Sunday, April 28, 2013


In [the University of Texas] case, although colleges benefit from a diversity of ideas, to use skin colour as a proxy for this implies that all black people and all Chinese people view the world in a similar way. That suggests a bleak view of the human imagination.
Time to scrap affirmative action
So, I would submit, does American history.

In yet another tiresome complaint against the practice of Affirmative Action, The Economist states: "Governments should be colour-blind."

Really? Now, there is a new concept. But here's a statement that they don't make: Societies should be color-blind.

There is a lot about encoding racially-based preferences into law that turns out to be more trouble than it's really worth. But you're always going to have trouble dismantling them because they exist for a reason, and in nine times out of ten, that reason hasn't gone anywhere, regardless of how much progress has been made in the meantime.

The fundamental problem with most Affirmative Action programs is that they seek to balance what is understood as an active societal tendency to conflate the content of a persons character, their academic prowess, business acumen, or what-have-you with the color of their skin with an equally active counterbalancing force. As has been pointed out, this a difficult balancing act to manage, let alone master, and it creates any number of perverse incentives. But rather than simply assuming, as The Economist does, that you can concentrate on other areas, and the old prejudices and in-group preferences will simply evaporate (or that they already have), governments should focus their efforts on creating policies that obviate active discrimination in the culture at large. One of the few prejudices that people have that's stronger than their animosity for one another is their dislike of wasting time and effort on things that will not bear fruit.

Working to create a society in which discrimination is seen as simply useless will remove the barriers that Affirmative Action programs were designed to take down, but I think that they'll have the added benefit of removing the learned helplessness that dogs many minorities. This David Horsey cartoon from 2008 illustrates what I mean. If President Obama had been raised in a society of people who worried that they'd never see him succeed, he wouldn't have managed to get to a point that allowed him to be a role model.
We can't always wait for someone else to show us what can be done.
Most African-Americans are convinced that they live in a system that is so stacked against them that they need programs like Affirmative Action to get anywhere. In my own opinion, the fact that President Obama didn't grow up in that demotivating environment was crucial to his success, because he didn't see himself as mounting a quixotic crusade in the face of White opposition. Programs that allowed more African-Americans (and other minority groups) to feel (and, let's be sure, this is a feeling we're talking about) that they didn't need to somehow overcome a White majority they understand as hostile - and more importantly, ultimately in control of everything around them, including their opportunities - would do a lot to obviate the need to overtly race-based remediation programs.

Of course, I realize that what I'm asking for is not simple. So perhaps rather than simply having a sunny view of human imagination, it's time that we put it to work for us.

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