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Affirmative Actions

Affirmative action became the by-product of affirmative relief inaction. The substantive and meaningful affirmative relief in the EEOC consent decrees (1973) suffered the same fate as the promise of ’40 Acres and a Mule'(1865). More to the point, the foundation of equity in employment was once again denied the cornerstone of equality necessary to enshrine the integration of diversity and difference in the social, economic and political structures of our society.

Most thoughtful considerations of reparations tease the wealthiest nation on earth with quantitative aspirations of what portions of its wealth were seeded by forced black labour and should be afforded descendants of slaves. At a time when many educated persons would be hard pressed to demarcate an acre of land or reference the progenitor of a mule, ideas of what is owed African-Americans tend to be a matter of simple accounting. Today ’40 Acres and a Mule’ is cliché and has about as much currency in the discourse of poverty among African-Americans as monthly ‘food stamp’ allowances.

40-acres-and-a-mule-1930-1On January 16, 1865, during the Civil War (1861-65), Union general William T. Sherman confiscated the idea and the debate over Affirmative Action when he issued his Special Field Order No. 15. The order was much more than an attempt to redistribute land to ‘freed slaves’ and to negate the oppressive power and will of a slave society. The promise of ’40 Acres and a Mule’ was an overture to the idea of ‘republican virtue’. It sought to realize for the Negro a property qualification that white-indentured servants had to meet before they were granted the franchise and could be considered full citizens. Basically, owning land signified a level of independence and autonomy that was necessary to exercise the franchise free of supposed corrosive and anti-democratic impulses and influences.

Given those times, land entailed ownership of the means of production, control over labour power and the products of labour. For former slaves this was the grit of freedom in the grime of the servitude that suffocated generations of hopes and dreams. The failure to realize the promise of ’40 Acres and a Mule’ accounts for the quotation marks and the asterisk that qualifies the adjective ‘free’ when referring to the socio-economic status of blacks after the legal abolition of slavery.

“David Blight argues, in his influential book Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), that the desire in the half-dozen decades following the Civil War to obscure the real causes of the war – the emancipation of four million slaves – led to the ‘denigration of black dignity and the attempted erasure of emancipation from the narrative of what the war had been about.'” Eric Foner – Forever Free

It was not enough for many former slave states that blacks did not get ’40 Acres and a Mule’, they passed laws that made a mockery out of the second amendment. Whites were not worried about a bunch of armed Negroes killing them and raping their women. A Negro with a gun that could hunt, defend and feed himself did not need to put up with the quasi servitude of sharecropping and share-renting. In some places, it was even illegal for a black person to own fishing poles. Learning to read and to write could be a death sentence.

Five myths about Brown v. Board of Education

Poverty in the 50 years since ‘The Other America,’ in five charts

In 1973, more than one hundred years after General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, the United States government under the auspices of what is now the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) undertook an examination of some of the nations largest employers. The EEOC investigative task force focused on General Electric, General Motors, Ford, Sears Roebuck and other large employer’s blatant discrimination against blacks, women, Irish and Catholics. Documents denying employment and promotions were matters of record kept in their ‘human resource’ offices. A series of consent decrees were drafted to remedy acts of discrimination against 40,000 complainants. The remedies proposed were as radical and real as the promise of ’40 Acres and a Mule’.

The EEOC consent decrees proposed broad affirmative relief. Affirmative relief included placing an administrator in the Human Resource offices to oversee the elimination of discriminatory practices. Individuals denied job placement, promotion and compensation on the basis of race, sex, or gender were eligible for back pay and remedial training programs to qualify them for targeted positions. Sex discrimination in initial job assignments, promotional opportunities, and under-classification of job was also addressed by the consent decrees.

Captains of the industries affected by the consent decrees following in the footsteps of former slave holders rallying against ’40 Acres and a Mule’,  initiated an organized effort to undermine the affirmative relief that the consent decrees provided. In short, they lobbied government officials for a compromise that relieved them of the affirmative relief outlined in the consent decrees on the basis of a promise to take affirmative action to make their workforce and promotions reflect the diversity in our society. In the place of the affirmative remedies outlined in the consent decrees, they promised to take affirmative action.

Americans Oppose Affirmative Action for Race, If You Only Ask White Americans
by David A. Graham

Affirmative action became the by-product of affirmative relief inaction. The substantive and meaningful affirmative relief in the consent decrees suffered the same fate as the promise of ’40 Acres and a Mule’. More to the point, the foundation of equity in employment was once again denied the cornerstone of equality necessary to enshrine the integration of diversity and difference in the social, economic and political structures of our society. Instead of affirmative relief we got quotas and an enduring struggle over percentages rather than real concrete justice for people of colour. Now to add insult to the historical sedimentation of injury, we find ourselves squabbling over scraps at a time when we should be reaping the harvest of opportunity that ‘affirmative relief’ and ’40 Acres and a Mule’ would have afforded us.

The Supreme Court of the United States is currently considering Affirmative Action in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas and is scheduled to hear oral argument in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. In the historical wake of Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15 and the affirmative inaction that negated the consent decrees arising out of the EEOC’s investigation of discrimination by the nation’s largest employers, the Court is in a position to obliterate the makeshift foundation left in the ruins of broken promises and failed affirmative relief.

