AFFIRMATIVE REACTION: WHY WE ARE HAVING THE WRONG DEBATE ABOUT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION PART II
Originally posted in Mint Press News on October 18, 2012.
Writer’s note: In Part I we closed with the unacknowledged racial preferences when it comes to employment. We begin Part II briefly touching on that subject and conclude deconstructing other examples of the de facto (in fact) and de jure (by law) affirmative action that benefits whites more than any ethnic group.
A 2002 General Social Survey found that 71 percent of the people polled considered whites to be hardworking — just 37 percent thought the same about blacks. About 2 in 3 people believed whites to be “well-educated.” Just a little over 1 in 3 believed the same about blacks.
Further, an MIT-University of Chicago study that sent resumes to employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. Some applicants were given “Anglo” names, such as Greg; others were given “black-sounding” names, such as Tyrone. The resumes with “Anglo” names got 50 percent more callbacks, and well-qualified black applicants drew no more calls than average black applicants. Even the lower-skilled white applicants got more callbacks than the highly skilled blacks. How can we continue to say that racism is a thing of the past? How can we continue to deride affirmative action measures and turn a blind-eye and muted-voice to these pressing discriminatory practices?
DISCRIMINATORY PRACTICES IN CAR LOANS AND MORTGAGES
Another area of unacknowledged affirmative action is automobile purchases and financing. A 2006 Vanderbilt University study showed that blacks were almost as three times as likely as whites to be charged markups or loans financed by General Motors Acceptance Corp. When charged a markup, black borrowers paid an average of $1,229 in extra interest over the life of the loans, compared with the average of $867 paid by whites — the study covered more than 1.5 million GMAC loans made between 1999 and April of 2003.
The report found the differences to be nationwide, although they varied greatly among states. The biggest difference was in Wisconsin — with blacks paying 5 times more than whites — and California — with blacks paying 1.3 times more. The report further showed that this discrimination was across the board regardless of the profession and credit rating of the buyer or the model of the car purchased. Another analysis of the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances data, completed on behalf of the Consumer Federation of America, found that in 2004, African-American car buyers paid much higher loan rates on new and used autos than white Americans.
On 2004 loans for new car purchases, blacks paid a median interest rate of 7 percent — compared with 5 percent for white borrowers and 5.5 percent for Hispanic borrowers. On used car loans, African-Americans and Hispanics both received considerably higher interest rates. The median rates for African-Americans and Hispanics were 9.5 and 9 percent respectively, compared with 7.5 percent for whites.
Additionally, CFA found that more African-Americans paid auto loan rates of at least 15 percent. For new car loans, 6 percent of African-American borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with just 1.7 percent for whites and 1.8 percent for Hispanics. On used car loans, 27 percent of black borrowers and 18.5 percent of Hispanic borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with only 9.2 percent of white borrowers, the analysis found.
Now let us turn our attention to another “racial preference,” mortgage rates. A report from the Federal Reserve found black and Hispanic homebuyers pay more for their mortgages than do whites. The analysis of 2005 home lending data found that nearly 55 percent of black borrowers paid a higher interest rate on home mortgages up sharply from 32 percent the year before. More than 46 percent of Hispanics paid more for their mortgages last year more than double the number reported in 2004.
In contrast, only 17 percent of whites paid higher interest on their home mortgages last year. Still, that was nearly double the number reported for 2004. Moreover, the Center for Responsible Lending said either loan sellers are charging higher rates to the minority customers or those borrowers are being steered to loan sellers that specialize in higher rates.
Using an industry database, the Durham-based nonprofit center compared credit scores, down payments and other financial information on about 177,000 loans made in 2004 by “subprime” lenders — companies that charge higher interest rates than banks. The lenders provided the borrowers’ income and race.
The study found that blacks were 29 percent more likely to pay a high interest rate on a fixed-rate home purchase loan. A Hispanic borrower also was more likely to pay a high rate, it found. So when these findings are coupled with the practice of redlining and predatory lending it means economic devastation to many blacks and people of color — additionally, properties in predominantly black neighborhoods appreciate at a much lower value than those in predominantly white neighborhoods.
THE COST OF INEQUITY
Robert Westley in his essay “Many Billions Gone” wrote, “The practice of government-enforced and private ‘redlining’ in the home mortgage industry continued after 1950 through less blatant means than the restrictive covenant, leading to the current urbanization and ghettoization of blacks, and the suburbanization and relative economic privileging of whites.
“Based on discrimination in home mortgage approval rates, the projected number of creditworthy black home buyers, and the median white housing-appreciation rate, it is estimated that the current generation of blacks will lose about $82 billion in equity due to institutional discrimination. All things being equal, the next generation of black homeowners will lose $93 billion.”
Contrast Westley’s hypothesis with the realization that the baby-boomer generation of whites was poised to inherit between $7 trillion-10 trillion in assets from their parents and grandparents (was poised is the optional phrase because it has yet to be determined how much the economic meltdown diminished those numbers). The property handed down by those who were able to accumulate assets at a time when blacks and other people of color, on the whole, could not.
This detailed account of actual or real racial preferences should make clear to those who both believe that the days of racial discrimination are over and that past discriminations don’t have any bearing on this country in the here-and-now … nothing could be farther from the truth.
THE UNTOLD STORY OF WHITE WOMEN AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
Sadly, the voices of those who benefit the most from affirmative action are, by-and-large, silent — white women. The unadulterated fact is that affirmative action has helped whites more than people of color. Consider that gender is a major component of affirmative action. As a result, no American demographic has benefited more than white women.
