Interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton
QUESTION 8
JACKIE SHEARER:

Is preferential treatment for Blacks, in and of itself, reverse discrimination against Whites?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON:

The, the, what's the word? I forget the name of the word I want to use. Words like "reverse discrimination" and "preferential treatment" are understandable considering how controversial this subject is, but they miss-describe affirmative action. Affirmative action, indeed, requires the employer to reach out for people who have been excluded, but it also has other rules that protect those who've not been excluded. People cannot be hired for jobs who are less qualified than, for example, the White males who, with whom they compete. So there cannot be reverse discrimination, or discrimination against such people. Understand we have a lo--kind of a logistical problem here. If, in fact, women, Blacks, Hispanics have been excluded, the question becomes, how do you include them? How do you make up for the legal wrong?** Well, you obviously have to reach out and show evidence that they have in fact been recruited and hired. In doing that, however, it's important that those people be equally well qualified, that people who are less-well qualified not be hired. What causes the controversy, of course, is that there have been many court orders where the courts have required specific numbers of people to be hired, ah, in order to make up for past discrimination. But what is seldom alluded to is that those same courts require a division of the jobs between those that have suffered no exclusion and those who have. So that typically, let's say a police department, and every police department in the United States of any size has been sued successfully for discrimination, a police department is found to have discriminated, and is ordered to hire qualified Blacks, all who have passed a test, even though they may not be at the top of the list for the test. The court then says, usually, "For every," for example, "two Whites that you hire, hire one Black," even if the employer has deliberately and overtly kept Blacks out, for example, by saying, "I'm sorry, we do not hire Blacks here and we haven't hired them for ten years, and we don't ever intend to hire them." Even in that kind of situation, the court would require that the employer not hire only Blacks to make up for his deliberate discrimination, but that the jobs be divided between Blacks and Whites until there is a critical mass of Blacks in the position. Not necessarily until all the discrimination has been overcome, but until there is a critical mass of Blacks who then, by their very presence, signal to other Blacks that this is an open workplace, and by the word of mouth in the Black community then begin to bring other Blacks in. Such, ah, orders of courts usually last several years. They are not permanent and cannot be permanent. They are remedial only, and it is the, it is the concept of remediation and not preference, which more aptly describes what affirmative action is in this sense.

JACKIE SHEARER:

Excellent. Great. Cut. Good. Now, the last question that I have on this is, you--