James Webb vs. Affirmative Action



“Affirmative action, which originally sought to repair the state-induced damage to blacks from slavery and its aftermath, has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand.”

Jim Webb in the Wall Street Journal

“The original intent of affirmative action expanded, and a lot of different ethnic groups who never suffered state-sponsored discrimination at all came under the rubric of affirmative action,”…the assumption that everyone who was white had a benefit and anyone who was not white didn’t have a benefit, it was not a fair assumption.” –Jim Webb in the Wash Post

“I think it’s time to either open this thing up to poor white groups or just go back to a level playing field–while keeping an eye on African Americans.” …”I’m a strong supporter of affirmative action in its original intent, which is to help African Americans.” -Jim Webb in the Wash Post

“I’m not sure where the real Jim Webb is, …”Why doesn’t he just do the manly thing and retract his statement, admit he was wrong, rather than trying to come up with these bizarre explainations?”

-VA State Senator Henry Marsh in the Wash Post

“He’s essentially articulated a positon on affirmative action that almost no one articulates today.”

-Prof Robert D. Holsworth, Virginia Commonwealth University in the Wash Post

The on again, off again nature of Jim Webb’s statements regarding affirmative action have caused a restlessness in the black community.  Seven members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus endorsed Webb’s opponent in the Democratic primary.  I have come to share some of the black members publicly articulated concerns regarding Webb’s conflicting positions on affirmative action.

Stephen Steinberg , a professor of Urban Studies at Queens College, has a stunningly apt analysis of so-called class-based affirmative action, the kind Jim Webb sees as being more fair.

Steinberg relates,…”the idea of class-based affirmative action is the brainchild of armchair theorists and political pundits with no political leverage or constituency.  Worse still, the suggestion that affirmative action should be class-based rather than race-based was advanced, not for its own sake, but as a second line of defense against the right-wing crusade to gut affirmative action.  It provided a rejoinder to the contention that it was unfair to give preference to the child of a black doctor over the child of a white miner or garbage collector. Class-based affirmative action never had a chance of being enacted as policy, but served only as a rhetorical foil in the affirmative action debate.”

“this explains why the idea of class-based affirmative action has been embraced by the very conservatives who spearheaded the crusade against affirmative action: Clint Bolick, Dinesh D’Souza, Clarence Thomas, Charles Murray, Richard Herrnstein, and Newt Gingrich. Essentially they have used the “class card” to trump the “race card.” They feign compassion for the working classes only to provide ideological cover for their assault on affirmative action.”

Advocates for class-based affirmative action conjure up, in Steinberg’s analysis, “the hackneyed argument that it is unfair to give preference to “the son of a black doctor over the son of a white garbage collector.” …”But that son of a black doctor is likely to find himself in competition with, not the sons of the white garbage collectors, but the sons of white doctors, who have not had to cope with the psychological liabilities and material disadvantages of being black in a white society. This is the rationale for giving a leg up even to the son of a black doctor.”

Steinberg continues, “Now let us think about that son of a white garbage collector. Granted, he has many liabilites to cope with in a society highly stratified by class. On the other hand, as a white man in a racially stratified society, he has access to coveted jobs in the blue-collar world that historically were the exclusive domain of white men. Indeed, in cities where garbage collectors were protected by union contracts, blacks could not even get hired as garbage collectors, much less as policemen or plumbers or assembly workers.”

Steinberg concludes, “In short, affirmative action is designed to address inequities of caste, not class.  It gives recognition to the fact, as an oppressed minority, blacks have had to deal with the impediments of race in addition to those of class. This is not to deny that there is a dire need to address the inequities of class as well as those of race.”

Webb’s positions, if taken as a whole, would dramatically weaken the benevolent effects of contemporary affirmative action programs and place them in the politically perilous position of benefiting blacks only, which is a good way to get affirmative action killed.

In my mind, this issue is a bone of contention that has not been removed by Barack Obama’s recent visit. Which, in and of itself is a kind of affirmative action program for white democratic candidates with foot-in-mouth disease on matters of race and class.

I, for one, ain’t satisfied.

12 thoughts on “James Webb vs. Affirmative Action

  1. Steve Maczko

    What is astonishing about this post is that not a single date is given for any of these quotes. Smellss like a fast one.

  2. ken

    Jim Webb is trying to win back white workers who have been driven to vote for the GOP by the “limousine liberals” lack of concern for their economic interests. Beats the hell out of spending every election night watching the GOP beat us again, carrying Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states that se Democrats ought to carry. I say Godspeed to Jim Webb.

