Cover image for A history of affirmative action, 1619-2000
A history of affirmative action, 1619-2000
Rubio, Philip F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 327 pages ; 24 cm
"No rights which the white man is bound to respect" : bonded labor, white preferences and quotas, and American citizenship debates, 1619-1861 -- "The special favorite of the laws" : Civil War, Reconstruction, and America's first "affirmative action programs, " 1861-77 -- Black nadir, white labor : segregation, immigration, and how the Polish became "white" in America, 1877-1933 -- "We want something that is ... affirmative" : black labor confronts the New (white) Deal, 1933-1945 -- "The evil that FHA did ...." : white suburbs, "negro quotas, " red scares, and black demands, 1945-55 -- "It was something that was hard to describe" : black movement, white reaction, and affirmative action from the civil rights movement to Reagan-Bush, 1955-93 -- "And the last shall be first" : black reparations, white ambivalence, and historical memory, 1993-2000.

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HF5549.5.A34 R83 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What is it about affirmative action that makes this public policy one of the most contentious political issues in the United States today?

The answer to this question cannot be found by studying the recent past or current events. To understand the current debate over affirmative action, we must grapple with all of America's racial history, from colonial times, through slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights era, to the present day. Philip Rubio argues that misunderstanding the history of affirmative action is the principal reason that most white people have difficulty in seeing their historical and current privilege.

He combines African American, labor, and social history with thirty years of personal experience as a blue-collar worker, labor and community activist, jazz musician, and writer to examine the roots of this debate. He maintains that we are not asking the right question. The real issue, he argues, is not whether African Americans should receive compensatory treatment to correct past and present discrimination, but, rather, why whites should continue to receive preferences based on skin color.

He argues that America was conceived and continues to reshape itself not on a system of meritorious achievement or equal opportunity but on a system of white preferences and quotas that are defended both actively and passively by white people. Tracing the development of the old legal initiative known as "affirmative action" (based on the principle of equity in English common law), he shows how affirmative action today has become transformed in American folklore and popular culture into something akin to the "Black Power" slogan of the late 1960s. Rather than a new and radical program, he shows that affirmative action is only the most recent challenge to the system of white privilege brought about by a long tradition of black protest.

Affirmative action is not simply legislated public policy or voluntary corporate policy. Instead, as Rubio points out, it is a social history that represents a tug-of-war within working-class America over whether there should exist a property value in whiteness.

In presenting this history, Rubio is firm in the belief that, after the facts have spoken, readers not only will marvel that these programs are not even tougher but also will understand why.

Philip F. Rubio is a Mellon Fellow studying history at Duke University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Even though they are usually associated with African Americans and civil rights, Rubio (Duke Univ.) demonstrates that preferences, quotas, and affirmative action have a long history supporting white supremacy. He begins with the 1619 introduction of black indentured servants to Virginia to trace affirmative action's development, centuries before it became a part of the black civil rights struggle in the early 1960s. Provocative and deserving of a wide audience, this book has two flaws. Rubio neither defines "affirmative action" nor distinguishes it from quotas and preferences. Further, while making a compelling case regarding the US's long-standing enmity against African Americans, which reveals itself in animosity toward any attack on the privilege of whiteness, Rubio repeatedly adopts too narrow a perspective. For example, when writing of President Harry Truman's decision to desegregate the military, the only motive Rubio allows is Truman's need for black support in the closely contested 1948 election. While certainly a concern, this approach denigrates any altruistic motives Truman harbored to ease the debilitating effects of racial discrimination. This narrow approach creates a consistently adversarial relationship between the races, which surely is not always the case. Upper-division undergraduates and above. D. R. Jamieson Ashland University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. xiii
Chapter 1 "No Rights Which the White Man Is Bound to Respect" Bonded Labor, White Preferences and Quotas, and American Citizenship Debates, 1619-1861p. 1
Chapter 2 "The Special Favorite of the Laws" Civil War, Reconstruction, and America's First "Affirmative Action Programs," 1861-77p. 33
Chapter 3 Black Nadir, White Labor: Segregation, Immigration, and How the Polish Became "White" in America, 1877-1933p. 57
Chapter 4 "We Want Something That Is ... Affirmative" Black Labor Confronts the New (White) Deal, 1933-45p. 90
Chapter 5 "The Evil That FHA Did..." White Suburbs, "Negro Quotas," Red Scares, and Black Demands, 1945-55p. 114
Chapter 6 "It Was Something That Was Hard to Describe" Black Movement, White Reaction, and Affirmative Action from the Civil Rights Movement to Reagan-Bush, 1955-93p. 135
Chapter 7 "And the Last Shall Be First" Black Reparations, White Ambivalence, and Historical Memory, 1993-2000p. 167
Notesp. 199
Bibliographyp. 289
Indexp. 317