Affirmative action is no longer needed in America; and equal opportunity prevails in the United States

Guests on this show:

Devon Carbado :
Professor, UCLA Law School. Professor Carbado teaches Constitutional Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, and Criminal Adjudication. He was voted Professor of the Year by the UCLA School of Law Class of 2000 and was recently awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from Harvard Law School’s Black Law Students Association.

Mari Matsuda :
Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center. A powerful practitioner of Critical Race Theory, Professor Matsuda can also be credited as one of its developers. Three of her publications were ranked by a Yale Law School librarian as among the “top ten most cited law review articles.” Judge Richard Posner lists Mari Matsuda as among those scholars most likely to have lasting influence.

Read excerpts from Professor Matsuda’s influential book, We Won’t Go Back: Introduction , Excerpt from Chapter 1

To listen to the show, please click below:


MYTH: Affirmative action is no longer needed in America; and equal opportunity prevails in the United States.

FACT: Affirmative action remains vital as a tool to offset the continuing discriminatory obstacles faced by women and people of color in the US.

Some critics suggest that affirmative action has outlived its utility. Conceding that it has effectively opened the doors of opportunity to traditionally excluded participants, they argue that these numbers can now be maintained without these measures. In fact, in every instance where affirmative action has been withdrawn the participation level of minorities and women has fallen drastically. Moreover, the current share of professional and skilled labor opportunities that have been redistributed to minorities remains dramatically underrepresented.

Despite decades of gradual integration through affirmative measures, white males still occupy most top paying jobs (including approximately 95% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions), and continue to hold the lions’ share of lucrative employment opportunities. Yet, even a modest reduction in the overrepresentation of white men across American institutions sparks a political crisis that threatens the continuation of affirmative action measures. This perception itself is evidence that affirmative action remains a vital equal opportunity policy.

Simply put, race and gender still matter – both in Michigan and throughout the United States. Michigan ranks among the country’s most segregated states. This pervasive racial segregation is a major factor in the low educational attainment and poverty rates within Detroit and other urban areas throughout the state.  In Michigan, the median income for white families is $56,320; for Hispanic families, it is $41,252; for African American families it is $35,536. The status of women writ large in Michigan is similarly precarious. Nationally, women earn just 76 cents for every dollar that men earn. In Michigan, they earn just 67 cents on the dollar.

Women of color must face both racial and gender segregation, which usually results in even fewer opportunities and greater obstacles. For example, African American women earn only 63 cents per hour for every dollar a white man earns (for similar employment) and 66 cents for every dollar earned by white women. Latinas earn only 52 cents to every dollar earned by their white female counterparts. College-educated African-American women annually earn only $800 more per year than white male high school graduates and $17,727 less than college educated white men. Even when highly educated women of color secure well-paying positions in fields such as law, they often find themselves forced to leave their workplaces due to pervasive discrimination and hostile working environments. [ABA report on women of color at law firms]

While we would all love to believe that, as a society, we have moved beyond the legacy of segregation which necessitated the creation of affirmative action, we cannot ignore the evidence of persistent discrimination and structural inequalities in American life. Affirmative action remains vital in helping us to counterbalance the different sets of obstacles that women and people of color face in American society.  In fact, when we eliminate affirmative action, we find that the re-segregation of American society happens almost immediately. To test this, we need only look to California and Washington state, both of which voted to end affirmative action. The evidence is clear: repealing these policies leads to a dramatic decline in the participation levels of women and people of color.

The Impact of Withdrawing Affirmative Action

On Education:

* At UCLA the figures have been staggering: In 2006, UCLA enrolled only 96 African Americans in the incoming freshman class, a steep decline from the 221 Black freshmen that enrolled in 1997. This means only 2% of the class will be Black. This represents the smallest number of entering Black freshman recorded since 1973, when UCLA first began keeping such records. This is especially significant as UCLA is located in the county with the second-largest African American population in the US.

* At UCLA School of Law, the overall percentage of Blacks enrolled is lower than it was in 1969. In 2005, only nine Black students enrolled out of a class of over 300. That means that in 2005, only 2.9% of the first year students at the law school were Black. Click HERE for a visual of the severe underrepresenation of Black students.

* In California, the passage of proposition 209 not only eliminated affirmative action programs, but also outreach programs designed to encourage minority student participation in colleges and nontraditional fields such as math, technology, and science. Moreover, the goal of increasing the number of teachers and health professionals who serve minority communities has been put at risk since the most effective programs designed to accomplish that goal have been put at risk.

* At UC Berkeley, only 140 Black students entered the freshman class for the 2006-2007 academic year, as compared to 260 in the year preceding Proposition 209.

Read the Bunche Center Report

* Enrollment of Native-American freshman has declined by approximately 2/3 from pre-209 levels.

On Business:

* Only one-third of minority businesses in California that were registered in the transportation construction industry in 1996 are still in business today.

Read the Detroit News Article [link no longer available]

* In Washington state, after the passage of Initiative 200, the share of minority contracts fell from 10.8 % to 3.1 %.

* The share of Seattle public works contracts awarded to women or minority owned firms decreased by more than 25%.

* With the loss of affirmative action policies, the percentage of new faculty hires at UC-Davis that were women dropped precipitously from 52% before Proposition 209 to 13% in the year after the amendment was passed.

Still Needed?
Then and Now
Life expectancy of a black child
Five years shorter than a white child
Six years shorter
Risk of a black woman dying during
Three times as likely
3-1/2 times as likely
Infant mortality rate for blacks
Twice that of whites
Slightly more than twice
Black families below the poverty
Four times the number of white families
Unemployment rate for black adults
Twice that of whites
Unemployment rate for black teens
Three times that of whites
Lawyers and judges
1.2 percent black
5.1 percent
2.0 percent black
5.6 percent
1.1 percent black
5.5 percent
College and university professors
2.6 percent black
6.1 percent

Mythbusting Homework:

Then and Now: Why Affirmative Action is Still Needed

Then and Now: Why Affirmative Action is Still Needed

In 1978, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote in University of California Regents v. Bakke decision that “[t]he position of [Blacks] today in America is the tragic but inevitable consequence of centuries of unequal treatment. Measured by any benchmark of comfort or achievement, meaningful equality remains a distant dream.”

Marshall found based his perspective on US Census and Labor Department data in seven key categories, including the percent of Black representation in five elite professions. Let’s take a look at some of the measures used by Marshall in 1978 and compare them to those of today.

Have things gotten better or worse?

Bottom Line: Discrimination still exists, so affirmative action is still needed.

Did You Know?

To highlight the exclusion of racial minorities in economic and social benefits, a 1993 United Nations report ranked the living conditions of whites, African Americans and Latino/as as compared to people in other countries. This report used a Human Development Index (HDI) to measure the quality of life. The index included data on education, income, and life expectancy.

The report found that:

  • The white population would rank first on the HDI, ahead of Japan.
  • African-Americans, with lower life expectancy, income and education levels, would rank 31st, the same as Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Latino/as in the U.S. would rank 35th among countries, below the Bahamas, the Republic of Korea and Estonia.
  • In a 2005 report, one indicator showed that infant mortality rates for African-American children in Washington, DC were higher than in Kerala, India.

Source: United Nations development programme press release: May 25, 1993

Discrimination affects Asians too: a recent study found that Asian and Pacific Islander prospective renters experienced consistent adverse treatment relative to comparable whites in 21.5 percent of the tests, about the same as the level for African American and Hispanic renters.

Source: Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets: National Results from Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 of the Housing Discrimination Study (HDS)

Bottom Line: Discrimination still exists, so affirmative action is still needed.



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