14 MONTROSE VOICE/FEBRUARY 7. 1986
Counting Makes a Difference
Why Racial Equality Needs Affirmative Action More Than Ever
By Ron Takaki
Pacific News Service
Special to tke Montrose Voice
Affirmative action is at a crossroads.
Edwin Meese's draft of an executive
order on affirmative action proposes to
rescind the regulation requiring government contractors to use numerical goals
for the hiring of racial minorities and
women. To count or not to count—that is
How we answer it depends largely on
how we perceive the problem of inequality
in American society.
"Counting by race is a form of racism,"
the Attorney General declared recently.
Meese argued that an affirmative action
program "that prefers one person over
another because of race, gender or
national origin is unfair." Government
policy, he insisted, should be "colorblind."
In his attack on affirmative action,
Meese articulates "the culture of
meritocracy"—the belief that men and
women should be treated as individuals
and judged on the basis of merit or lack of
it. The function of government should be
limited to prohibiting discrimination,
leaving the problem of inequality to be
solved in the marketplace. There, racial
minorities and women who have merit
would be able to find employment and
But would such an integration of the
work force actually occur? Meese believes
inequality occurs as a matter of "taste"
discrimination—the employer's individual preference for hiring white men for
certain jobs. Once the government prohibits such "taste" discrimination, he argues,
women and minorities would have equal
Meese's understanding of the problem
of inequality fails to recognize the enormous transformation of the economy in
recent decades and the ways this change
has affected the employment of racial
minorities and women.
Racial inequality is no longer simply
dependent on individual employer
"taste." Rather, it is largely reinforced by
social conditions and economic structures.
Living in slums and attending inadequate
inner city schools preclude the responsibility of equal opportunity for many people.
Occupational stratification based on
training and education also limits their
Thus, millions of racial minorities are
excluded from the higher strata of employment because they do not have requisite
knowledge, skills and credentials.
Employers do not have to discriminate
against them in order to avoid hiring
Affirmative action as a public policy
and strategy for social change seeks to
address inequality as a structural problem. It generates pressures to educate,
recruit, train and employ racial minorities
and women across occupational strata in
order to assure them equality of opportunity. But to do this effectively requires
counting by race and gender. Otherwise
the government would have no way to
monitor and measure the efforts of
employers to train and hire racial minorities and women.
Large American corporations have
recently indicated their intention to retain
affirmative action programs. "We will
continue goals and timetables no matter
what the government does," said John L.
Hulck. chairman of Merck.
Whether or not they will do so, should
President Reagan sign the executive
order, remains to be seen. But after nearly
20 years of affirmative action, corporations do recognize the importance of
counting. William S. McEwen, director of
equal opportunity affairs at Monsanto
and chairman of the National Association
of Manufacturers' human resources committee, acknowledged: "Setting goals and
timetables for minority and female participation is simply a way of measuring progress."
In fact, it measures both progress and
lack of progress. For example, in 1973,
American Telephone and Telegraph
entered a six-year consent decree with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to correct its prior discriminatory
employment practices. By 1978, minorities in management at AT&T had jumped
from 4.6% to 10%, and women in craft from
2.8% to 10%.
Similarly, IBM established an equal
opportunity department in 1968 to comply
with affirmative action requirements.
Between 1971 and 1980, the number of
black officials and manager at IBM
increased from 429 to 1596, Hispanics
from 83 to 436, and women from 471 to
Between 1974 and 1980, the Office of
Federal Contract Compliance Programs
reports that among 77,000 companies with
20 million employees, companies with
government contracts and therefore affirmative action plans had smaller increases
of only 12% and two percent for each
Here, clearly, counting or not counting
made a difference.
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