Nevertheless, in 1996 when Proposition 209 came before the people of California, 57 percent of white women voted in favor of it — even though just the year before, the United States Labor Department confirmed that the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action were indeed white women (“Reverse Discrimination,” 1995). It seems to be a betrayal of epic proportions that after accumulating advantages as a result of these programs, they now appear to be at best ambivalent or at worst hostile toward them. Tim Wise, anti-racist author and activist, in his essay “Is Sisterhood Conditional? White Women and the Rollback of Affirmative Action” stated:
“Why would white women increasingly come to view affirmative action in largely the same negative terms as the ‘angry white men’ about whom the media has made such an issue in recent years? Are white women thinking and voting more like white men on this issue because they identify their interests as being largely tied to those of white men — perhaps their husbands, or sons — and as such, are afraid affirmative action might restrict opportunities for loved ones and family members? Is their ambivalence due to a false sense of efficacy and opportunity? Since white women have made some impressive gains over the past 30 years, do they now feel affirmative action is, now, no longer needed?”
The percentage of women architects increased from 3 percent to nearly 19 percent of the total;
The percentage of women doctors more than doubled from 10 percent to 22 percent of all doctors;
The percentage of women lawyers grew from 4 percent to 23 percent of the national total;
The percentage of female engineers went from less than 1 percent to nearly 9 percent;
The percentage of female chemists grew from 10 percent to 30 percent of all chemists; and,
The percentage of female college faculty went from 28 percent to 42 percent of all faculty.
The majority of women represented in these statistics are white. The Department of Labor’s (2007) statistics also estimated that 6 million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies — I believe that it is also important to note that black and Hispanic men, on average, trail white women in earnings.
So once again, why do most white women oppose affirmative action? A sustained and very concentrated effort has racialized the issue in our public discourse and private conversations. The critics of affirmative action characterize it as a black issue because this enables them to use the negative racial stereotypes associated with blacks to portray these policies as undeserved handouts to an “under-qualified and unmotivated” group of people.
The media is often complicit in these perceptions. In this regard, the heavy participation of white women in these programs is obscured by media portrayals which, for the most part, completely ignore the role of affirmative action in promoting equality for women.
Further, because affirmative action explicitly states that race can be one consideration (among many others, most whites and some people of color as well) ignore or reject the more pervasive implicit truth that whiteness plays an integral role in the acquisition of jobs, scholarships, promotions, cars, houses and so on — more so than any group of people. The absence of the word “white” does not connote an absence of its presence, privilege or power.
Wise, also in his aforementioned piece, goes on to show that “ultimately, white women’s views on affirmative action are hardly different from their male counterparts, particularly when the issue is framed as one of preferences. According to National Election Studies since 1986, white women are not substantially different from white men when it comes to their feelings on this issue.
“Opposition to ‘preferential hiring and promotion’ … [grew] from 86 percent for white men and 79 percent for white women in 1986, to 90 percent for white men and 88 percent for white women in 1994. Similarly, opposition to admissions preferences in colleges [stood] at around 76 percent for white men and 70 percent for white women.”
This paradigm played out in Washington (1998) with 51 percent of white women voting against affirmative action and in the defeat of affirmative action programs in Michigan with 59 percent of white women voting to approve Proposal 2 (82 percent of non-white women voted against it) — the measure passed 58 to 42 percent.
A consequence of this dynamic that bears mentioning, is that women of color (especially black and Hispanic women) may feel they are not able to work with white women on other issues of concern (sexism, misogyny, etc.) when they perceive that the vast majority of them are indifferent or antagonistic to the realities of racial discrimination in their lives and to the mechanisms that they believe would be instrumental in redressing those realities — mechanisms such as affirmative action.
There are those who question whether the accomplishments of people of color, after affirmative action was implemented, could truly be considered valid. There are some who say that affirmative action tarnishes whatever gains people of color make because it was achieved with a “handout.”
Yet, when the glory of America is recounted by many of those same voices; when the greatness of America’s white male political figures are recalled, we hear nothing of their legacy being tainted because women were not allowed to be a part of that political process or allowed to rival that greatness.
When the historic achievements of white American innovators are remembered there is not one word spoken about those noteworthy accomplishments being blemished because competition from people of color was suppressed by bigotry and inequity.
So why should an African-American or Hispanic-American; why should an Asian-American or Native American hang their heads in shame when they are able to access careers and educations because affirmative action made it possible for them to walk through doors that prejudice and discrimination had locked?
Those who, adamantly, say they oppose runaway financial deficits are usually the same ones who ignore the deficit of injustice that has accrued over the centuries. So erasing affirmative action and everyone just being treated the same, ignores how centuries of inequity still leaves people of color behind.
It’s like being in a car race and one car is allowed to go 75 miles an hour and the other is only allowed to go 45. Even if halfway through the race they’re both allowed to go 75, the other car could never catch up because that 30 mph advantage given at the outset, still impacts the race.
So let us recap the issues of affirmative action and actual racial preferences: blacks and other people of color are the face of a program that benefits white women more than any other group of people. Society ultimately ignores the actual racial preferences that create more job and career opportunities for whites — even to the point of white ex-cons having the same shot at employment as blacks who don’t have a criminal record; the white privilege that still allows white students (more than any other group) to get into their college of first choice — while loading up on admission evaluation points made possible by past discrimination and current educational and economic inequities. Additionally, there are the racial and class preferences (legacies) that got someone like a President Bush into Yale.
Furthermore, while blacks ultimately will receive less pay than their white counterparts (even with similar or better credentials and experience) and inherit less (based largely on past and current discriminatory practices), they will still pay more for automobiles and houses — houses which will accrue less equity than those owned by whites.
Please note that this writer has not suggested, anywhere, in these writings that whites haven’t worked hard or are undeserving of any of the success they have achieved — in spite of the privileges given as a result of discrimination and real racial preferences.
And so the question remains: Why aren’t people of color accorded the same consideration when we discuss affirmative action?