  3. ken

    Jim Webb is trying to win back white workers who have been driven to vote for the GOP by the “limousine liberals” lack of concern for their economic interests. Beats the hell out of spending every election night watching the GOP beat us again, carrying Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states that we Democrats ought to carry. I say Godspeed to Jim Webb.

  4. terry hallinan

    Jim Webb is trying to win back white workers who have been driven to vote for the GOP by the “limousine liberals” lack of concern for their economic interests.

    What if Jim Webb is actually speaking his mind and trying to find a way through a difficult paradox?

    Not possible, you say. Jim Webb is a politician, you say, and says things that are only calculated to get him elected.

    I say he would just use the proper slogan and avoid the questions if he were a politician.

    Study after study has shown that women have been the main beneficiaries of affirmative action and African-Americans have shouldered a burden of being the beneficiaries as if they were the ones on the short bus. The conservatives using class-based affirmative action use a rational argument to destroy affirmative action while having no desire whatever to help those in need.

    The son of the doctor vs. the son of the miner argument has a certain odious elitism to it.

    How about comparing affirmative action beneficiary Dan Quayle to a fatherless child raised in the most notorious housing project of them all in St. Louis (Pruitt-Igoe) like the African-American scientist I once worked for?

    Best, Terry

  5. Ike

    “…the psychological liabilities and material disadvantages of being black in a white society…”

    What the hell is a psychological liability? Feeling different? Out-of-place? Judged? Condescended to? News flash: you sure as hell don’t have to be black to have said “psychological liabilit[ies].” Most of us liability-folk (whom I imagine constitute about 95% of the population) simply have to suck it up and get back to work.

    “Material disadvantages”? Huh? You don’t pay more taxes for being black, your Happy Meal doesn’t cost more because you’re black, and your stock doesn’t decline in value because you’re black…

    “…in a white society.” Without question, the nation is, as a whole, predominantly white. But there are any number of areas, both geographical and occupational, where white folk are in the minority. I live in the former, I work in the latter, and it’s true–I have to try a little harder to get the invitations, the recognition, the authority. No one “hates” me because I’m white; they just don’t feel as naturally comfortable around me as they do around other African Americans. That’s human nature, nothing evil is intended, and with the proper attitude and perseverance, I’m sure I will continue to experience some amount of success.

    Look. I know this must sound awfully callous to the situation of many African Americans, and I truly, genuinely, sincerely don’t mean it that way. Any number of black people in this country get screwed every day. I know it, and I’ve seen it. It’s just–I think society screws people of every race, color, and creed; I think 95% of people find their lives riddled with obstacles not of their own making; and I think any system of laws intended to un-screw the screwed, no matter how honorable its intentions, will inevitably be polarizing, insufficient, and counter-productive.

    I think it’s time to recognize that we all have a plethora of natural advantages and disadvantages, and that no specific disadvantage is more worthy of legal remedy than any other.

    I think it’s time to close the book on affirmative action.

    I also, incidentally, think it’s time to elect Jim Webb.

  6. Ike, Terry, Ken, Steve welcome to Skeptical Brotha. It is a pleasure to be able to dialogue with you all.

    Ike and Ken
    God Bless you for your vehement disagreement. I wholeheartedly oppose your viewpoints as my next post will attest. The covert racial attitudes of some people can be corrosive and dangerous as you will see. Allowing their animus free reign to harm people is not good social policy.

  7. I’m glad I don’t have to choose between these fu**nutz. Webb ALWAYS seemed a little odd to me.
    Ike, you’re going to have to do a much better job at convicing people why they should “close the book” on Affirmative Action rather than just saying “Everyone has it rough.”

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  9. Stauton News,

    Webb, like most former republicans, is a conservative. That should be reassuring to you. He has some progressive issue positions as well. He also apparently doesn’t have the audacity to be using the N-Word and acting maliciously toward African Americans and Indian Americans. The deer head thing, the turtle anecdote, and his homophobia is a bit of a turn-off. We’ll have to work on the Affirmative Action thing later.

  10. RisingTide

    snerk. this reads real funny after Obama said the same damn thing.
    Let’s just make sure we index this by wealth, eh?
    Blacks on average have 10% of the wealth of whites. So we can be fair and proper too.
    By wealth measured, 250,000 dollars in income is the start of the middle class. So I’m working class and so are you (I bet!)

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