Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Race Codes

This sounds to me a lot like, well, racism:

Even better, the new, revised version has even added compliance with the “Eighty Percent/Whole Person utilization rule,” and according to the description on the company’s web site (linked above), the new version is also “Compatible with New Race Codes.”

Race codes, eh? An excellent comment from the link reads as follows:

Good gravy, back when the Constitution was written, black slaves were deemed to count as 60% of a person for purposes of apportionment. It's enough to make us doubt that there is such a thing as progress. Before my stepfather died at age 93, he used to say he feared for the future of the republic. How right he was, how wrong I was to doubt him.

It's sort of odd how people take such cavalier attitudes towards race quotas when they're ostensibly used to "benefit" minorities (and only favored ones, at that; remember, Asians have faced severe discrimination in the past within this country and without, and yet they're officially discriminated against by our colleges). The language against racism as used by defenders of affirmative action is harsh, uncompromising, and strident, as it should be. Whence the difference when discussing racial quotas whose goal, though said to be to the benefit of certain favored groups, is to disadvantage some groups so greatly that other groups are thereby advantaged?

The commonly used arguments for affirmative action are in my opinion wrong. I'll try to briefly explain this below.

The "Disadvantaged" Argument

A rationale for affirmative action cannot be that as the groups now to be advantaged were once discriminated against, current discrimination of others on behalf of these is just. Aside from the sheer injustice of this argument, Asians and Jews were also discriminated against in the past, and yet are currently discriminated against under universities' affirmative action programs. "But," the logic proceeds, "those groups haven't faced the degree of discrimination in this country that blacks have." That's true, but Hispanics are also heavily advantaged in higher education, and most of them haven't been in this country for very long. Additionally, shouldn't there be a grading curve of advantage if that argument is to be used, with Catholics and Hispanics receiving some affirmative action, Jews and Asians receiving a bit more, blacks receiving even more, Native Americans receiving the most, and white Protestants receiving none? There would have to be further subdivisions to account for the different historical experiences within the groups themselves. The hypocrisy here is manifest.

Theoretically, why is this argument wrong? It's wrong because the historical disadvantage of certain groups need not affect the current performance of individuals of that group. The Armenians and the Jews have suffered genocides and extreme discrimination throughout history in all parts of the world, but their relative performances do not seem to have been affected. The same can be said of blacks. As Thomas Sowell points out, it is likely that the current under-performance of blacks is not due to prior discrimination but to a culture inherited from white "rednecks" in the South, who brought it over from certain areas in England. Nor is this argument that of some cook; it is accepted by the widely acclaimed Harvard professor Steven Pinker, among many others. It's a good one to use against people like Charles Murray, who argue that the under-performance of minorities is in part genetically inherited, and people like Jesse Jackson, who argue that all black under-performance, then and now, is due to white racism.

More importantly, however, it's generally quite unjust to advantage an individual of a certain group at the disadvantage of an individual of another group solely because the former group was in the past discriminated against. While there are some important exceptions (I would have supported giving some reparations to blacks immediately following the Civil War and to Japanese-Americans interned in camps in World War II, where the money to those groups would otherwise have gone to the good of all), this principle hold true in most circumstances. (The examples I presented aren't quite deviations from this general principle, but more later, perhaps.) This argument was well stated by Former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978:

We have never approved a classification that aids persons perceived as members of relatively victimized groups at the expense of other innocent individuals in the absence of judicial, legislative, or administrative findings of constitutional or statutory violations... Without such findings of constitutional or statutory violations, it cannot be said that the government has any greater interest in helping one individual than in refraining from harming another. Thus, the government has no compelling justification for inflicting such harm.

Petitioner [the University of California] does not purport to have made, and is in no position to make, such findings. Its broad mission is education, not the formulation of any legislative policy or the adjudication of any particular claims of illegality... Isolated segments of our vast governmental structures are not competent to make those decisions...

Hence, the purpose of helping certain groups whom the faculty perceived as victims of "societal discrimination" does not justify a classification that imposes disadvantages upon persons like respondent [Allan Bakke] who bear no responsibility for whatever harm the beneficiaries of the special-admissions program are thought to have suffered. To hold otherwise would be to convert a remedy heretofore reserved for violations of legal rights into a privilege that all institutions throughout the nation could grant at their pleasure to whatever groups are perceived as victims of societal discrimination. That is a step we have never approved.

The "Diversity" Argument

This argument really isn't that strong. Unless you can argue that a national interest in permitting elite, private institutions to admit more students of certain skin colors at the expense of students of other skin colors is so powerful as to justify racial discrimination, then it's bunk. It's extraordinarily simplistic; what is diversity? Why is diversity of skin color to be used as a proxy for diversity of outlook? Clarence Thomas vetted in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1:

If our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.
Like the dissent, the segregationists repeatedly cautioned the Court to consider practicalities and not to embrace too theoretical a view of the Fourteenth Amendment. And just as the dissent argues that the need for these programs will lessen over time, the segregationists claimed that reliance on segregation was lessening and might eventually end. What was wrong in 1954 cannot be right today.

The guy pulls no punches.

There are others, but these are the two most commonly used. There is one argument for affirmative action which, though rarely used, is actually much stronger than the above two, but I'll attempt to tackle that one another day. Remind me!

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