Domestic Series


Due to the generosity of the Dream Fund, Professor Crenshaw and Professor Harris attended a webinar conference on August 7, 2008.  The webinar was titled “Talking About Race in 2008” and the discussion grew out of the realization that Americans are once again eagerly talking about race in light of this year’s presidential race.  The participants of the webinar conference which was co-moderated by Sarah Jackson and Maritza Guzman,  included members from different organizations including Impact 209, the Arcus Foundation, and the Center for Social Inclusion.  Along with AAPF, these organizations engaged in a discussion regarding the latest research and methods on how to inform other members of society of the inequalities and disparities that exist.  In doing so, they hope to craft a better methodology to address the prevalent issues of race that currently clouds the current electoral process. To read more about this Dream Fund webinar conference, please click here.


Professor Kimberle Crenshaw appeared on PBS's NOW television show in an episode entitled Attacking Affirmative Action in order to discuss the role of affirmative action in the wake of the Democratic Convention.  In her interview, Crenshaw discusses the need for Affirmative Action after the nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic Presidential candidate in the 2008 election.  Her appearance on the show also highlighted the misperceptions of the widespread discourse of a post-racial era in the United States marked by Obama's nomination.  She argues that the mere fact that people are still questioning whether America is in a post-racial era affirms the reality that America as a country has not yet arrived at this point.  In her interview, Crenshaw recognizes the milestone of progress that comes along with the nomination of  Obama , yet emphasizes that there  is still a lot of work that needs to be done as well as a lot of issues that still need to be solved in order for America to fully overcome racial inequality.  To watch the episode of Attacking Affirmative Action, please click here to visit the NOW website.


On January 29th-31st of 2008, AAPF collaborated with the National ACLU to host a summit addressing the importance of affirmative action.  The summit, entitled “The Affirmative Action Summit:  Networking to Defend a Public Policy Under Siege” was held at the UCLA School of Law and attracted participants from a wide variety of backgrounds including writers, community members, activists, and scholars.   The goal of the summit was to bring these diverse individuals together in hopes of discussing different methods and strategies to talk about affirmative action to those who are opposed to a policy that is imperative to removing the structural barriers that are placed in the lives of women and people of color.  Participants of the summit engaged in not only a wide variety of discussions but also in activities that aimed at strengthening their abilities to speak confidently about affirmative action.  In addition, the summit also included a discussion called “Betwixt and Between or Too Bushwhacked to See the Light? Progressive Ponder Super Tuesday.”  During this discussion, AAPF invited author of The Best of Emerge Magazine, George Curry; television commentator of Air America, Laura Flanders; and editor of Ms. magazine, Kathy Spillar.  To read more about the summit, please click here.


Ward Connerly, a Californian who been instrumental in producing successful ballot attacks on affirmative action in California and Washington, relocated his operations to Michigan to promote the misleadingly named "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative" (MCRI), a ballot proposal aimed at ending affirmative action in Michigan. Over the course of 2006, AAPF partnered with the Michigan affiliate of the ACLU in order to deliver training workshops to activists throughout the state of Michigan. Generous funding was provided for different parts of this endeavor by the Deer Creek and Fulfilling the Dream Foundations. Built around a presentation by AAPF Co-founders Kimberlé Crenshaw and Luke Harris entitled "Towards a Proactive Defense of Affirmative Action: Exploding Myths and Reframing the Debate", the workshops served to expand activists’ understanding of the ways the discourse surrounds affirmative action is often loaded in favor of opponents of affirmative action. The presentations also left on-the-ground workers with concrete methods and strategies for addressing the misleading messages that pervade public discussions on affirmative action. Over the course of the year, AAPF produced a number of exciting print, web, radio, and vidoe initatives centered on countering myths about affirmative action in Michigan. To read about these efforts, CLICK HERE.

(Note: Although the MCRI ultimately passed in Michigan, some of the exit poll data is encouraging. While whites voted to end affirmative action in numbers very similar to their percentage in California, Black support for ending affirmative action went down from 26% in California to only 14% in Michigan. While we obviously can't take credit for the disparity in numbers, our efforts to in Michigan, which focused on de-marginalizing communities of color in the affirmative action debate, were absolutely unprecedented. The feedback we received, especially from Black and minority communities, indicated that our work served to address serious gaps in the larger campaign to oppose MCRI and in many people's understandings about affirmative action. Although at the outset of the campaign Black voters expressed a great deal of confusion over the deceptive language of the MCRI , when it came time to cast their votes most Black voters overwhelmingly voted to preserve affirmative action in their state.)



