Sharing Space: Why Racial Goodwill Isn't Enough

71 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2012

See all articles by Sharon E. Rush

Sharon E. Rush

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 1999


Racism is understood by most White people to be an attitude of prejudice toward Blacks. In contrast, Blacks define racism more inclusively; it is a system of institutional preferences for Whites, resulting from historically ingrained prejudices Whites have against Blacks. People of goodwill are disinclined to attribute racial connotations to ordinary, everyday negative interactions involving Whites and people of color as long as the Whites are people of goodwill (people who do not think they have prejudiced attitudes). Second, goodwill comfort is important to maintain, causing many Whites to shy away from any discussions about race. People of goodwill have felt this cognitive dissonance since the 1960s when both color consciousness and color-blindness were the ambiguous orders of the day.

In the last few years, many White liberals have joined with conservatives to explicitly abolish affirmative action. If people of goodwill can be convinced that adopting the color-blindness philosophy is in individual Blacks' self-interest, then they are likely to support abolishing affirmative action because they believe in racial equality. Thus, color-blindness is seemingly a perfect solution to the paradox. It is only imperfect because it is premised on one big myth: The existence of racial equality. White society posits that racial equality is extant throughout America. Whites of goodwill do not feel any dissonance between their support for racial equality and their opposition to affirmative action because, from their view, racial equality has become the norm and affirmative action jeopardizes it.

Through the use of semantic-infiltration, anti-affirmative action activists successfully changed the focus of affirmative action so that some people think it is synonymous with "lowering standards." Shifting the discourse from equality to merit suggests the two are mutually exclusive and plays off the view held by many Whites in the inherent inferiority of Blacks. Perhaps the greatest cost of retreating from affirmative action is symbolic; the retreat sends a message to Blacks that White America is giving up on racial equality. This message is particularly harsh because White America has not offered alternative programs that will promote racial equality.

White people of goodwill, by definition, are not (consciously) racist and are not individually responsible for racism. The profound significance of this observation highlights how impossible it is for most Blacks to understand Whites' resistance to embarrassingly modest efforts like affirmative action to achieve some formal racial equality. If Whites of goodwill understood this, it would be impossible for them to support the abolishment of such a modest attempt to counteract the power of White privilege unless they abandon their goodwill toward Blacks. In the larger context, White society must continue to take affirmative steps to equalize the racial imbalance in America, or give up its image as an anti-racist society altogether. Thus far, affirmative action reflects the only effort by White society to create shared racial space.

Keywords: racism, affirmative action, goodwill, racial equality, African-Americans, preferences, colorblind

JEL Classification: K1, K19

Suggested Citation

Rush, Sharon E., Sharing Space: Why Racial Goodwill Isn't Enough (1999). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 32, p. 1, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Sharon E. Rush (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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