FACT: Affirmative action benefits a broad range of people and communities that continue to face discrimination in this country, including Latino, Native, Arab, Asian and African Americans. The primary beneficiaries, however, have been white women


Contrary to popular belief, African Americans are not the sole, or even the primary, beneficiaries of affirmative action. Rather, a wide range of groups have benefited from these polocies which promote equality by directing resources, outreach and other opportunities to targeted underrepresented communities.These groups include women, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Latino/as, Asian Americans, and African Americans. Of these groups, the United States Department of Labor found that white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action.

A broad range of minority groups have also benefited from these policies. Programs that direct resources, outreach and opportunities to people of color have been extraordinarily important in opening up American institutions to a wide variety of communities. Yet even the beneficiaries of affirmative action, like most Americans, may not realize that these programs are under an intense nationwide assault. Many may mistakenly assume that the admission of Blacks into colleges is the principal focus of efforts to eliminate these policies. In fact, however, attacks on affirmative action programs have included everything from English as a Second Language programs to breast cancer screenings, from mentoring and after school programs to magnet schools, from programs that require Asian-owned businesses to be advised of possible government contracts to battered women shelters that create a safe space for victims of domestic violence and their children. Simply put, there are countless initiatives across the country that affirmatively use race and gender to address the unwarranted obstacles confronted by the beneficiaries of afftirmative action. Because these vital programs are neither colorblind or genderblind, they are put at risk by attacks on affirmative action.


What is the scope of these programs? And why do African Americans continue to be the subject of media focus when they are discussed?


Affirmative Action as Black Entitlement: How the Media Distorts Perceptions of Affirmative Action

Consider the cover story above. The story promises 10 ways to think about whether affirmative action is still necessary. But how does the cover illustration lead us to think about these programs? For example, who does it suggest affirmative action is for? Who is left out of the picture? Is it about gender? Is it about all people of color? Is it about all classes of Americans, or just the privileged members of one marginalized group? What do you think about the person in the picture? Does he still “need” affirmative action?

There are so many things wrong with this picture that we will address only the single most problematic element: this is an artistic rendering of affirmative action, wholly created by the editors of the magazine.

The person in the picture was not chosen because he attended University of Michigan, the focal point of the controversy. Nor was he chosen because he was a beneficiary of some other affirmative action program. He was chosen because the cover artist wanted to tell a specific story, apparently that affirmative action is for the benefit of privileged blacks. This is a paid model playing a character. The preppy clothes he is wearing are not his. Not even the glasses are his own — there is a credit for them on the inside cover. He is a Black body on which someone draped a collared shirt, chinos, and a tie. Using the model in this way serves a very deliberate function: it makes us think that affirmative action is not about women, or all people of color, or people of all classes. In so doing, it triggers stereotypes in the viewer, stereotypes that most likely will lead readers to answer the question “Do we still need affirmative action?” with a resounding “NO!”

Why is affirmative action consistently framed as a Black/White issue?

In spite of the incredible diversity of the beneficiaries of affirmative action, and notwithstanding the fact that most universities, corporations, and our Armed Forces maintain that such policies open the doors to their instititutions for an extremely broad range of Americans, affirmative action is normally presented as a Black/White issue. Why do most discussions of it center on African Americans?

The answer, unfortunately, is that the critics of affirmative action characterize it as a Black issue because this enables them to use the negative racial stereotypes associated with African Americans to portray these policies as undeserved hand-outs to an “underqualified and unmotivated” group of people, rather than as policies designed to uncover the capabilities of millions of Americans of all hues and genders. Sadly, the media is often complicit in these portrayals. In this respect, the heavy participation of white women in these programs is obscured by media portrayals which, for the most part, completely ignore the role of affirmative action in promoting equality for women.

In fact, it is because of the power of racial stereotypes, especially those promoted by the media, that people are unable to see beyond the false Black/ White dichotomy at the heart of this debate, even when given information about the wide scope of these policies. Moreover, Janine Jackson’s report on the media coverage of affirmative action demonstrates that the media tends to unfairly equate affirmative action with “preferential treatment,” rarely links these programs to the remediation of contemporary forms of racial and gender discrimination, and normally centers the discussion on African Americans. Of the 314 articles in the study, only 37% addressed the effects of these policies on other people of color. Furthermore, the articles all but ignore the fact that women are the primary beneficiaries of these policies, with only 2% of the articles focusing on the effects of affirmative action on women. (Source: Affirmative Action Coverage Ignores Women and Discrimination).

Even when white women know firsthand the benefits of affirmative action to themselves and their community, many of them find themselves unwilling to support it. Read Sumi Cho’s article here.

As we can see, it is not enough to simply open people’s eyes to the broad array of affirmative action programs that benefit American society. We must also expose and attack the racial stereotypes that are used to characterize affirmative action policies as unfair preferences for unqualified people.

Bottom Line: If the phrase “affirmative action” more often led us to think about the diverse group of people for whom the doors to opportunity have been opened, it would be far more difficult to brush off these programs with a few well-chosen stereotypes. After all, given its broad reach, affirmative action is a prime example of what Dr. Martin Luther King meant when he said we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. For when we are successful in tearing down walls to opportunities, we all benefit.



