(PRWEB) June 08, 2012
Professor William Julius Wilson claims that there is little support in the US for affirmative action programs based on race quotas, but widespread support for approaches that measure candidates based on a flexible system to assess each individual against a wide range of criteria, including the barriers they have overcome in life.
Writing in Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, published by Cambridge University Press for the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, Wilson calls for a shift in the framing of long-established policy, which allows race to be taken into consideration in decisions on posts in employment and education, to counter the effects of generations of racial discrimination.
In a paper entitled "Race and affirming opportunity in the Barack Obama era," Wilson urges a move away from controversial quotas in favor of a merit-based system that features flexible criteria of evaluation, which assess, in addition to exam results, personal attributes such as perseverance, motivation, interpersonal skills, reliability, creativity and leadership qualities. Wilson calls this approach ‘affirmative opportunity.’ He writes:
“These new flexible, merit-based criteria would less likely exclude people who have as much potential to succeed as those from more privileged backgrounds. I call this approach, ‘affirmative opportunity’ not ‘affirmative action’ to signal a shift in emphasis away from quotas and numerical guidelines, which is how affirmative action has come to be understood—and widely resented. Instead, the emphasis is on achieving equality of opportunity, a principle that most Americans still support.”
Wilson dismisses some recent calls for a move to a class-based, rather than a race-based system, arguing that class-based affirmative action would still favor whites, who are not “weighed down by the accumulation of disadvantages that stem from racial restrictions”.
Wilson cites his own experience of being accepted onto the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1972, on merit-based principles of affirmative action that judged him as an individual and not as part of a quota. Wilson repaid Chicago’s faith in him by becoming a highly respected and influential teacher and writer and a winner of numerous awards including the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific award in the United States. Wilson feels that his own experience was an ideal example of the ‘affirmative opportunity’ he is championing. He argues that this approach would be understood and supported by the majority of Americans, even those who have traditionally resented the quota system:
“A policy of affirmative opportunity would renew the nation’s commitment to enabling all Americans, regardless of income, race, or other attributes, to achieve the highest level that their abilities will permit. Opportunity-enhancing programs tend to be supported by the American public because they reinforce the belief that the allocation of jobs and economic rewards should be based on individual effort, training, and talent.”
Wilson ends his paper with a plea that no-one should be able to enter a hospital ward of newborn babies and accurately predict their future social and economic position in society solely on the basis of their race and class. “Unfortunately, in many neighborhoods in the United States you can accurately make such predictions,” he says, before issuing a final call to President Obama to use the upcoming election debates to argue that ‘affirmative opportunity’ programs are the way forward in offering every American equality of life chances and putting an end to both economic and racial disadvantage for good.
Notes to editors
For further information please contact Michael Marvin, Marketing Associate, Journals, Cambridge University Press, Americas by phone at (001) 212.337.5041 or by email at mmarvin (at) cambridge (dot) org.
About the author
William Julius Wilson is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University. Past President of the American Sociological Association, Wilson has received 44 honorary degrees and been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Philosophical Society, the Institute of Medicine, and the British Academy. In June 1996 he was selected by Time magazine as one of America's 25 Most Influential People. Professor Wilson is the author of several influential books including The Declining Significance of Race; The Truly Disadvantaged, (selected by the editors of the New York Times Book Review as one of the 16 best books of 1987) and When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, (selected as one of the notable books of 1996 by the editors of the New York Times Book Review).
About the Du Bois Review
Published for the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, Harvard University, this peer-reviewed journal is devoted to research and criticism on race in the social sciences. It provides a forum for discussion and increased understanding of race and society from a range of disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, law, communications, public policy, psychology, and history. Each issue contains an editorial overview, invited lead essays, original research papers, and review essays covering current books, controversies, and research threads.
For more information visit: http://journals.cambridge.org/DBR
About Cambridge Journals
Cambridge University Press publishes over 300 peer-reviewed academic journals across a wide spread of subject areas, in print and online. Many of these journals are the leading academic publications in their fields and together they form one of the most valuable and comprehensive bodies of research available today.
For more information go to: http://journals.cambridge.org
About Cambridge University Press
Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Dedicated to excellence, its purpose is to further the University's objective of advancing knowledge, education, learning, and research.
Its extensive peer-reviewed publishing lists comprise 45,000 titles covering academic research, professional development, over 300 research journals, school-level education, English language teaching and bible publishing.
Playing a leading role in today’s international market place, Cambridge University Press has more than 50 offices around the globe, and it distributes its products to nearly every country in the world.
For more information go to: http://www.cambridge.org