The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America (Morality and Society)

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9780226761787: The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America (Morality and Society)

Affirmative action has been fiercely debated for more than a quarter of a century, producing much partisan literature, but little serious scholarship and almost nothing on its cultural and political origins. The Ironies of Affirmative Action is the first book-length, comprehensive, historical account of the development of affirmative action.

Analyzing both the resistance from the Right and the support from the Left, Skrentny brings to light the unique moral culture that has shaped the affirmative action debate, allowing for starkly different policies for different citizens. He also shows, through an analysis of historical documents and court rulings, the complex and intriguing political circumstances which gave rise to these controversial policies.

By exploring the mystery of how it took less than five years for a color-blind policy to give way to one that explicitly took race into account, Skrentny uncovers and explains surprising ironies: that affirmative action was largely created by white males and initially championed during the Nixon administration; that many civil rights leaders at first avoided advocacy of racial preferences; and that though originally a political taboo, almost no one resisted affirmative action.

With its focus on the historical and cultural context of policy elites, The Ironies of Affirmative Action challenges dominant views of policymaking and politics.

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About the Author:

John David Skrentny is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of The Ironies of Affirmative Action: Politics, Culture, and Justice in America, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A provocative examination of affirmative action as a policymaking paradigm, by sociologist Skrentny (Univ. of Pennsylvania). Though affirmative action programs benefit women and numerous minorities, Skrentny argues that they are mostly controversial because of their primary identification with increasing the representation of African-Americans in the workplace and universities. But it is controversy from a different direction that leads Skrentny to describe affirmative action in terms of ironies. In a thorough historical review of programs and legislation designed to promote racial equality, he reveals the intense opposition of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to affirmative action as controverting their goal of a color- blind society. Affirmative action programs came into being without the backing of interest groups, presidential leadership, or congressional mandate, argues Skrentny. Rather, they were instituted incrementally by administrators desperate for pragmatic, quantifiable ways to respond to persistent discrimination in American society. In a further irony, affirmative action was eventually institutionalized as government policy by President Richard Nixon for the cynical political purpose of splitting the black-union Democratic coalition. The final irony, Skrentny writes, is that much support for affirmative action was motivated by fear that the Soviet Union would use demonstrable discrimination against blacks as a propaganda tool. The end of the Cold War, he argues, helps explain why affirmative action now appears so vulnerable. Skrentny's dense analysis offers no conclusions about how well affirmative action programs have succeeded in alleviating discrimination. His goal is not to evaluate affirmative action, but to explain how such a controversial policy could become institutionalized. In this regard, Skrentny's book, for those willing to expend the effort, is an interesting examination of policymaking and adds important context to the affirmative action debate. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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