Ask the White Guy: Affirmative Action Benefits Whites Too … More Than You Think

This Black woman says her white colleagues hold fewer degrees and receive higher salaries. Who really benefits from affirmative action?

This Black woman says her white colleagues hold fewer degrees and receive higher salaries. Who really benefits from affirmative action?

Ask the White Guy, Luke Visconti, DiversityInc CEOQuestion:
As an educated black female, how is it that I have worked alongside several whites (both male and female) in Fortune 500 companies that are my peers in the management ranks that only have obtained high-school diplomas and their salary levels and oftentimes their titles are higher than mine and all the other minority managers. Yet I, and others that look like me, are considered products of affirmative action? What kind of ‘action’ would you label that? My résumé would never have made it out of the inbox had I not have obtained at least two degrees and a substantive amount of experience in my field. I have yet to work alongside someone of color in a management position that doesn’t have at least one degree, usually they have two or more.

Who really is the recipient of affirmative action here? Perhaps we should conduct a study to see who the people at the top are, and how they got there and what credentials are in place (and I’m not taking about the weekend executive degree programs). We may find that we need a new label for that type of action! We may be surprised to find out who has historically received the perks.

You’re absolutely right. Practically every white person in this country disproportionately benefits from “affirmative action.”

President Obama was the recipient of affirmative action. Professor Ira Katznelson wrote When Affirmative Action Was White to document how 20th-century social programs (Social Security, the GI Bill, Great Society) benefited mostly white people and were purposefully subverted to be that way by Southern legislators under the old rubric of “states rights,” which is often the last refuge of bigots. My friend, the great attorney Weldon Latham, recently told me a story about white-shoe law-firm partners who would not qualify to be recruited into their own firms if the standards were equally applied.

As president of the Anti-Slavery Society, Benjamin Franklin wrote the most elegant proposal for affirmative action that I’ve ever read. It was one-half of a page (the best ideas are often not complicated). He understood that ending slavery was not enough … it was the obligation of our society to provide for and nurture people restored to freedom. We have not followed his advice and pay the price to this day.

Ultimately, affirmative-action programs are necessary to provide access for people who were prevented access by reasons of racism. They are a benefit to our entire society because increasing wealth for underrepresented groups increases wealth for all. Here’s a quick fact: Black households have one-tenth the wealth of white households in this country. If our society caught black households up it would be the equivalent of injecting the entire GDP of Japan into our economy. Who would benefit the most from this? White people. A rising tide lifts all boats, and there are more “white boats” in the bay.

Unfortunately, this does not help you. It is my personal observation that many of the Black women executives I know are laboring at least two levels below where they should be. I suggest you consider where you’re working. There are some companies that have much better management than most. The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity is a great place to start looking.

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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  • The black woman who observes that she is more qualified than her white colleagues is probably on to something. My research with Kevin Stainback shows that after the civil rights act the hiring of more black men, black women, and white women tended to increase good job opportunities for white men. A higher proportion of white men got into skilled blue collar, professional and managerial jobs as a result. The same holds today in cities with large non-white labor forces.

  • I’m always concerned with discrimination charges that lack merit, because of the real and perceived damages to credible claims that they causes. Just because a woman/minority has the same title as someone else does not entitle them to the same pay. Several questions must be asked and that data provided. Are years of service the same, is performance the same are the primary two questions/piece of information that “must” be provided. Variances in theses two areas can get these charges thrown out almost immediately! (And create a lot of skepticism for future claims.) When these two are the same and differences in compensation exist there are legitimate grounds for a case. When there is not, the person is crying wolf!

    • Joe I agree with you. However, if both the white and the Black person are promoted at the same time to a similiar position or someone is promoted later and you have been doing that job an they are being paid a higher salary then there is a problem. Women of color are hit twice, they are a female and they are of color!!
      I have seen where most whites (not all) believes that claims of racism are non legitimate or as you put it, cring wolf!!