Our Michigan affirmative action presentation was premiered at a full-day, two session March 2006 workshop at the ACLU of Michigan offices. Entitled "Affirmative Action Leadership Training", the workshop was aimed at "grass tops" community and activist leaders, including the Director of the Michigan Democratic Party, the Director of the MDCR Women's Commission, the Director of the MDCR, the Director of the NAACP, and others. ACLU-MI members who were grass tops leaders for their individual communities were invited as well. In all, over 50 organizations were represented in some capacity. The training featured a revamped presentation from Kimberlé and Luke entitled “10 MYTHS ABOUT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION”, and was followed by "Focused interventions" from Chandra, Dror, and Khaled Beydoun, AAPF's fieldwork coordinator and on-the-ground liaison with ACLU-MI. These interventions addressed recent tensions in Detroit between African Americans and Asian Americans, reasons it is incumbent on whites to support affirmative action, and the importance of affirmative action to Detroit's Arab population.

After our presentation, we divided into smaller breakout groups so as to permit workshop participants to achieve a sense of "ownership" of the ideas conveyed in the session, and to provide attendees with an opportunity to refine their capacity to defend affirmative action in diverse settings. Each group was co-facilitated by an AAPF coordinator and a local Michigan activist. Breakout groups were each given a unique theme to address; AAPF facilitators helped the groups work toward their assignment of coming up with 3-5 talking points addressing their respective theme/issue. At the end of the sessions, the breakout groups reformed into a larger group and shared the results of their workshops. The enthusiastic attendance at this event strained the capacity of ACLU Michigan's offices and necessitated that the training be split into two identical sessions in order to accommodate two separate audiences!

Response to the training session was extremely positive, with many attendees enthusing that the AAPF workshops and presentations had greatly expanded their understanding of the issues and helped them with the difficult task of talking about affirmative action in a proactive way. Numerous attendees expressed a desire to undergo further training by AAPF staff, and also asked for summaries of the presentation and talking points they could share with colleagues, friends, neighbors and others. As a result of this expressed demand, AAPF produced an initial document entitled "Talking Points: 10 Myths about Affirmative Action" which was distributed to workshop attendees by ACLU-Michigan.

June 20, 2006: "Mobilizing our Base", Wayne State University Law School, Detroit, MI

In order to engage with those communities usually referred to as the "base" of affirmative action supporters, AAPF and ACLU-Michigan convened a conference for organizations that represent and serve different communities of color in Michigan. The event drew an extremely diverse audience from a broad range of communities. To cite just a few of the organizations and communities represented: attendees included African American groups such as NAACP, Latino groups such as LaSed, Arab American groups including ACCESS and ADC-Michigan, and many others, from the staff of Congressman John Conyer's office to a representative of Hillel, from union leaders to Filipino organizers and Native American activists.

At the event, Kimberlé and Luke gave an updated version of their "10 Myths" presentation that was enthusiastically received. After the presentation, AAPF staff co-facilitated breakout groups focusing on different communities. The African American group was the largest of the breakout groups, and was co-facilitated by Luke. The participants explained that Black organizations across the state badly needed to secure access to experts that would provide their staff members with the information and tools necessary to do public education work on the MCRI. Attendees expressed gratitude and excitement at the information conveyed in the presentation Kimberlé and Luke delivered -- AAPF was delivering messaging about affirmative action that foregrounded the needs and concerns of communities of color.

October 20th: "The Final Stand for Affirmative Action," Greater Grace Temple Church, Detroit, MI.

Three weeks before the onset of the election, AAPF organized a final conference for Michigan community leaders. Co-sponsored by the ACLU, ACCESS, AAI, NAACP-State Conference, and MOSES, the event drew a broad cross-section of Michigan community leaders, with participants ranging from an Arab-American teacher in a community school to the host of local television talk show on race issues. Although the event occurred on a Friday evening on the heels of rallies conducted by the NAACP and others, attendees arrived excited and willing to engage with the difficult work of collaboratively exploring ways of reframing the affirmative action debate. The conference began with a streamlined version of Kimberlé and Luke's presentation on common myths about affirmative action and strategies for addressing them. Afterwards, two of Kimberlé's law students at UCLA, Rafael Yaquian and Priscilla Ocen spoke with those assembled about the realities of life for students of color in a post-affirmative action institution. The second half of the event consisted of a community roundtable moderated by Kimberlé and Luke.