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” –Jacques Anatole François Thibault (1844-1924)

Losing steam and power due to demographic changes, conservative culture warriors and remnants of the Ole South are not fretting in the face of the Supreme Court’s reconsiderations of injustice and inequities. Draped in his black robe, cruising towards his target with the silence and stealth that has become the signature of his tenure on the Court, Justice Clarence Thomas is the right-wing’s very own John Henry. He has been swinging away at issues related to Affirmative Action with a hammer in both hands since he was Chairman of the EEOC in 1982. Under his stewardship of the agency, “cases in which investigations revealed a pattern and practice or other evidence of entrenched or widespread discrimination were no longer given priority,. . . Consequently, fewer and fewer of these cases were conciliated or litigated.” It is one thing for ‘justice’ to be blind. It is another for the eyes of the law not to see. When and where this happens justice loses its guide out of the wilderness of injustice.

Ferguson’s Fortune 500 Company

Why the Missouri city—despite hosting a multinational corporation—relied on municipal fees and fines to extract revenue from its poorest residents

. . .Ferguson extracts more revenue from African American renters seeking to heat their homes in the winter, light them after dark, and talk on their cell phones than it does from those who own the homes themselves. Taken together, these regressive taxes account for almost 60 percent of the city’s revenue. In contrast, property taxes—which are, at least in theory, progressive taxes—account for just under 12 percent. The vast wealth of the city, scarcely taxed at all, is locked up in property that African Americans were prevented from buying for most of its history.

How Black Middle-Class Kids Become Poor Adults
by Gillian B. White

Once they’ve grown up, African American children are more likely than their white counterparts to backslide into a lower economic group.


The Case for Reparations
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

CthomasSworn to administer justice ‘without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich’, Justice Thomas is poised to make the ghost of James Baldwin borrow  General Sherman’s match. Make no mistake about it, we are still on the road from slavery to freedom and over the years that road has merged with the journey of women, gays, Hispanics, and transgender lives coloured by the difference they represent. If we fail to recognize and to appreciate the contiguous nature of our collective struggle and march forward, not only will few and fewer of us get there, we will not overcome the forces that have been refined and arrayed against difference since a diverse group of persons began the task of creating a more perfect Union.

Did slavery make economic sense?

Suggested reading list:

Anderson, R. V., & Gallman, R. E. (1977). Slaves as Fixed Capital: Slave Labor and Southern Economic Development. The Journal of American History,64(1), 24-46.

Conrad, A. H., & Meyer, J. R. (1958). The economics of slavery in the ante bellum South. The Journal of Political Economy, 66(2), 95-130.

Fogel, R. W. (1995). Fogel, R.W. & Engerman, S.L. (1974) Time on the cross: The economics of American Negro slavery. WW Norton & Company.

Genovese, E. D. (1976). Roll, Jordan, Roll: The world the slaves made. Random House.

Govan, T. P. (1942). Was Plantation Slavery Profitable? The Journal of Southern History, 8(4), 513-535.

North, D.C. (1961). The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790–1860. Harper & Row.

Williams, E. (1944) Capitalism and slavery. University of North Carolina Press.

Forcing Black Men Out of Society – NYT: Editorial Board 4-25-15

This astounding shortfall in black men translates into lower marriage rates, more out-of-wedlock births, a greater risk of poverty for families and, by extension, less stable communities. The missing men should be a source of concern to political leaders and policy makers everywhere


Suzanne Mettler Talks Our Hidden Government Benefits


“I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” ― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time   (Genesis 9:11 – 2Peter 3:10)



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Curriculum Vitae

Tom L. States PhD Candidate

Fields of Interest: Political Theory, International Relations, Marxist Political Economy

Research Topic: eRacism - Conflicts of Difference

Education History: Williams College, BA Political Science; New York University, MA Politics; York University PhD Candidate

Languages: English, German

Hometown: Greenwood, Mississippi

Words of Wisdom: “IT” is what you are when you are young. Your youth mistakes certainty of the few things that you think you know for knowledge of things that it takes a life time to understand. With time and a few life experiences “IT” becomes the thing you pursue to give your life meaning. Somewhere along the way of having or getting “IT” you ask yourself, ‘Is this “IT”? Panic sets in when you realize that “IT” is your life. Fear and insecurity is that feeling you get when “IT” has not been worth a life time.


Harvey, David. Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference. New York: Longman, 1996.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press. 1967.

Cancian, Francesca M. Gender Politics: Love and Power in the Private and Public Spheres. Gender and the Life Course. Ed. Alice S. Rossi. New York: Aldine, 1985.

Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. New York: Verso, 2009.

Lay, Shawn. The Invisible Empire In The West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.


Carothers, Thomas. Think Again: Civil Society. Foreign Policy Date, (Winter: 1999-2000).

Ober, Josiah. The original meaning of "democracy": Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Princeton/Stanford Working Papers in Classics. American Political Science Association meetings, Philadelphia, (2006).