  • Fran, I partially agree with you! First I am a black middle age male professional who has worked in management from supervisory level to the president level for over a 30 years period. I agree with you on the basis of your example but as the, old folks use to say, “the devil is in the details”! I have reviewed several of these claims and have seen them “for the most part” fall apart when the details are reviewed! Example I’ve seen cases where a male with 10 years more of service and a female were promoted at roughly the same time to the same titled position and she felt that their starting pay in the new position should have been equalized! Bluntly stated, not in the real world! Not even in the public sector! But, she was miserable because she felt she was being discriminated against! We throw around the term “wage/salary inequity” so loosely that problems are assumed that don’t exist! Where they exist I champion stomping them out! Just make sure the details are reviewed before committing emotional energy!

    • Scott Carolan

      “… not in the real world…” is really a structure constructed by those in power. The word “real” is a misnomer. In fact, it is this “real world” that is rooted with systemic inequities from gender to race. It is this real world that needs to change. Saying, “Not in the real world” is only reaffirming the premise that you’re attempting to argue against.


    Oh, how simple minded of me to think that laws designed in the actual writing itself to benefit minorities only actually benefits minorities only, who would’ve thought. Seriously though, I don’t buy it for a moment that these white people that she supposedly works with in a fortune 500 company barely made it out of high school with a diploma and are now given jobs that they don’t deserve. Here once again we have an African American women doing what they and their male counterparts have been doing for the last 40 years. Laying full claim and ownership to the benefits that come with what they see as the positive part of Affirmative Action, meaning the education, the job, the financial bonuses and all the other perks that come with it.

    And assigning the negative parts of Affirmative Action like discriminating against more qualified hard working and deserving people because of the color of their skin, or hiring and promoting a person beyond what they’ve earned because of the color of their skin to white people. This kind of, when things go right I did it, when things go wrong you did it behavior, sadly permeates the majority of black America.

    There is a name used to describe people who engage in this kind of behavior where they instinctively blame another race of people for all their problems, and that name is Racist. Well, at least if their white, and blaming another race for all their problems they’re known as a racist. When blacks do it they’re usually known as “the victim of racism” or, and this is my favorite a “Civil Rights Leader”. The Hypocrisy Is Sickening.

    • Luke Visconti

      How on earth do you know what behavior “permeates the majority of black America”? With your attitude, I’m sure you have to sneak up on any Black people who know you in order to get within earshot. And the ones who don’t know you are warned off by the belt-and-suspenders-with-Confederate-flag-ball-cap outfit.

        • Luke Visconti

          More than half of the posts we receive are from white supremacists and neo-Nazis. I see no reason to be polite to them and I screen out most of them—I keep the ones that will serve as a teachable moment. I’m also not tolerant of bigots, sexists and homophobes—or fools. I think I’m doing people a kindness by being blunt. Some of the stuff that gets posted would get people fired at a well-run company. Better they learn how foolish they are here. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

          • It seems to me like you think you are better and smarter than everyone else. But hey good first impression i got from you. Just kidding you just sound like a dickhead

          • Luke? Do you even understand what supremacy means? Opposing a view point of a minority does not mean they think white people are better than blacks or any other race? How do you figure any of the posters are white supremacists? In addition, do you always commit the federal crime of releasing people private information online? You sure are taking the high road here. It is just said how you people can’t seem to hand opposing opinions. There is never 1 right answer, and if their was, you wouldn’t have them all.

          • Your other comments tell me that you are you’re a threat and potentially dangerous. Go away. Your IP address is It is not a federal offense to post someone’s IP address. I do it when I feel threatened so the police have a place to start if something happens to me.

    • Excuse me? Regardless of affirmative action, black people STILL have to work harder then white people to get ahead—the women is not making that up. I’ve heard over the years of how how white people who weren’t as qualified the black people in a company in terms of experience would still get the job, mainly because they knew someone. That still happens. I also don’t appreciate your arrogant and racist assumptions that black people are only taking jobs they don’t deserve (hello, they went to school, got a degree, and got the experience to GET the jobs,just like the white workers did.) Funny how you never assume that maybe the white worker just wasn’t cut out for the job—no they always got it taken from the by a black worker (yeah,right,whatever—believe what you want..)

      • Disclaimer: I am not a Neo-Nazi or a White Supremist!

        The State & Federal Government are the largest employers of all people in America. If you are employed at any level in government, race no longer applies to promotions and advancement . The opportunities are immense and the future is bright for all Americans if you apply yourself. I understand it is popular to speak of the negative and i am not arguing that as a country we have a lot to keep working on.

