Was reading two diaries here this morning, Vyan's O'Donnel(s) PWN Buchannan on Racism - Again!, and Seneca Doane's About Sotomayor's "firefighter" affirmative action case...
which address issues currently being raised around the selection of Sonia Sotomayor. You will all hear a lot of noise in the TM, and even some squeaks on the left, with terms being tossed about like "reverse racism". Bakke will be dredged up...ad nauseum.
I'd like to present some history, that I suggest is useful in squelching the right wing rants. It is a history that I teach, and was pointed out to me by a wonderful professor in graduate school, Dr. Delmos Jones.
The largest affirmative action program, and piece of social engineering that almost single-handedly changed the class system in America was the GI Bill of 1944, and some of the smaller bills that followed it.
I have my students read several texts, among them is a powerful narrative by Paul Kivel, a white male. Please read it in its entirety.
Affirmative Action for White Men?
At an early meeting of Angry White Guys we talked about the history of affirmative action and someone asked a profoundly troubling question. "What about the history of affirmative action for white men?" We spent some time sorting out what he meant, but it was quickly clear to all of us that we were the direct beneficiaries of a variety of affirmative action programs directed at white men -- that unasked for preferences and benefits came to us just because we were white and male. As a group we felt that since we had benefited so directly from affirmative action programs it would be hypocritical to deny these benefits to people of color just when they had finally gained access to them. That, of course, would be further racism. For myself, as I took careful stock of my family’s history over the last sixty years, I could trace the powerful and long lasting benefits that had accrued to me and my family because of affirmative action programs. I began to notice the numerous ways that my father and I, and indirectly the women in my family, had benefited from policies which either explicitly favored or showed a preference for white men, or explicitly excluded people of color and white women from consideration altogether.
Let me begin with my father (3) who served overseas in a desk job in the military during World War II. When he returned he was greeted with many government programs specifically designed to reintegrate him into society and help him overcome the disadvantage of having given his time to defend the country. The three most substantial programs were the G.I. Education Bill, the Veteran Administration Housing Authority, and the Veteran Administration health care system.The benefits from these programs were primarily (although not exclusively) available to white men. As one study concludes, "Available data illustrate clearly that throughout the post-WWII era the benefits provided by each and every component of the MWS [militarized welfare state] disproportionately accrued to whites. Jim Crow and related overt exclusionary policies ensured that African Americans’ proportion of WWII veterans was significantly less than their portion of the total population. In the Korean War veterans population they were nearly as underrepresented. (4)
During most of World War II the armed services were strictly segregated. After the war many people of color were denied veteran’s benefits because they had served in jobs that were not considered eligible for such benefits. Many more were deliberately not informed about the benefits, were discouraged from applying when they inquired about them, or simply had their applications for benefits denied. The report cited above concludes "Thus, not only were far fewer blacks than whites able to participate in these programs, but those blacks who could participate received fewer benefits than their white counterparts. (5) My father was able to continue his education on the G.I. bill (attending the nearly all white and largely male University of Southern California). He was not unique. 2.2 million primarily white men received higher education benefits from the G.I. Bill. In fact, by 1947 one half of all college students were veterans. (6)
Anthropologist Karen Brodkin Sacks, in the book Critical White Studies, addresses this history in her chapter "The GI Bill: White's Only Need Apply".
The same issue is addressed in Race, Ethnicity, and Gender
by Joseph F. Healey, and Eileen O'Brien and in When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America., by Ira Katznelson.
Here is part of a review of Katznelson's book, by Stefan Bradley from The Journal of African American History, Vol. 92, 2007.
When Affirmative Action Was White relies on court cases, governmental reports, letters from veterans, school records, Bureau of Labor statistics, periodicals, and a large cache of secondary sources as historical evidence to answer the question: "Why did African Americans not enjoy the same economic success as their white counterparts in the middle part of the twentieth century?" The author's research points to the fact that since the birth of the welfare state in the 1930s, local white governmental officials and administrators, acting on behalf of the federal government, refused to fairly dispense governmental aid. In the mid-20th century, as the welfare state blossomed, white men seemed to be purposefully placed in privileged positions. In an argument similar to that made by Kenneth O'Reilly in Nixon's Piano (1995), Katznelson sheds light on the decision of national politicians to adhere to the "southern strategy" that led Democratic politicians to sacrifice the rights of African Americans in favor of soliciting political support from white southerners. Katznelson asserts that in choosing to court the southern white vote, Democratic politicians from the New Deal to the New Frontier ignored the need for Affirmative Action. Using the labor market as a explicit arena of discrimination against African Americans, Katznelson points out that many black workers were consistently disadvantaged by the lack of specific non-discriminatory policies in federally funded programs. During the Great Depression, when displaced and unemployed workers received government relief through the Social Security Act, many black workers who were sharecroppers or employed in the service industries did not qualify. Southern white politicians made a conscious decision to exclude those workers. The same was true of those black workers who attempted to join unions. Even if African American workers could join local unions, southern white politicians worked to repress the labor movement in the South and in the process thwarted many workers' chances of economic advancement.
The author makes his most cogent argument in favor of Affirmative Action when he examines the military's role in the formation of the white middle class. By limiting black enlistments and African Americans' opportunities to become officers, the military crippled the black soldier's chances of advancement. After the war when the GI Bill was passed, veterans were entitled to receive governmental benefits in the form of college tuition subsidies and home mortgage assistance. Katznelson clearly explains that the GI Bill was a form of Affirmative Action. Unfortunately, even when black soldiers received the benefits from the GI Bill, they did not receive "equal opportunities." Black veterans for the most part were restricted to the black colleges that were smaller in size and number. Even when a black veteran was admitted to a white college, oftentimes there were unofficial quotas that prevented additional black veterans from enrolling. Although the Veteran's Administration dispensed subsidies at the federal level, local officials and managers were in charge of dispersing the benefits. Again, this worked in favor of white veterans who had a much easier time obtaining home loans from local banks. While black veterans were just as deserving, they were often turned away by racist loan officers. Without the loans, most black veterans were forced to rent. Access to the home loan benefits allowed white veterans to create wealth that could be passed on to subsequent generations, while black veterans were deprived of these economic opportunities. In this way, the GI Bill became another Affirmative Action program primarily for white veterans.
In When Affirmative Action Was White, Katznelson makes a sound and compelling case for the legitimacy of Affirmative Action by documenting how government officials historically assisted white Americans in achieving an enduring economic advantage. One wonders if the early beneficiaries of Social Security payments and the GI Bill would consider those Affirmative Action policies "unfair." Ira Katznelson has made an enormous contribution to the history and public policy debate surrounding Affirmative Action.
My Tuskegee Airman dad benefited from the GI Bill. One of those "lucky blacks", who had his record cleared of discriminatory demerits from the military, which enabled him to go to graduate school, get his PhD and buy our first home on Long Island.
My professor, Del Jones also pointed out that prior to this "white welfare program" as he described it, we had no suburbia in America. An entire generation of white ethnic immigrants to the US, most who were not homeowners, who had lived in urban tenements (later inherited by blacks and Puerto Ricans) was propelled into a new suburban middle class, with white suburban developments like Levittown built by developers, and paid for with government subsidized GI mortgages.
Would be interested in your thoughts on this, and am wondering, how many readers here had parents (or grandparents) who benefited from these programs?