centuries after the founding of the European colonies that later became known collectively as the United States of America, the most contentious sociopolitical debates and struggles in this country still involve racial caste status and work. The fact that even the mere mention of affirmative action provokes such hostility proves that those caste and work issues fought over during slavery and Jim Crow still remain unresolved.

    Work is not just a creative act, additionally subject to alienation and exploitation by those who own the means of production. It also implies chances for individual and family survival, elevated wealth...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 199-288)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-316)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 317-327)