Participants found the conference stimulating and educational, with many staying on past the listed end-time in order to continue the conversation. Additionally, the conference was the first to feature AAPF's new "short-version" primers which were distributed to conference-goers. Most participants found the primer so useful and compelling that they took multiple copies in order to distribute them to their colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

October 21st: Freedom Sunday: A Speaking Tour of Detroit Churches

On Sunday, October 21st, AAPF collaborated with MOSES, a congregation-centered, faith-based community organization reflecting the religious, racial, and ethnic diversity of Metropolitan Detroit to deliver vital information about affirmative action to over a dozen large congregations throughout the Detroit area. Building on well-received talks Kimberlé had given earlier in the year at other churches, Kimberlé and Luke set out to reach churchgoers with an ecumenical message aimed at reconnecting churches with the civil rights movement. MOSES Executive Director Ponsella Hardaway designated October 21st as "Freedom Sunday" and coordinated a massive speaking tour for Kimberlé and Luke. In an effort to hit as many congregations as possible, Kimberlé and Luke split up and were shuttled from church to church so they could take part in a broad range of Sunday services. Both Kimberlé and Luke delivered specially-tailored "informational sermons" which exposed many of those in attendance to information on affirmative action that they had never heard before. Members of targeted congregations received a happy surprise from the speaking tour, and left their services both informed and excited to spread knowledge about the issue within their community.


David N. Dinkins’ Forum at Columbia University

AAPF co-founders Luke Harris and Kimberle Crenshaw spoke as expert scholar-activists at the former New York City Mayor’s affirmative action forum in May. Prof. Harris and Prof. Crenshaw spoke about the misrepresentation of affirmative action as “reverse discrimination,” and the need to reconceive so-called “diversity programs” as tools for counteracting preferences built into institutions that benefit some Americans at the expense of others. Among the other participants at the forum were Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University and former President of the University of Michigan and Ted Shaw, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

(To watch the David Dinkins forum at Columbia University, click here.)


July 12th-15th:  A Multiracial and Multicultural Curriculum Conference at the Aspen Institute

AAPF co-founder Kimberle Crenshaw facilitated a national conference at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado in mid-July. Using the conceptual tools that came out of our March conference, Professor Crenshaw led a series of discussions on the right-wing assault on diversity and social justice programs. Moreover, she structured several discussions around the affirmative action video produced by the AAPF for our March conference, which she screened as part of a broader effort to disseminate the ideas generated during the March conference discussions.

March 2003: Affirmative Action Teach-In/Workshop Conference

Defenders of affirmative action have been facing their most critical challenge in over two decades. A great deal was at stake in the recent Supreme Court decision on the University of Michigan’s admissions policies, yet media coverage of this very important civil rights issue has been superficial, skewed, and under-informed by the facts about how affirmative action policies function, what their strongest justifications are, and what the consequences of retracting them are likely to be. Extensive media research conducted by the African American Policy Forum and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has revealed highly consequential distortion in the public debate on affirmative action. We have found, moreover, that this distortion lies not only in the misleading and patently false arguments made by affirmative action’s opponents, but in the reductive and decontextualized arguments put forth by prominent defenders of affirmative action as well. We have consolidated our research into several sets of multimedia materials, including a mainstream media newsclip video, highlighting distortions in the public debate on affirmative action; a collection of relevant articles, including several by AAPF’s Luke Harris, Kimberle Crenshaw, and Janine Jackson; and a packet of social science research on the importance of affirmative action. We intend to continue to distribute these materials widely, both at future AAPF events and by mail and email.

Nearly 180 people attended the conference in March. Among them were students, scholars, activists, lawyers, and journalists. Nearly 100 people attended the Thursday teach-in, which featured renowned progressive thinkers from around the country, and which demystified and contextualized the University of Michigan affirmative action cases. The smaller Friday workshop was a “closed door” strategy session designed to generate ideas for how best to counter the well-funded conservative assault on affirmative action policies. Our goal was to bring together a select group of influential scholars, activists, lawyers, and journalists - each with expertise in specific aspects of affirmative action advocacy and litigation – and to disseminate, through a variety of media, the suggestions for strategic intervention that would emerge out of a series of discussions. We are now in the dissemination phase of this project, and we are looking for funding sources that will help us take advantage of the increase in attention to affirmative action policies that has followed the recent Supreme Court decision. Several panelists have already informed us that they have found the insights and information generated at the workshop extremely useful in their efforts to combat new attacks on affirmative action in the media, the courts, and the classroom. To reach an even larger audience, we would like to post segments of the workshop on the web, and make transcripts available to the general public. In addition to spreading the word, this will also enhance our publicity for future workshops and teach-ins.

