Affirmative Action


To the Editors of the Crimson:

I'd like to dispute Professor Harvey C. Mansfield's attempt to enlighten us about affirmative action's preferential treatment causing patronizing attitudes among whites and encouraging Blacks toward lifetime dependence. Mansfield's comments on President Derck Bok's article in The New Republic amount to so much nonsense--and racist nonsense at that, something he and Charles Murray and other neo-conservative writers consider their conventional wisdom there days, (Crimson, Jan. 25).

I would have thought Prof Mansfield had rid himself of venom against affirmative action after his article in The National Reviewlast spring, where he exhibited his ignorance about American society when posing the following query: "How can (Blacks) be made into first-class citizens? But is it not evident that this question should be rephrased as. How can they make themselves into first-class citizens?" Now any serious student of American racist patterns and Afro-American life could tell Mansfield that Blacks have never lacked the will--yes, that rugged individualistic will that New Right analysts cherish so much--or the institutional knowledge required to become citizens at parity with American citizenship standards, and it is insulting and just plain ignorant of Mansfield to suggest otherwise What Black Americans have tacked in their tortuous citizenship quest is the freedom to pursue it--freedom from vulgar and degrading racist values like those implied in Mansfield and Charles Murray's writings, freedom from a century of authoritarian practices, especially in the South, where over 70 percent of Afro-American lived until 1960, freedom from violence (both judicial and vigilante) on a stale experienced by no other American group save the American Indians, and Creedom from neurotic customary prejudices of a sort no White ethnic group endured whether in access to public colleges, to housing markets, to bank credit to licensing and Zoning rights, to job markets, etc.).

Mansfield'sand Murray's New Right perspective on affirmative action is also ill-informed about the American political process. For one thing, practices akin to affirmative action are not without precedent, past and present, in American social and political patterns. These might be called defacto affirmative action. Sometimes these practices--practices that modify and circumvent the so-called natural forces of the market place--are political, and at other times they take the form of "social power" and are thus covert or informally political. Since the Civil War, politics in American counties, cities, states and at the federal level have involved the skewing of extensive social resources for long periods to specific ethnic and interest groups, via the mechanism of patronage politics and politics of spoils. Among the benefits affirmatively targeted in this way are jobs, purchasing contracts, construction contracts, defense contracts, zoning privileges, land acquisition, and government loans in the millions. The recipient groups include ethnic groups, business groups galore, veterans, tobacco, cotton, dairy, soybean, wheat and other farmers and land speculators. When "social power" was the mechanism of affirmatively targeting benefits (during, say, the era of middle class an upper class WASP hegemony from 1860-1920), this was essentially "politics by other means" to crib Clausewitz.

These instances suffice to illustrate the point that Mansfield and Murray and other New Right critics of affirmative action fail to grasp--that affirmative assistance, whether over or covert, has characterized important aspects of American social and political processes well before the evolution of contemporary affirmative action polices for Blacks. Hispanics, and women. While not usually declared as preferential practices for a given class of persons (though occupational and educational preferences for war veterans were and are so declared), what I call de facto affirmative action amounts to very much the same thing. And, like current practices, the de facto variety had a morally and politically valid rationale surrounding them--they serve the ends of justice and equality in a society that has always been innicent enough to proclaim candidly that each citizen warrants a fair bid for these ends. Pity that the New Right now rejects this innocence.

Affirmative action policy is the country's first major endeavor to enable Afro-Americans a fair bid for these ends. Mansfield's and Murray's talk about "patronizing" whites and "dependent" Blacks misses the point. What businessman or corporation gaining zoning benefits, tax benefits, massive loans, contract overruns, or what veteran gaining educational and job benefits, is immobilized and job better or worse, it just doesn't work this way in. American society. And I consider any suggestion by New Right writers that it should work this way for Blacks--but not for Blacks-but not for Irish, Polish, WASP, Italian and other Americans--just a lot nonsense. And malevolent nonsense at that. Martin Killson   Professor of Government