Miller Center

The Rise of Instrumental Affirmative Action: Law and the New Significance of Race in America

John  Skrentny John Skrentny

Speaker: John Skrentny
Date: February 27, 2004
Time: 12:00 PM

John Skrentny is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. His abstract provides a brief summary of the talk: "Although affirmative action remains engrained in American society, the arguments used to justify it have changed dramatically. Initially, affirmative action was a color-conscious exception for a nation attempting to rectify historical discrimination and racial and economic inequality. Today, it is increasingly defended on grounds that diversity is an essential qualification for success in fields ranging from national security, community safety, education, and business. We examine the development of this change, particularly the underlying changes in U.S. society, politics, and law, and why it matters for civil rights policy. This instrumental form of affirmative action, we argue, is not limited to higher education; it is being used increasingly in a wide range of arenas, from the hiring of police officers to business decision-making. This emphasis on instrumental diversity raises as many questions as it answers. On the one hand, it not only recognizes that race matters, but extends the value of multi-culturalism in society. On the other hand, its use so far has been inconsistent and legally incoherent (it is supported by judges in higher education and police departments but opposed in the areas of voting rights and the hiring of teachers), and represents a danger that we are losing sight of the discrimination and inequities in power and class that were once the policy's foundation."

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