Each day this week, Amicus will feature an editorial post written by one of CRCL’s new General Board members. Today’s post discusses the topic of white victimhood in relation to affirmative action.
While there has always been a resistance to affirmative action policies, the present debate has added a new dimension. There has been a rise in rhetoric concerning the notion of white victimhood, and policies like affirmative action are cited as justification for these theories. Many conservatives paint a portrait that depicts Caucasian Americans as victims of policies that place them at a disadvantage and promote “reverse discrimination.” A study conducted by two Princeton sociologists on admissions and affirmative action policies at eight highly selective colleges and universities concluded that black and Hispanic candidates seemed to be the most favored, while whites were most disadvantaged by the process. In Texas, an Iraq war veteran started a new non-profit group called “The Former Majority Association for Equality.” A key objective of the group is to fund scholarships exclusively for white males who have at least a 3.0 grade point average. This notion of victimhood is also evident in right wing racial politics, as pundits and politicans actually encourage Caucasians to identify with their own sense of victimhood. You can turn on Fox News any day and hear rhetoric promoting the idea that minorities don’t achieve in America on their own merits because they are unfairly helped by programs like affirmative action, which allow them to benefit from racism that has been long dead, while whites are unfairly cast as evil-doing racists.
This victimhood narrative is important because of the way it portrays affirmative action policies as oppressive and discriminatory. Discrimination against people of color and affirmative action both involve race-based considerations, but historic and contemporary discrimination against people of color differs from affirmative action in numerous ways. A large part of racial discrimination was predicated historically on a belief in white superiority — affirmative action, however, is not grounded in any similar theory because it does not presume that people of color are more or less capable than whites. Additionally, racial discrimination against people of color creates and protects a system of inequality where unearned white advantages are preserved, while affirmative action does not set up a structure that doles out unearned advantages. Rather, it simply seeks to reduce the unearned advantages that white have accumulated over time. Furthermore, racial discrimination and institutionalized racism has actually created extreme imbalances and inequities in housing, education, poverty rates, earnings ratios, etc. Affirmative action has not, nor does it seek to create these inequities in reverse. Thus, the claim of reverse racial discrimination is misplaced.