Affirmative Action: Second Thoughts

Affirmative Action: Second Thoughts

News from the affirmative action battle front: two members of the top brass have deserted the hard-line opposition. Nathan Glazer, who crusaded against affirmative action for more than two decades, has switched sides. Glenn Loury, who broke with the neoconservatives a few years ago, has reshaped his position. Both say that California’s draconian Proposition 209 provoked their rethinking. Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 209 bans all affirmative action in the state’s public sector by outlawing any consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, contracting, or education.

Glazer, professor emeritus of sociology and education at Harvard, and Loury, professor of economics at Boston University, agree that Proposition 209 goes too far. By prohibiting that group identity ever be taken into account, it transforms an absolutist version of the “color-blind principle” (perfect nondiscrimination) into law. Glazer and Loury disagree about almost everything else. They analyze affirmative action from different points of view; they arrive at different policy conclusions; they object to Proposition 209 for different reasons. At the heart of their disaccord—and everyone else’s—is the ideal of a color-blind society.

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