The Hypocrisy of Affirming Affirmative Action?

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has come out of the closet. He now admits to self-destructive tendencies within black America. I saw parts of a recent special he did in which he goes into a little more detail on this. One of the observations he made was that many younger black people today are dependent on affirmative action, and it's bad for their own potential to do well on their own. He thinks this is unfortunate, yet he doesn't bring himself to condemn affirmative action as bad, even if its harmful effects are obvious to him.

He expresses a far too typical attitude among black liberals (to avoid the label of not being black? -- he explicitly mentions Clarence Thomas in the process, who often does get it put that way about him). Here's the bad argument he gives:

1. X is bad.
2. I benefited from X.
3. Therefore, I can't speak out against X without being hypocritical.

Now insert slavery in for the X. Is a slaveowner who realizes the badness of slavery a hypocrite for changing his mind and speaking out against it? Gates's argument is of the same form. I've heard the same argument from other people, and I just can't understand why they think the conclusion follows. It seems to me that the denial of the conclusion straightforwardly follows from the first premise, and thus the second premise is irrelevant.

I think the hypocrisy goes the other direction. He's come to a conclusion that something is harming his people, and he won't bother to do anything about it. Why? The answer seems to be that he's gained because of it. Isn't hypocrisy when there's a discrepancy between what you do and what you say?

Thanks to La Shawn Barber for the link.

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My fellow blogger over at Parablemania addressed the claim that blacks who benefit from "affirmative action" are hypocrites for denouncing it: Read More


There is nothing wrong with affirmative action. Affirmative action is the next step in making up for slavery and the suffering that minorities and women went through in America's past. It may seem unfair but wasn't slavery? People say it gives black people an unfair advantage because they get benefits they �didn't earn�... well what about the kids who grew up in rich families (not many of which are black) with educated parents who know what to expose their children to in order to make them successful? Did the children earn those parents? Did they earn their parents money? Is that not also an unfair advantage? All affirmative action is, is the equalizer needed to recover from the past.

You misunderstand the basic background of my claim. Henry Louis Gates had just admitted self-destructive tendencies within the black community, one of which was that affirmative action has very harmful consequences and was almost ready to admit that it should be done away with. This doesn't require endorsing the argument people usually use against affirmative action based on fairness. I think that argument ultimately fails. I do think Gates's concerns are really good ones, worth not dismissing as easily as he does.

His response is most interesting simply because he doesn't accept the consequences of his admission. He can't bring himself to propose getting rid of affirmative action, no matter how bad the consequences for the black community. The reason is that he benefited from it. Given all that, I think everything in my post follows.

I'm working on a post addressing all the arguments you mention. Due to my heavy end-of-semester grading load, it's been put on hold. Grades are due Friday, so I hope to get it done by the beginning of next week at the latest. It's going to be pretty comprehensive. I think the arguments for affirmative action are much better than most conservatives will admit. I also think it was the right action at the time it was initiated. I think it now leads to more harm than good, at least in the way it's practiced. California and a couple other states have done away with the current form of affirmative action, and I think the result has confirmed what my final conclusion will be.

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