Affirmative Action in Theory and Practice: Issues of Power, Ambiguity, and Gender Versus Race

Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Reactions to affirmative action are, in part, a function of how recipients are perceived in American society as well as how recipients perceive themselves. Affirmative action for relatively powerless groups may be viewed negatively because their group membership is more salient than that of the powerful and because the stereotypes about them serve to perpetuate power asymmetries. Moreover, affirmative action for Blacks may be viewed even more negatively than affirmative action for women because race stereotypes tend to be more simplistic and less prescriptive than gender stereotypes. Black affirmative-action recipients also may understand affirmative-action policies differently than women recipients. Blacks may be more likely than women to feel entitled rather than unfairly helped. As a result, Blacks may be less likely to develop negative self-evaluations due to affirmative action. Regardless of selfperceptions, affirmative-action policies are held suspect. Suspicions surrounding recipients’ ability to fit in, their competence, their job placements, and their promotions all affect how difficult it will be to implement successfully affirmative-action policies. Researchers have suggested that the most effective method for dealing with these suspicions is to provide more explicit and detailed information regarding affirmative-action policies and recipient qualifications. No research has yet adequately addressed why this information is not being provided, or how this information should be provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-220
Number of pages20
JournalBasic and Applied Social Psychology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1994

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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