the anthropology of affirmative action

Sat, 29 Apr 1995 15:23:20 EDT

relations and the anthropological discourse on the social
construction of race commands some authority, it behooves
anthropologists to employ one of its methodological tenets to
explore what is said --and not said-- by elites who control the
contemporary discourse on race. Along these lines, one can probe
the anthropology of the affirmative action debate.
By itself, affirmitive action is a political wedge; however,
taken with the challenges of minority-majority congressional
districts, it is a political double-edge sword that is
eviscerating the Democratic party. Columnist and political
pundits have correctly identified that a political wedge is
produced by the incendiary rhetoric, the California Civil Rights
Initiative, and congressional maneuvers that challenge
affirmative action programs, and it is dividing an already
fractured Democratic Party along racial lines. Republicans as
well as many Democrats counter this characterization by grounding
their arguments for dismantling affirmative action programs
within the goal of "fighting for a color-blind society." However,
if you put Republicans' vociferous challenges of affirmative
action programs along side their tacit consent of
minority-majority voting districts, the true partisan nature of
recent efforts to dismantle affirmative action a become clear.
While opponents have illustrated the perils of affirmative
action with regard to school admissions, contracting, and
employment, they have been conspicuously silent about the
so-called perils of minority-majority congressional districts
drawn after the 1990 decennial census. The explicit creation of
minority-majority districts helped to nearly double the African
American representation in Congress, arguably one of the nation's
best affirmative action programs. Ostensibly, the Republican
leadership wants to achieve a color-blind society by dismantling
affirmative action programs, but they do not want to dismantle
the color conscious congressional districts that Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O'Connar has declared "bears an uncomfortable
resemblance to political apartheid."
There are two simple reasons that explain why Republicans
have effectively delinked the debates about affirmative action
and racial redistricting and have not incorporated the so-called
perils of "racial gerrymandering" into their arguments for a
color-blind society. First, the same political and legislative
thicket that gave rise to the largest African American delegation
to congress in 1992, also contributed to the rise of a Republican
majority in Congress this year and specifically its stronghold in
the South. David Lublin, a political scientist at University of
South Carolina, provides a conservative calculation that between
six and nine House seats shifted from Democrat to Republican
control since 1990 as a direct result of the creation of safe
minority districts in the South. Without a doubt, this shift
helped propel the massive Republican breakthrough last November
when the GOP gained 19 House seats across the 11 states of the
old Confederacy plus Oklahoma and Kentucky.
The second reason why members of the GOP have not addressed
the "quota s" used for redistricting mirrors the reasons why they
attack so-called quotas with regard to affirmative action. The
formation of minority-majority congressional districts forms a
wedge issue within the Democratic Party. The party is forced to
grapple with the harsh reality that minority-majority districts
in the South increases minority representation but decreases
Southern Democrats' overall representation in Congress. In most
of the redistricting cases in the courts, the plaintiffs who have
challenged the constitutionality of minority-majority districts
are activists within the Democratic party. These plaintiffs are
motivated by the fact that racial redistricting reduces the
number of Democrats in their states' delegation to Washington;
however, they successfully pose legal arguments that drawing
congressional districts by "computerized hunting for
concentrations of blacks" creates "bazaar and tortured"
districts that violates the equal protection clause. Like the
affirmative action debate, Blacks are pitted against Whites
within an already fractured Democratic party. All Americans want
a color-blind society. By exploring the anthropology of the
affirmative action debate we can expose how this goal is being at
once appropriated and abrogated to further political agendas.

Lee D. Baker, Ph.D. 410 235 4940
Institute for Global Studies
in Culture, Power, and History LDBAKER@HARVARDA.HARVARD.EDU
404 Macaulay Hall
Baltimore, MD 21218-2684