'They should hire the one with the best score': White sensitivity to qualification differences in affirmative action hiring decisions


Journal Article

This paper uses innovative survey questions from the 1998 Detroit Area Study to examine how whites communicate their views about racial matters across three affirmative action hiring scenarios. Results suggest that most whites prefer explanations for not hiring blacks based on the abstract and decontextualized application of the principles of liberalism. Justifications that were initially offered emphasizing qualification thresholds, broad criteria, and contextual concerns, usually in support of hiring the black applicant, were largely withdrawn when the scenario was changed from one with equal scores to one with scores slightly favouring the white applicant. Concrete and contextualized concerns about workforce homogeneity and the slightness of score differences were raised in a conciliatory manner when scores were equal, but then were seldom maintained when scores favoured the white candidate. Whites also more readily voiced opposition when the reason for hire was changed from 'diversity' to 'make up for past discrimination', offering 'reasonable' responses about 'the past is the past' that don't deny concrete historical events, but dismiss their connection to today's racial order. Taken together, the evidence suggests that the language of universalism and minimization of racism allow most whites to communicate their views about affirmative action using rhetorical strategies that seem reasonable and moral.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Berry, B; Bonilla-Silva, E

Published Date

  • January 1, 2008

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 31 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 215 - 242

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1466-4356

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0141-9870

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/01419870701337619

Citation Source

  • Scopus