September 15, 2003
New book challenges conservatives call
for color-blind society
Whitewashing Race attributes gap to
legacy of policies that favor whites, not personal prejudice or blacks
By Jennifer McNulty
Ward Connerlys latest race-related ballot initiative, Proposition
54 on Californias Oct. 7 ballot, would prohibit the state from
gathering racial information about students and employees. Connerly
says his Racial Privacy Initiative is the next step toward
achieving a colorblind society.
Balderdash, say the authors of the new book Whitewashing Race:
The Myth of a Color-Blind Society.
Proposition 54 is another attempt to whitewash the fact that
our society is built upon unequal access to social and economic advantage,
said coauthor Michael K. Brown, professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.
The color of ones skin still determines success or failure,
poverty or affluence, illness or health, prison or college.
Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society takes a
new look at the role of race in U.S. society, showing the cumulative
effects of inequality on blacks and the long-term positive effects of
institutional discrimination on whites.
The authors provide a compelling analysis of the institutional roots
of racial disparity in the United States, and they discuss the ways
to transform these institutions in todays post-affirmative action
Called an empirically grounded assault on the vast body of colorblind
orthodoxy by Lani Guinier, Whitewashing Race is the culmination
of two years work by a team of highly respected sociologists,
political scientists, economists, criminologists, and legal scholars
who challenged the claim made by Connerly and others that the United
States has solved its race problem.
Brown and David Wellman, professor of community studies at UCSC, were
lead authors on the text, which was coauthored by Martin Carnoy, professor
of education and economics at Stanford University; Elliott Currie, a
research associate at UC Berkeley; Troy Duster, professor of sociology
at UC Berkeley; David B. Oppenheimer, associate dean for academic affairs
and professor of law at Golden Gate University; and Marjorie M. Shultz,
professor of law at UC Berkeley.
By any measure--health, education, wealth, employment--black Americans
lag far behind whites, the authors found:
The black infant mortality rate remains twice as high as the
white rate, and black age-adjusted mortality rates in 1995 were 1.61
times that of whites. Private nursing homes continue to be racially
segregated, and nonwhites are almost twice as likely as whites to be
admitted to a nursing home sanctioned by state officials for serious
deficiencies in care and facilities.
African Americans are the most residentially segregated group
in the United States and are far less likely to own a home; when they
do get a mortgage, they receive far less favorable terms than comparable
The ratio of black to white income is 62 percent, but the ratio
of black to white median net worth is just 8 percent.
With its focus on institutional processes, Whitewashing Race
shows, among other things, how the real estate and mortgage lending
industries sustain segregated housing markets and discriminate against
would-be black homeowners, and how a large number of small decisions
by police produce widespread discrimination in the criminal justice
system. Racial inequality is both generated and sustained by routine
organizational rules and practices that on the surface appear to have
nothing to do with race, said Brown.
The authors write that whites have gained--or accumulated--opportunities,
while blacks and other racial groups have lost opportunities, suffering
from disaccumulation of the benefits of economic opportunity.
Its like a long-term investment, said Wellman. If
you set aside $40 a month and earn 5 percent interest, your investment
will more than double in 25 years. Conversely, if you owe the IRS a
few hundred dollars but dont pay the debt for a decade, you can
find yourself owing several thousand dollars. Both advantages and disadvantages
compound over time. Indeed, todays large gap in median net
worth between blacks and whites is due largely to the discrepancy in
the value of the equity in their respective homes, a gap that has compounded
over time, said Wellman.
Racial accumulation and disaccumulation occur in education, health
care, and social and cultural opportunities, such as meeting the
right people at Harvard, added Brown. In the criminal justice
system, black juveniles accumulate incarceration at rates
that far exceed whites.
These interlocking patterns of racialized accumulation and disaccumulation
date back to 1641, when the right to own property, goods, and services
was first restricted by race and gender. Since the inception of
the United States, wealth and institutional support have been invested
on the white side of the color line and disinvested on the black side,
The result is what the authors call durable racial inequality,
the disparities that persist despite legislation and the changes in
personal attitudes brought about by the civil rights movement. These
institutional barriers to racial equality are overlooked in todays
discussion of race, which revolves around the widespread belief that
blacks themselves are responsible for their lower status.
Many white Americans believe blacks have failed to take advantage
of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution, said
Brown. They reject policies like affirmative action because they
are unaware of the ways in which their own lives have been enhanced
by a legacy of unequal advantage. We need to change the scope of the
debate to show the system of power and exclusion that benefits whites
and disempowers black and Latino communities.
Instead of affirmative action, the authors propose a combination of
public-sector spending and institutional change to root out racial inequality:
The government must increase public investment in schools, jobs,
and critical services in inner-city communities to reverse the legacy
Wealth redistribution programs similar to the retraining programs
that made World War II veterans upwardly mobile should focus on funding
minority education and business startups.
Universal access to health care, coupled with an expanded Earned
Income Tax Credit, housing subsidies, and an unemployment system that
reflects the reality of todays labor market, would provide key
social and economic benefits that supplement earned income.
In addition, antidiscrimination laws must be strengthened and augmented;
diversity in higher education must be promoted; and many routine practices
in the criminal justice system must be revisited.
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