Did you know?

What’s At Stake for the Beneficiaries of Affirmative Action?

Researcher Susan Kaufmann reports that all these groups are threatened by Proposition 2, which recently banned affirmative action in Michigan.

Affirmative Action Programs Faced With Elimination When Proposal 2 Becomes Law

  • Science, math or technology programs for girls.
  • Summer and after-school programs for either boys or girls, like technology camps for girls.
  • Recruitment and support programs for high school and community college students in career education programs that are nontraditional for their gender, such as men in nursing and early elementary education or women in engineering or the skilled trades.
  • Apprenticeship, education and training programs for non-traditional occupations.
  • Higher education funding for minority health professionals, who, along with women, are more likely to practice in under-served communities.
  • Outreach and funding for women and minority math, science and technology teachers.
  • Review systems designed to monitor and address barriers to achieving full participation, such as discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or disability.
  • Government outreach programs that ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses have a fair chance to secure government contracts.
  • Scholarships, fellowships and grants at all levels of education that take gender, race, ethnicity or national origin into account.
  • Gender-specific community and public health programs, such as breast, cervical and prostate cancer screening, breastfeeding promotion, or prenatal smoking cessation.
  • Domestic violence programs.
  • Efforts to ensure adequate representation of women and minorities on boards and commissions, including advisory boards dealing with corrections, education and public health.
Source: Susan Kaufmann. Read the full article HERE

An Untold Story: The Widespread Benefits of Affirmative Action

Like most Americans, the beneficiaries of affirmative action do not realize the scope and breadth of these policies or that such polices are currently under assault. Throughout the nation there are countless programs designed to address the specific challenges that many communities of color face in the quest for the American Dream. Because many Americans are running on lanes that are littered with obstacles and impassable barriers, there are programs that are designed to remove or ameliorate the effects of these obstacles.


In Michigan, the beneficiaries of race and gender conscious affirmative action programs encompass a wide range of communities. Many groups, including white women, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and Native Americans heavily rely on affirmative action programs in the areas of K-12 education, college and university admissions and financial aid, employment and contracting. With the passage of Proposal 2, all these groups stand to be hurt.


The range of programs that will likely be eliminated by Proposal 2 demonstrates the broad swath of communities that affirmative action serves. It is important to note that in California, after the passage of Proposition 209 (which ended affirmative action in California), it was not just college admission procedures that were affected. Opponents of race and gender-conscious programs used Proposition 209 to challenge everything from outreach programs to breast cancer screenings and battered women’s shelters as mentioned above, claiming that excluding men was a form of affirmative action and therefore illegal.

Let’s look at a list of some of the communities in Michigan that benefit from affirmative action.



Arab Americans benefit tremendously from affirmative action programs:

  • Many universities actively recruit Arab American students. Schools like Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, consider Arab Americans a separate ethnicity group in the area of admissions.
  • There are a variety of university scholarships and financial aid programs tailored for Arab American students.
  • Publicly funded English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) programs for Arab American students help both the Arab American community and the Michigan community at large.
Asian Pacific Americans also benefit tremendously from affirmative action programs:

  • The Small Business Administration’s Section 8(a) program has greatly benefited Asian American-owned businesses. The Wall Street Journal estimates that affirmative action helped Asian American-owned businesses more than double their share of contracts in a ten-year period, going from 10.5 percent of contracts in 1986 to 23.7 percent of contracts in 1996. (Sharpe, Rochelle, “Asian-Americans Gain Sharply in Big Program of Affirmative Action”. The Wall Street Journal, September 9, 1997)
  • In trades like policework, firefighting, and contracting, Asian Pacific Americans are aided tremendously by affirmative action. The case of the San Francisco Fire Department is instructive. As a study by Gabriel J. Chin, Sumi Cho, Jerry Kang & Frank Wu shows:
    in 1974, the San Francisco Fire Department had only four APAs out of 1800 firefighters. As a result of court-ordered affirmative action plan, the Department now has 174 APAs. As explained by firefighter Captain Bernie Lee, “without affirmative action . . . Asian Pacific Americans would not have had the opportunity to enter in such large numbers.”

*Beyond Self Interest: Asian Pacific Americans Toward a Community of Justice, A Policy Analysis of Affirmative Action Gabriel J. Chin, Sumi Cho, Jerry Kang & Frank Wu 4 UCLA Asian Pac. Am. L.J. 129, 155

Latina/o Americans also benefit tremendously from affirmative action programs:

  • Universitites and colleges use race-conscious admissions and recruitment strategies to encourage the fair representation of Latino students. When affirmative action is taken away,recruitment and outreach become illegal, and Latino enrollment suffesr: At UC-Berkeley, Latino student enrollment fell from 14.5% in 1997 to 7.5% in 1998, the first year Proposition 209 went into effect.
  • Publicly funded English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) programs for Latino students help both the Latino community and Michigan at large.

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