The Tangled Roots of Affirmative Action

Thomas J. Sugrue

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article traces the origins of affirmative action in post-New Deal liberalism. Both racial liberals and their critics used rights discourse to shape their demands for equality and security. Civil rights activists responded to the problem of racial discrimination through strategies of moral reform, education, and persuasion that emphasized universalistic goals of equality. Their efforts yielded numerous state fair employment practices laws in the 1950s that were seldom effective. When antidiscrimination laws failed to desegregate labor markets, many Black activists called for more radical change. When the federal government began to demand racial preferences in the workplace during the mid-1960s, White opponents of racial equality recast their opposition in the same universalistic rights language that civil rights activists had used in the 1940s and 1950s. The result was an impasse that continues to shape the debate over affirmative action.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)886-897
    Number of pages12
    JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
    Issue number7
    StatePublished - Apr 1998

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Cultural Studies
    • Education
    • Sociology and Political Science
    • General Social Sciences


    Dive into the research topics of 'The Tangled Roots of Affirmative Action'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this