March 27, 2003: Teach-in

    The opening panel of the conference, “Understanding Grutter v. Bollinger,” broadened the terms of the discourse on the University of Michigan cases, challenging narrow and erroneous assumptions about affirmative action policies in higher education. Gerald Torres, who contributed to the drafting of the Texas “10-percent plan” - lauded by the Bush administration as a race-neutral alternative to affirmative action - spoke about the limitations of that plan (which guarantees admission to the University of Texas to the top ten-percent of every graduating high-school class) and the continuing need for race-conscious admissions policies in institutions of higher education.

Stanford University Professor of Psychology and distinguished social scientist, Claude Steele, who participated from California via video-teleconferencing, problematized universities’ over-reliance on what has been shown to be racially and culturally biased and otherwise predictively inaccurate measures of assessment, such as the SAT, LSAT and GRE. Steele, an expert witness in the university of Michigan cases, presented his groundbreaking research on “stereotype threat”: an empirically verifiable phenomenon characterized by a test-takers’ ability-inhibiting impression that he or she may be judged on the basis of a negative stereotype. In his presentation, Steele compellingly demonstrated several ways in which an over-reliance on standardized test scores can function as a “preference” for white men, one that is offset, albeit inadequately, by affirmative action programs.

Distinguished scholar and NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney, Ted Shaw, spoke about his role in court cases involving affirmative action dating back to the 1976 Bakke case. The watershed Bakke decision prohibited racial and gender “quotas” in institutions of higher education, but did not rule out race-conscious admissions policies, so long as such policies promoted legitimate “state interests,” including maintaining diverse student bodies. Regarded by many defenders of affirmative action as a great victory, Shaw brought what was “lost” in the Bakke case to the fore, namely, the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing “equal protection” to U.S. citizens, was designed in part to bring African Americans and women, along with other systematically marginalized and excluded social groups, into full citizenship.

Renowned historian, Eric Foner, provided a detailed account of the origins and history of affirmative action, and of the failure of the Supreme Court to place current affirmative action cases into an historical context. Challenging color-blind interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment, Foner showed how affirmative-action-related legislation in the U.S. had been both group-based and linked to the abolition of slavery at the time when this amendment was debated in congress – insofar as it was designed to help African Americans in particular overcome the systemic inequalities and forms of discrimination that constituted an important legacy of the institution of slavery.

Erika Woods and Anthony Solana, law students at UCLA, and Jory Steele, a recent graduate of Columbia University Law School and current legal activist, each presented synopses of the friend-of-the-court (Amicus) briefs to which they contributed. Woods and Solana illustrated the ways in which the precipitous decline in minority enrollment in California universities, caused by legislation (including Proposition 209) prohibiting race-conscious admissions procedures, has had deeply troubling adverse effects on the few minority students remaining in California colleges and graduate and professional schools.

Moderated by the AAPF’s Kimberle Crenshaw, our second panel, “Reconstructing the Rhetoric of Affirmative Action,” explored ways of bringing these and other ideas, which have been largely restricted to discussions in academic circles, further into the public arena. Janine Jackson began the discussion with a presentation of her research, for the AAPF and FAIR, on the media’s coverage of affirmative action. This research demonstrates definitively that the purportedly objective news reporting on affirmative action policies conducted by the major networks and newspapers in the U.S. have provided narrow, discussion-inhibiting accounts of these policies.

A representative for the Institute of Democracy Studies, Lee Cokorinos, provided a fascinating summary of his research on the right wing’s anti-affirmative action campaign over the past several decades. Of particular interest for our purposes was Cokorinos’ account of the Right Wing’s relatively recent shift from a strategy of attacking civil rights legislation on overtly racist and sexist grounds to a strategy of using “color-blind” civil rights rhetoric to undermine the moral force of contemporary civil rights initiatives aimed at correcting systemic inequality.

The AAPF’s Luke Harris articulated a powerful critique of the belief, widely held among both opponents and proponents of affirmative action, that affirmative action policies amount to “preferences” for minorities and women. Harris argued compellingly that affirmative action policies function as a prophylactic, protecting the victims of institutional discrimination, past and present, from further exclusion and injury, rather than as a preference. As Harris argued, arguments that take affirmative action to be a system of “preferenctial treatment” are founded on the notion that American society is fundamentally meritocratic. Thus, they undervalue or ignore entirely the myriad of ways in which the history of discrimination and exclusion in this country has resulted in a situation where minorities and women are situated differently than white men. This difference must be taken into account if substantive equality and equal opportunity are to be achieved in the U.S.