        But, If you do want to work hard and advance, the opportunites are out there! We live it the best country on Earth! We ALL have opportunites NOT available in any other country. Celebrate the good and stop with all of the negativity! I know women and minorities have not been treated fairly, but that is changing and if you determine you are going to succeed, there is much to strive for!


  • Dear uniformed white people
    Affirmative action benefits white women. More than anyone else.if u dont believe me. Google this

  • Loki Lyesmith

    How about not being able to get a job because of all the black managers in minimum wage job. Blacks FAR more often discriminate against. Whites because of things other people did way back in the day. I grew up far poorer than 95% of the black people around me. Most of them hated me anyway simply for MY skin color, and keep in mind this was back when i thought just like mr visconti here. In the middle of Gary Indiana I came up with the same opportunities as anyone around me and I still educated myself well. My half black nephew educated himself well in the same conditions and a LOT of colleges were looking at him for his academic and sports achievements. So dont tell me blacks have no oppourtunities. Stop whining and realize that life just sucks and is completely unfair. If you’re ready f for advancement ASK! You’ll either get it or you won’t. Civil rights leaders would look down on “black culture” and cry these days. You do your own race a disservice by cheapening their legacies with your constant race baiting. Suck it up kanye.

  • I feel that racism, when it comes to jobs and school is far more sneaky verse regular encounters. For example my mom is a U.S veteran and she worked in NATO. When she move to the south in late 80’s and early 90’s she decide to pursue a career in law enforcement. She went for county level instead of local. She sent her resume in 6 times before a recruiter inform her that she needed either an A.S in business of her law enforcement degree. My mom went back to school working a job and taking care of three kids. My mom was determine to make it and she wanted to prove to her children that hard work and education is the best weapon for Black and Latino people to be successful in America. My mother is Latina and he kids are mixed with black. Its a rhetoric that I know many black and hispanic children are taught, regardless of what you chose to believe about our culture and ethics.

    Long-story short, it took my mom 6 times and a degree in business in order to be accepted. But when she was hired and started speaking with her fellow white female employees NONE of them had a college level education. In fact, many of her high ranking officers only had a high school diplomas while minority officers either had a college level degree or more military experience than their fellow white co-workers. In other words, those minorities were overly qualified yet they were consider equal to their lessor qualified white coworkers.

    In theory, we like to say that hard work and credentials makes an employee desirable and that Affirmative action takes away from those aspects. Actually, A,A based laws doesn’t stop for anyone illegally practicing prejudiced in the workforce. Why was a government sector requiring or hiring minorities with higher level educations but only required their white employees to have the bare minimum? Is this unfair to those minority workers to be consider equal to those who simply lack credentials? Do we consider this action unethical? is this racism to require minority workers to be more qualified than their white coworkers?

    This are question that Affirmative Action cannot address and exposed the loop holes in those laws who are to protect ones gender, religion, sex and race from employment discrimination. Law sounds pretty on paper, is difficult to enforce and even more difficult for people to follow if they don’t feel like it benefits their safety and well-being.

    I think people should be judge by their performance and the goes for students in school, but we do not have just and fair citizens in our society. That do not agree with equality and continue to keep prejudice alive in our country. No institution government control or privately control can escape human scrutiny and insecurity.

    • Yeah first off if what you say is true that is unfair. Yet let me tell you about a few other things. First if your white colleages figure out who you are from this posting they will realize they can no longer tell you anything of importance unfair or not this is what I would to.
      Secondly, though I know your saying she has the advance degree here the truth is that they might lack the degree but have more work experience than her. Work experience matters more in the real world for alot of jobs than degrees.
      Thirdly though its unfair timing also matters. Alot of jobs now that in the past did not require to just be hired a degree now do.
      Thus those people who got in earlier than her are waived from new formal degree requirements.
      Fourthly it also use to be the case that a degree could get you at least a entry level job in your chosen field. Well tell that to the number of employers within my old line of work who refuse to even call me for an interview when I not only have a b. a. but a masters degree in the subject I use to do for work.
      Point is its not all fair if this woman had to get more training before being hired than her white colleagues but as I can attest life is unfair.

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