How a couple of middle-aged white women got their first job.
Date: Wed, 10 May 95 23:21:26 PDT
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: How a couple of middle-aged white women got their first job.
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
By Richard Reeves
Nationally Syndicated Columnist
I heard a couple of middle-aged white women talking the other night about
affirmative action. The first one, in her mid-40s, was talking about
getting her first job out of college: "I don't know whether it was a quota
or whatever. But that's why they were looking for a girl. They had to
get a girl, and I was really cheap."
The second one, in her early 50s, was nodding in agreement. She said
"Well, pre-affirmative action...when I was going around, looking for these
jobs early on, people said out loud and without hesitation, 'We don't hire
women to do that. We will not hire women.'"
The first woman is Jane Pauley. The second is Cokie Roberts.
Their conversation was, as they say, a reality check on what this country
(or "the workplace") was actually like before the civil rights laws of
the 1960s and 1970s. Discrimination against anyone not male and white was
simply the way things were done. Affirmative action was a weapon of
fairness and freedom, not some crazed scheme to bring illiterates to
Harvard and then move them to corporate vice presidencies.
It was, in a way, America showing the best and worst in the national
heart: offering opportunity and freedom to millions who had little enough
of both, and trying to turn around (or buy off) minorities, particularly
black men, who were moving toward the low-level rebellion of riots and
It worked -- and not for just talented white women. Unfortunately, many
people seem to have forgotten, or too young to remember what this place
was like before "equal opportunity" moved from rhetoric to law.
Affirmative action was a great American idea and, on balance, it has done
and continues to do indefinitely more good than harm.
Appropriately, Pauley and Roberts, who went from knocking on locked doors
to news stardom, chose to talk about some of this on the medium that,
reluctantly, made them rich and famous.
And, appropriately, the questions that drew them out were asked by a
woman. Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, was substituting for
the host of "Larry King Live" on CNN and asked questions most men were
not. "Let me ask you about something that is near and dear to my heart
and is a hot topic across the country," said Richards. "Where would you
be today Jane Pauley?"
"I would be teaching high school English somewhere and I would not be good
at it," Pauley answered. "It got a little tiresome, but I used to say my
motto was 'Praise be to the FCC,' because I got my job at WISH-TV in
Indianapolis because (they) had to find a woman. It was the FCC (Federal
Communications Commission) license renewal time, and there were no women
in the newsroom."
"Cokie, what was the effect of affirmative action on your career?" asked
"I was told," Roberts said, "We will not hire women to deliver the news.
Their voices are not as authoritative. We don't hire women as writers.
Men would have to work for them and we can't have that.'
"The women of my age took it. We didn't think it was odd, either...It is
interesting to us now that it is said we are where we are only because we
are women, because for a long time we couldn't be anywhere because we were
Roberts talked about the Republican women in Congress, saying: Look what
they've done...They've gotten child support enforcement into the welfare
bill. They have gotten extended funds for child care. They have
introduced legislation to talk about making it illegal for insurance
companies to discriminate against victims of domestic violence. They are
now in power and their using that power."
More power to them -- that was the point of affirmative action, and it's
a point that's still worth making.
© 1995 Peter Langston