Interview with Mary Frances Berry
QUESTION 8
JACKIE SHEARER:

Great, cut. Boy, I feel like we got that in one fell swoop. How much do we have left on this?


MARY FRANCIS BERRY:

Sometimes people ask me what I mean when I say that Whites have been beneficiaries of the discrimination against Blacks which affirmative action is designed to remedy. It's very simple. Ah, most White people who are walking around in the United States, and who were walking around the United States in the 1970s, who in fact, had good jobs, got them without competing ever against all the people who were qualified for those jobs. How do we know that? Because there were a myriad of jobs for which Blacks could not even apply. You could not apply to be on the police department or the fire department. Blue collar jobs, White collar jobs, even if you were a college graduate, you more than likely ended up working at the post office, which was fine, but you would not be able to compete. So when you have a closed system where a little group of people get to compete among themselves and exclude everybody else, that means they had no merit standards, they benefited from that, they made incomes from that, they moved up the ladder from that. It, it's not even a question of whether you were alive when there were slaves or whether you were alive when there were Jim Crow. One benefited just from the privilege of having a White skin in the United States at that time.

JACKIE SHEARER:

Great. Cut.



MARY FRANCIS BERRY:

By 1979, the climate of opinion had changed almost completely in the country on issues related to civil rights and the advancement toward equality for Blacks in American society. College-going rates down for Black students. Ah, the unemployment rates up for Blacks in general and for youth in particular. People who had jobs and had gotten them through the civil rights and affirmative action programs found themselves stuck and stranded. Not able to get promotions, ah, under attack everywhere for complaints about things like reverse discrimination and the like, so that it was a very terrible time for the Black community. And many people in our community seemed to have forgotten the strategies that brought us to where we were. We had the right to vote and people were putting all their eggs either into the political basket, some people were talking about litigation. One of the pieces we forgot was direct action strategies and how to put all of these things together to use everything that came to hand. And I think in general in the country, if you looked at talk shows in that period, whether it was a Sunday and all the Sunday shows had come on, or the evening talk shows, you would see the reaction everywhere. The backlash against the progress that had been made. You would see rationales being used for why nothing else more, more needed to be done. For example people would say, "Well, we can't have equal opportunity and excellence at the same time. And since we want excellence, I guess we have to stop all of this emphasis on civil rights." And what did they mean by excellence? In many cases it seemed that they meant an absence of Black folk at every level of any importance in the society.

JACKIE SHEARER:

Great. Cut. Good, thank you.