Affirmative Action Strategic Intervention Workshop: March 28, 2003

On the second day of the conference, Friday, March 28th, the AAPF held a series of panel discussions and small workgroups that together comprised our “Affirmative Action Strategic-Intervention Media Workshop.” Drawing on themes from the previous day’s “teach-in,” this workshop addressed the question of how most effectively to counter anti-affirmative action rhetoric in the mainstream and alternative media. We began with a morning roundtable discussion on media research conducted by Janine Jackson, who provided a critical overview of the various ways in which the affirmative action debate has been framed in the media. A video presentation of excerpts from recent public discourse on affirmative action was then screened as a focal point for a round-table discussion among a panel of experts. In the afternoon, participants broke into thematic workgroup sessions designed to integrate existing knowledge about affirmative action into discreet and responsive defenses of these important social policies. The workshop concluded with a series of mock interviews and talk shows in which participants used the insights gained from the day’s discussions to challenge the distorting rhetoric deployed by opponents of affirmative action.

(To read the conference transcripts, click here.)


March 1999: Claude Steele and Susan Sturm on the Myths of Standardized Testing

Recognizing that myths about testing are key in the affirmative action debate, the Initiative sponsored a lecture/discussion by Claude M. Steele, Ph.D., Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, and Chair of the Psychology Department at Stanford University. Steele is a leading authority on testing, race and gender who has conducted groundbreaking research undermining the assumption that standardized college entrance tests objectively measure the merit and future promise of women and minority students. Steele was joined by Professor Susan Sturm, then of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, whose work also illustrates how gender and racial stereotypes distort perceptions about the intellectual and professional capacities of many applicants to institutions of higher education.

January 1999: A Policy Forum Cosponsored Affirmative Action Symposium

As part of our ongoing work on affirmative action, the Policy Forum and the Columbia Law School Center for Public Interest Law co-sponsored this well-attended day-long Conference. The Conference was hosted by the Center for Constitutional Rights in honor of Professor Arthur Kinoy of the Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. The event brought together media professionals, activists, legal scholars and the general public for a forward-looking discussion about affirmative action. Kimberle Crenshaw, Luke Harris and Janine Jackson each made presentations on varying aspects of the public understanding of race-based remedies and their history, and the influence of right-wing efforts to roll back affirmative action policies in part by misrepresenting their goals and impact.

May 1998: Policy Forum Affirmative Action Discussion & Book Party

    The recent book by authors Mari Matsuda and Charles R. Lawrence, We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action, served as the launching point for a free-ranging discussion moderated by Kimberle Crenshaw. Crenshaw introduced authors Matsuda and Lawrence. After Matsuda and Lawrence’s presentation, Professor Luke Harris provided an analysis of their book that called for a re-envisioning of affirmative action away from the idea of ‘preferential treatment.’ Harris argued that equal opportunity must be promoted via the eradication of the patterns of institutional discrimination still extant in all spheres of American life. An open discussion of these points filled out the session.



Spring 1998: Americans For A Fair Chance (AFC)

    FAIR was commissioned to do research on media coverage of affirmative action by AFC, a coalition of civil rights groups engaged in a public education campaign around threats to affirmative action. Conducted by Janine Jackson, the research focused specifically on the virtual absence of women in the mainstream media’s treatment of affirmative action, and on the press’ inattention to the persistence of sexist and racist practices. AFC released a final report in October 1998 (See Supplemental Book I-D). Coalition leaders used the findings to obtain constructive editorial meetings with media outlets including Ms., Glamour, Parade and Latina Magazine. This report has provided useful documentation for the Initiative’s work on affirmative action; and it has also served to establish fruitful contacts between the Initiative and a number of civil rights research and policy organizations.

On July 6, 1997 on CNBC, Kimberle Crenshaw served as a guest co-host on “Equal Time.”

During that week, she was able to bring several new voices into the public debate (See Attached Video, “Equal Time”). One particularly successful contribution was made by former Legal Defense Fund attorney Connie Rice who was invited to the show to challenge the standard portrayal of affirmative action as ‘preferential treatment.’ The show has been rebroadcast and is now being circulated as one of the more successful attempts at reframing the debate on affirmative action. Rice has since left the Legal Defense Fund to head up a new organization that focuses on reframing the public debate on affirmative action.