Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On Race and Affirmative Action

In response to some of my more vocal and strident views in my Equal Protection class Monday as we were discussing Affirmative Action, a student said this in an E-mail to the professor:

I cannot help but feel that the resistance to affirmative action is to ensure the historical dominance of whites in every facet of society (education, employment, etc.). It seems to me a very basic issue of supremacy and ensuring that it is maintained for the historically dominant group.

How this can be reconciled with the fact that Clarence Thomas vehemently opposes Affirmative Action is beyond me. The only answer is that he's an "Uncle Tom", a traitor to his race because he had the temerity to think for himself and not vote in lock step with "his people". More personally, this is nothing more than a fancy way of saying that those who oppose Affirmative Action, people who are almost universally conservative or libertarian, are therefore racist at best, and probably have white robes in their closets to boot. This would be offensive if it wasn't so silly. But since I don't particularly like being called a white supremacist, and since I initially intended to blog on this when Hillary came out with her plantation comments, I'll respond. Publicly.

The only way to seriously hold such a view is to not actually know any conservatives, or at least to adamantly refuse to ever consider for a moment that their ideas have been arrived at in good faith. While I would never support it, you can see why people make the argument to have an "ideological affirmative action" program in colleges. Those who believe all conservatives are Jerry Falwell clones who "we all know sit around in a back room and talk about how you can keep the brown people down" (something I was told in earnest at a pub debate last year) would be in for a rude awakening.

The student said that she considered the idea of a meritocracy "illusory." I couldn't disagree more. I believe that every single person born in America, no matter their race, gender, economic circumstance, level of school funding, etc. Can do whatever they want with their lives. Are some of them starting (a lot) further behind than others? Sure. Will life be unfair to some? Without question. Can there ever be a "pure" meritocracy? Never. Does that mean American minorities are "helpless" or that they "cannot help themselves"? Not on your life. Don't believe it. Many have more obstacles to overcome than say, John Kerry or George Bush did. (Ronald Reagan comes to mind, as does Clarence Thomas himself.) Some will not be able to recover easily from bad choices early in life, like Ted Kennedy did when he escaped serious jail time after Chappaquiddick. But they can make it. They can improve their circumstances. And they can go the distance.

Jim Crow laws change that equation, because the obstacles they created were particularly high and so publicly sanctioned. But even as odious and powerful as they were, those obstacles could be overcome, and were in many cases (such as the parents and grandparents of our current Secretary of State and darling of '08-looking Republicans). Those laws are now in our past, and things have improved. We should continue to be vigilant against state sponsored and/or endorsed racism, and I believe we are.

There is still racism in this country, and we are right to condemn it. But I disagree that racism is still so widespread and endemic to our culture that it can account for the racial disparities that still exist. I don't believe Affirmative Action works because it does not address the underlying cause of the problem in the year 2006. Instead, it addresses the underlying cause of the problem as it was in 1968. Maybe it was the right thing to do back then. But it cannot now be said that nothing has changed, or that it is any longer a viable solution.

The reason for the initial racial disparity was without question racism. But the reason for its perpetuation into the 21st Century has been a culture that is afraid to condemn black entertainers from using "nigger" in every other sentence. It's a very liberal educational structure that fears standards and refuses to insist that all Americans learn to speak and use English correctly, and those who would tell Bill Cosby to "chill out" when he notes "ebonics" for the insipid evil it is. It's a 70% illegitimacy rate among blacks (Sen Moynihan noted was a "crisis" when it was only 30%). It's overwhelming black-on-black violence. It's an NAACP who has become a faithful ATM to a single political party, one which takes black voters for granted. It's the lack of condemnation of the likes of Louis Ferakkan for his anti-Semitic and inflammatory rhetoric. It is also an overreaching government, where administrative law is used to keep out competition or to ensure union dominance.

But the worst enemy of true integration is that there are large and powerful political forces in this country which have a vested interest in convincing us that (a) we are still a profoundly racist society, and (b) that unless we continue to elect them, that the problem will never be solved. The problem is that they don't actually WANT the problem to be solved, because then they would lose their morally compelling crusade and near monopoly on black votes. It's kind of like the state relationship with tobacco taxes, where they want people to stop smoking, but not really.

Republicans are guilty too. Blacks are of secondary concern, because they know those votes will never go to them, so why address their concerns? (Or more accurately, bother talking to them more to sell them on the belief that minorities will in fact benefit greatly from conservative policies?) They tried a little harder this time, but not enough. A black vote more "up for grabs" politically would do more for black interests than all the racial quotas in the world.

That's why black conservatives are attacked so viciously. Too many examples that don't fit the "victim" paradigm of black people who "need our help, and ONLY our help" threaten their already fading power. And if it's a white conservative? Well, then we must just be trying to maintain our superiority. Talk about ad hominem!

Affirmative Action may help a racial balance in the short term, but it does nothing to actually solve the problems underlying racial disparities. And there are second, third, and fourth order consequences, as Justice Thomas noted so eloquently in his dissent, that make the programs a net loss for racial minorities. And voting for feel-good legislation that makes one feel less racist, despite negative consequences to the racial group one purports to help is not something to be proud of. Results matter.

The USA will never be not-racist enough for liberals. We will never have a society that it perfectly fair. When we charge government with actively enforcing fairness at all levels of life, instead of getting out of everyone's way, they have to keep adjusting, continuously intruding, and always creating both innocent victims and new excuses for failure from both whites and blacks.

One of the things that galls me the most is this concept that blacks in this country must be "taken care of". We "take care" of animals, children, and property. How arrogant and insulting to apply that to adult citizens! Let's give all Americans of every color enough credit as full grown human beings and citizens to finally give all of us full credit for our accomplishments, our failures, and our actions. Because Affirmative Action is antithetical to that goal, I reject it. Without even having to put on a white robe.


SirWhoopass said...

A minor clarification on a point you seem to imply (and I am not countering your main premise that quota-based systems are harmful, as I tend to agree in most cases)...

Ebonics was not a language taught by the Oakland school district. This is a popular myth propogated by poor media coverage and political commentary.

The proposal was to teach standard English to inner-city children (primarly black) using ebonics as a point for comparison. Just as one would teach English to a German student using the German language. Using local dialects to teach another language has been found to be quite successful.

Orrin Johnson said...

Very true. I meant it as a short hand for the pop slang most commonly attributed to "black culture", and was not referencing the specific Oakland proposal.

PubliusRex said...

I don't have a problem with a policy of giving some positive consideration to the obstacles overcome by individuals in their lives. However, looking at candidates one by one, skin color is and should be irrelevant to that criterion.

Orrin Johnson said...

I agree with that. Giving someone the edge because they overcame some obstacle on account of their race is fine. But to make ANY determination that begins and ends with race alone is to be condemned, and hopefully someday soon we'll recognize that the Constitution does just that.