Once again, affirmative action is on trial in the Supreme Court. The pending case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, challenges U.T. Austin’s admissions policy, which aims to bring in more students of color by considering race among other factors. The case is driven by the misplaced racial anxieties provoked by affirmative action, but it might offer a platform for truly grappling with the nature of institutional racism and the oft-politicized, seldom-understood concept of “equal opportunity” in schools and workplaces.
The backlash against affirmative action—and more broadly against institutional efforts to desegregate schools and workplaces—has been accompanied by straw-man accusations of “reverse racism,” heard in debates about everything from President Obama to high school textbooks. Meanwhile, affirmative action’s detractors paper over the persistent inequities across our workplaces and classrooms.
A new book, Documenting Desegregation, sheds light on how racial inequity really works and why it’s so pernicious. The book traces the evolution of equal opportunity policies under the Civil Rights Act since its implementation in the mid-1960s. The authors, sociologists Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, tell Working In These Times that effective enforcement of civil rights depends on both strong pro-integration policies and, more importantly, grassroots political movements that can hold institutions accountable. Read the rest of this entry →