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Affirmative Action for White Men?

by Paul Kivel
Oakland, California

1. © 2000 Paul Kivel. My appreciation to W.E.B. Dubois, Cheryl Harris and many other African Americans who have discussed the benefits of racism to white people as well as to Peggy McIntosh, George Lipsitz, David Roediger and other white people who have continued the discussion. My thanks to Allan Creighton, Micki Luckey and Cooper Thompson for editing suggestions.

2. quoted in Oliver and Cox p. 6.

3. I could just as easily begin with my grandparents who came over to this country as Jewish refugees from progroms in Poland and Russia. They took jobs that African Americans and Asian Americans were prohibited from taking, they bought land in areas that people of color were prohibited from owning land, they voted in elections for white politicians when people of color could not vote, much less run for office, etc.

4. “Race, Poverty and the Militarized Welfare State” Bristow Hardin in Poverty & Race Research Action Council, January/February, 1999, located at

5. Of course, there were few women of any color who were eligible for veteran’s benefits although women served in many capacities vital to the war efforts. Many white women and men and women of color were, in fact, displaced from manufacturing and sales jobs after the war in favor of affirmative action for white men.

6. West’s Encyclopiedia of American Law as found at

7. “Hiring Quotas for White Males Only” Eric Foner in “The Nation” June 26, 1995 p. 24.

8. Dalton Conley. Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999, p. 36.

9. Oliver, Melvin L. and Thomas M. Shapiro. Black Weath/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality. New York: Routledge, 1997. P. 39.

10. Lipsitz, George. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1998. P. 6.

11. Op. Cit. P. 151.

12. Legacy admissions were started in the 1920’s by elite eastern schools to give the children of old monied white families an edge, a clear preference over the children of Jewish and other recent immigrants who were outscoring them on entrance exams. As recently as the late 1980’s legacies were three times more likely to be accepted to Harvard than non-legacies and, on average, 20% of Harvard’s freshmen class were legacy admissions. At Yale the ratio was 2 _ times more likely to be accepted and Dartmouth admitted 57% of its legacy applicants, compared to 27% of nonlegacies. The University of Pennsylvania even has a special office of alumni admissions that actively lobbies for alumni children. Legacy admissions are clearly preferences for less qualified students. The Office of Civil Rights found that the average admitted legacy at Harvard between 1981 and 1988 was significantly less qualified than the average admitted nonlegacy. This information is from John Larew, “Who’s the Real Affirmative Action Profiteer?” The Washington Monthly, June, 1991, reprinted in Mills pps 247-258.

13. This phrase and the statistics on the draft are presented in Dyson, Michael Eric. I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. New York: The Free Press, 2000. Pps. 60-61.

14. This generational advantage of affirmative action is quite common. The Los Angeles Survey of Urban Inequality, for instance, indicates that white home buyers are twice as likely to receive family assistance in purchasing a home as blacks. Oliver and Shapiro, p. 145.

Recent studies have confirmed these patterns of preference for white people in housing lending and in “steering” of whites towards desirable communities and people of color away from them. For examples, see Oliver and Shapiro, ibid. pps 19-22.

15. Home ownership among whites overall is 63.8% and is 41.6% for Blacks, a 22% gap. In other words, Blacks are about 65% as likely as whites to own their own homes. Oliver and Shapiro, p. 109.

16. An example of this difference is that the average white baby boomer will inherit $65,000 while the average black baby boomer will inherit $8,000. “If you Think the MCAS History Test is Relevant, Try This Exam” Derrick Z. Jackson, columnist Boston Globe, June 30, 2000

© Paul Kivel 2000

About the author: Paul Kivel has long been an active participant in the movement to end violence. He has developed and conducted hundreds of workshops concerning racism, sexual assault, male/female relations, and alternatives to violence; was a co-founder of the Oakland Men's Project; and is the author of Men's Work: How to Stop the Violence that Tears Our Lives Apart and Helping Teens Stop Violence. He lives in Oakland with his partner and three children.

Published in In Motion Magazine February 10, 2002.