Race: August 2004 Archives

Note: See Part I for some context on this series.

The first argument for affirmative action is based on seeing it as a remedy for discrimination. Affirmative action can be implemented to prevent qualified applicants from being passed over because of race. I don't think anyone in the debate disagrees with affirmative action for this purpose. Even Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas, who think it's always wrong to lower standards based on race, think it's ok to use affirmative action to require people not to raise standards based on race. The problem with using this argument to support affirmative action in higher education is that no one in college admissions discriminates against underrepresented minorities. Current policies go the other way, and those in positions to influence who will be hired in admissions offices would prefer to hire people who approve of affirmative action. So this could be a good argument for affirmative action in hiring but not for college admissions.

One of the topics I've been teaching for the past year or so is affirmative action. I reviewed a lot more material on it during the spring semester in a short period of time than any previous time teaching it, and I've had the opportunity to teach on it this summer after having done all that. As a result, I think I've got a good presentation now of the various considerations offered for and against it, and I think I've figured out that a balanced presentation should conclude with a choice between two options. Either the arguments for affirmative action are strong enough that the negatives get outweighed, or the negatives are so serious that the reasons for affirmative action aren't good enough. It really does seem to me that those are the only two reasonable positions. Some think affirmative action is always wrong by its very nature. Others think that our history and current circumstances don't just make it a good idea but make it essential to racial justice. Those two absolute positions don't seem to me to hold water, even though at times in the past I've held both of them (not at the same time, of course).

In the case of hiring, choosing people for positions of influence, etc., I can see some forms of affirmative action as worthwhile and even sometimes necessary. This can't involve lowering standards a lot, since the people selected must be qualified, but it can involve lowering them enough to find qualified people of underrepresented races if having them there is worthwhile enough. If you see race as a qualification, this argument is easier to make, but I think that's harder to do than someone people make it sound. I also think it's easier to do than some people would like. So I'll end up taking an unusually complicated view on hiring and qualifications, which in the end will probably offend conservatives and liberals alike. When it comes to college and university admissions, however, I think the negatives are so bad that I think the Universtity of California system did the right thing to cancel race-based affirmative action in favor of income-based policies. It will take some great effort to explain why I think both these things, so you'll have to bear with me as I work through a number of different issues. In this post, I want to deal with a couple more preliminary issues and then list the arguments for and against affirmative action that I'll analyze fully in forthcoming posts.


| | Comments (3)

Eugene Volokh has a nice response to those who like to throw around the term 'self-hating' for those who criticize groups they belong to. People call Michelle Malkin a self-hater for her surprising defense of WWII Japanese interment camps. I can't agree with her stance on that issue, but Volokh is right. Nothing about this counts as self-hating. Clarence Thomas and other black conservatives frequently receive the same sort of criticism.

The argument for using such a label seems to me to go like this:

1. X person belongs to group G.
2. X says some things that are critical against G.
3. X must therefore hate G.
4. Therefore, X hates X's own group.
5. Therefore, X hates X.

This is such a poor argument that Volokh is right to take it apart piece by piece.

Eugene Volokh makes some insightful comparisons between different kinds of discrimination. Many people create an analogy between sexual orientation discrimination (e.g. in the Boy Scouts) and race discrimination. The argument is that we outlaw race discrimination because people have no control over their race, and therefore we have to outlaw discrimination along any other lines caused by things outside people's control. Aside from the assumption that sexual orientation is entirely outside one's control (which I would say is at best only partly and sometimes true), there are too many kinds of discrimination that we don't have laws against that involve things outside a person's control for this sort of argument to work without raising the objection that such a principle would require changing too many laws to apply consistently. Discrimination according to height, age, sex, ugliness, and many other factors might be morally wrong, but we don't have universal laws against such practices. If we did, Hollywood would be put out of business, but so many other things we do would require serious revision, such as good things like men's and women's bathrooms, unenforceable things including how people vote for president (which tends to favor the taller candidate), and bad things that no one wants to outlaw such as wanting to marry someone attractive. What's worse is the fact that some of the areas where we really want to stop discrimination involve choice, such as religion or ideology, so whether someone really can change something is neither necessary nor sufficient for whether we should have laws against discriminating on that basis. A more careful and honest argument is necessary for the case of sexual orientation discrimination, one that acknowledges this.

President Bush has revealed that his opposition to what's commonly called affirmative action (but not what he calls affirmative action, which is simply seeking out more candidates from unrepresented groups) is firmly consistent. One fallacious argument against removing affirmative action is that people are given a boost in admissions processes if they have family members who attended the institution. (It's fallacious because the existence of one practice you don't agree with doesn't necessarily mean another one is ok. If they're both wrong for the same reasons, then the existence of legacy admissions doesn't mean we should retain affirmative action. It might simply mean getting rid of both.)

