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Research into the Impact of Affirmative Action on Whites

          Dr. Fred L. Pincus is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). 

          In 1999, Adversity.Net agreed to help Dr. Pincus locate and interview white victims of reverse discrimination.

          Dr. Pincus has now published several papers about this work.  Adversity.Net has reproduced one such article in its entirety titled "The Social Construction of Reverse Discrimination:  The Impact of Affirmative Action on Whites" (Reprinted with permission.)

          It may be impossible for Adversity.Net readers to regard Dr. Pincus' work as a truly objective analysis of the impact of affirmative action on whites, especially since -- at least according to my reading of his article -- he essentially says that affirmative action (including in particular race-based targets and goals) -- aren't so bad for us non-minorities.  He also argues that race-based "goals and targets" are not the same as "quotas". 

          Pincus also suggests that the phrase "reduced opportunity" is a more accurate term to describe what we think of as "reverse discrimination".

          Dr. Pincus was a little suspicious about Adversity.Net's reasons for wanting to publish his paper, stating his concern that we were going to hold it up as an example of how "liberal affirmative action sympathizers think".  His work does offer a detailed insight into what I consider to be traditional, liberal rationalizations for race-based targets, goals and quotas.

          Dr. Pincus and I have been engaged in a running dialogue about affirmative action which has been alternately enlightening, amusing, borderline insulting, angry, and perplexing.  I'll give Dr. Pincus credit for being patient and for being willing to engage in a lively discussion with an avowed opponent of race-based policies.

          I'm fairly certain Dr. Pincus thinks of me as a creature from the dark side.  Each of us remains truly amazed at the fundamental beliefs and attitudes held by the other on this issue.  See what you think.

          By way of introducing and summarizing Dr. Pincus' work, I have excerpted a few segments from his article, below.  The complete, unedited text is also available for your viewing.

-- Tim Fay, Editor

DOWN:  Summary of Pincus article

(The complete, unedited text of Dr. Pincus' article may be found at

Summary:  Dr. Fred L. Pincus
"The Social Construction of Reverse Discrimination:
The Impact of Affirmative Action on Whites"

          Dr. Pincus writes:  "[The] phenomenon, where whites believe that they have less opportunity because of affirmative action, goes by a variety of names including 'affirmative discrimination' , 'discrimination in reverse' and 'preferential treatment.'   The most popular term, however, is 'reverse discrimination.'  The earliest use of this term dates back to the late 1960s and it has been employed by critics of affirmative action ever since.  The Internet has numerous reverse discrimination sites, the most sophisticated of which is"

          [While we appreciate the reference to Adversity.Net, we're not at all sure that Dr. Pincus meant 'sophisticated' as a compliment.]

          "The language used to analyze a problem is critical and opponents of affirmative action are well aware of this.   The (2001) website contains the following introduction to their section 'Terms and Definitions of the Racial and Gender Preferences Movement:'

"The quota industry works overtime to invent terms that they think will sell racial and gender quotas, preferences, targets and goals. A new term seems to be invented every week. Language is very important in our fight for color-blind justice. Language shapes our perception of our environment. Don't let the quota industry define your environment!

          "Of course, the anti-affirmative action forces are also trying to use language to define the environment. The goal of this article is to demonstrate that using the concept of reverse discrimination or any of its euphemisms does not adequately portray the way in which whites are impacted by affirmative action." [Emphasis added.]


          "[One package or construct in this debate], 'No Preferential Treatment,' argued that all race-conscious policies were wrong and that emphasis should be placed on equal opportunity for individuals rather than on statistical parity for groups."


In the section titled "Hidden Assumptions of Reverse Discrimination", Dr. Pincus writes, in part:

          "1. The discourse of discrimination implies illegitimacy and illegality.  Any negative impact that affirmative action may have on whites is seen as equivalent to the illegal discrimination that has been faced by people of color and women for centuries. Some affirmative action critics do not even like to use the term 'reverse' since they say that there is only one kind of discrimination.

"Adversity.Net doesn't especially care for the term reverse discrimination because there is only one kind of discrimination, and that is old-fashioned racial and sexual discrimination. However, we grudgingly use this term since it is so widely understood to mean illegal discrimination against anyone who is not on the government's list of 'historically disadvantaged.' "


          "2. Color-blind, presumably neutral meritocratic standards are the only legitimate way to select employees, accept college students and grant contracts.  Any race-conscious decision-making is seen as discrimination (Fried, 1999).

          "4. The existence of contemporary white privilege is denied.  Reverse discrimination discourse either ignores or denies any possibility that most whites have benefited from past discrimination even though neither they nor their families actually practiced discrimination. 

          "5. The majority of white males are said to be victims of reverse discrimination.  The concept is used in it's broadest meaning and suggests widespread victimization.   Some authors even use the terms reverse discrimination and affirmative action interchangeably.

          "6. The Policy of affirmative action is generally equated with quotas and preferences.  While these policies certainly exist, they make up a very small aspect of what is normally referred to as affirmative action.  ... The only time reverse discrimination discourse even touches on these regulations is to erroneously state that goals and quotas are the same thing."


In the section titled "Reduced (Balanced) Opportunity", Dr. Pincus writes, in part:

          "Dispensing with the concept of reverse discrimination does not mean that some whites, especially white males, may have fewer opportunities for jobs, promotions, college seats or government contracts as a result of affirmative action. In a zero-sum competitive society, if one group receives more opportunities, other groups will receive less. While affirmative action critics view this as reverse discrimination, it is also possible to see it as a relatively privileged group like white males losing some of their privileges."

In his conclusions, Dr. Pincus writes, in part:

          "Why is it important to distinguish between reverse discrimination and reduced opportunity? First, it is important to discredit the entire reverse discrimination discourse with its empirical and theoretical exaggerations and distortions. Discrimination against people of color and women is still the major problem according to the self-report data in the polls as well as the studies of formal complaints. Color-blind policies may resonate as powerful political symbols but they will not solve the existing problems. Preferences and quotas only account for a small portion of affirmative action policies. Using the term reverse discrimination, and others associated with this package, needlessly fans the flames of racism and sexism."

(Read the complete, unedited text of Dr. Pincus' article at

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The article "The Social Construction of Reverse Discrimination:  The Impact of Affirmative Action on Whites" was originally published in the Journal of Intergroup Relations, Volume XXXVIII, No. 4 Winter 2001/2002, pages 33 - 44. 

Reprinted with permission.

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