By: David A. Love, Editor
Affirmative action foes such as UCLA law professor Richard Sander claim affirmative action hurts Blacks and Latinos by creating a ”mismatch”—placing them in elite universities where they are outmatched in standardized test scores, causing them to underperform and fail. Scholars have debunked this myth, showing that students of color at elite colleges outperform their counterparts at less competitive institutions, earn advanced degrees at rates comparable to Whites, and are more involved in community and civic life. The glass ceiling continues to break and new milestones are made as African-Americans and others climb the ladder of success. The nation even has its first Black CEO in the White House.
Yet, despite the progress America has made in diversifying its workforce and its management ranks, the country is backsliding.
Minority groups have been disproportionately affected by the Great Recession, and to make things worse, since the economic downturn, it appears diversity has not been a priority for employers. For those who care about racial inclusion in the professional world, the news is downright discouraging.
Disappointing data across the board
For example, although 12 percent of America’s workforce is black, only slightly more than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOs. About 3.2 percent of senior positions at the largest corporations are held by Blacks. Five percent of doctors and dentists and 3 percent of architects are African-American.
According to the National Association of Black Journalists, the number of journalists of color is on the decline, with Black journalists as the most severely impacted. Over the past decade, nearly 1,000 blacks in newsrooms have lost their jobs, greater than any minority group. And about 1 in 3 newsroom jobs lost was held by a journalist of color. As of last year, non-Whites were nearly 35 percent of the U.S. population, yet only accounted for 12 percent of the newsroom management.
Moreover, in 2010 the number of minorities and women in law firms fell for the first time, with the former accounting for 12.4 percent of lawyers nationwide, and the latter making up 32.69 percent of the profession. Minorities account for 6.16 percent of partners in major law firms, while women are 19.43 percent. It is unacceptable to have a disproportionately white legal profession, with a criminal justice system that largely incarcerates Blacks and Latinos.
While Blacks and other underrepresented groups face daunting barriers in the upper echelons of the private sector, they are being jammed in the entry level positions as well, a cause for much concern. Those who are on the outside looking in are faced with a number of challenges, including the unfair stigma of inferiority that comes with being a diverse candidate, or a so-called “affirmative action hire,” and the segregation of social circles, which prevents young Black professionals from receiving the support, mentorship and acceptance they need in moving up the predominantly white corporate ladder. Affirmative action has been defined as “any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, adopted to correct or compensate for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination from recurring in the future.”
The case for affirmative action
Johnson laid out the rationale for the affirmative action in 1965 at the Howard University commencement exercises. “Nothing is more freighted with meaning for our own destiny than the revolution of the Negro American,” Johnson said. “In far too many ways American Negroes have been another nation: deprived of freedom, crippled by hatred, the doors of opportunity closed to hope.”
He added: “But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
But over the years, policies that seek diversity have been vilified, tarred and feathered, and mischaracterized as “quota” systems and reverse discrimination against whites. These programs have attempted to expand the pie, to open up opportunities to those who were traditionally locked out of opportunity.
Although the U.S. has come a long way when it comes to diversity, the job is not finished. The recent statistics on Blacks in the top professions demonstrate that affirmative action is needed now more than ever.