Now I think it's in a university's best interests to consider this sort of factor, as much as it is to consider someone's soccer or French horn abilities. I think some occasions of considering race are a good idea. But Bush's view on these matters is merit only, and that requires getting rid of legacies. It's nice to see that he's saying that publicly. Anyone who takes his stance on race preferences should, to be fair, give reasons why legacy preferences are ok if they aren't also going to oppose both. He's taken the more straightforward approach in opposing both. Of course, this won't be publicized much. So far the only place I've seen it is at Jon Mandle's post at Crooked Timber three days after the CNN story and two days ago.

Oprah just had a segment on black people in Nova Scotia. Like most black people in the U.S., they have their own community, including their own churches. They're descendants of slaves from the U.S. Nova Scotia was a stop on the underground railroad. Canada outlawed slavery before the U.S. did. What was shocking to me was how these people talked. They sounded just like any other Canadian would. There was absolutely nothing I could detect of standard Black English inflections.

Why might this be? I have no easy explanation. Black English is to be found in any large enough community of black Americans, with regional differences. In the South, you have Southern lengthening of syllables and more of a drawl. In California, you have standard West Coast vowels. But in Canada, at least in Nova Scotia, you have the ordinary Nova Scotian accent without any of the usual inflections of Black English. I suspect it must have something to do with cultural differences and more ease in identifying as normal Canadians, with American blacks having ess of that ease of identifying as normal Americans. Some of that may be due to racist history and some due to cultural opposition to becoming part of what's viewed as "white culture". Given that racism would have been just as present in Nova Scotia, I'd expect more of the latter. I wonder if this counts as evidence for the view that resistance to "acting white" is a key concern among many black Americans, which then slows down the cultural acceptance of elements mainstream society in black communities.

Scroll to the bottom of this Chicago Sun-Times piece on the Alan Keyes acceptance of the Republican nomination for Peter Fitzgerald's seat. They asked Barack Obama's campaign spokesman what he thought of this whole business. He said, "Are they busing people in from Maryland?"

Hmm. Now it's time for audience participation. Is this a racist comment? If it's not, does it give in to racial narratives that are sufficiently harmful that it counts as being part of a racist system even if the person uttering it isn't to count as being a racist? Consider the arguments I gave about that awful Condi Rice poster as you formulate your response. I don't want votes for whether it's racist or not. I'm looking for arguments, i.e. reasons backing up what you think.

Update: Here's an additional question. Consider the following quote from a black comedian, retreived from the memory vaults of The Gnu. Is it racist? If so, why? If not, why not? Here's the joke: "I like sports but not hockey, because the only black thing gets hit with sticks. However, I do like golf."

Judge Pickering, victim of Democratic politicking in the Senate, now has a temporary position as a federal judge. The primary reason Democratic senators opposed even giving him a Senate vote was from one case of two cross-burners, one who was only an accomplice who got a harsher treatment than the other who was the real driving force behind the incident. Pickering wanted to see the accomplice treated less badly than the main provacateur. Democrats on the Senate Juiciary Committee used this as an excuse to pretend Pickering is a racist, even though he has a strong record in favor of civil rights. It was some of the most shameful misrepresentation I've seen in the current Senate lineup, in the same category of worrying about John Ashcroft merely because he's an evangelical Christian.

Stuart Buck reports on Pickering's first decision as a federal judge on the issue of segregation and discrimination. Here are some choice quotes:

Poverty Gene

| | Comments (0)

According to a candidate for Congress in TN, there is such a thing. He prefers to speak euphemistically of "less favored races". This guy's about as far away from either party as you can get, probably belonging in the Constitution Party or something, but since no one was willing to oppose him until too late to get on the ballot, he's actually gotten the Republican nomination. This is one race where I'm cheering on a longtime Democratic incumbent, who really has no chance of losing anyway (which is why no one bothered to run against him in 2the first place except this yahoo).

White Liberal Racism

| | Comments (0)

Make that rich, white, liberal racism. Janeane Garofalo has joined the ranks now, calling a black conservative a House Negro simply because he supported the Iraq war. I've argued before that this is flat-out racism. I'd like to add one more argument now.

I guess Garofalo would say bad things about anyone who supported this conflict. But the particular term she used here assumes that there's something different about his support of this military conflict. Somehow he gets a morally worse simply because he's black. Isn't that, totally apart from my arguments in my earlier post, enough to show that some sort of racism is going on here?



Powered by Movable Type 5.04