Affirmative Action – A Response

This article is written in response to Gary Gutting’s NY Times opinion piece on affirmative action:

Mr. Gutting begins by asking if [someone] can change his mind. I doubt my ability to do so, as well as his sincerity in asking, but I appreciate that he has initiated a dialogue, regardless of its intent.

Note: The article tends to avoid precise language, but my inference is that by “minority” Mr. Gutting usually means “black descendant of former slaves”, and that the affirmative action he supports is directed primarily at the college admissions process.

I. In Search of Problems

After rightly admitting that affirmative action is necessarily contrary to a meritocratic system, and that the benefits of the latter are widely accepted, Gutting presents a justification for his contrarian position. We are told that affirmative action is needed to correct the underrepresentation of minorities in elite colleges and universities. Blacks account for fifteen percent of the college-age population, but only six percent of enrollees at the top 100 schools. The conclusion that action is needed is based upon:

1)  The aforementioned disparity has been consistent since 1980

2)  Underrepresentation does not seem to be a product of admissions office bias

Basically, there are not enough black people in the club, and a racist bouncer is not the cause. All other variables seem to have vanished from the earth. This form of analysis is structured to point only to the preconceived answer. It is a subtle deception; it states a quantitative fact (disparate ratios), but restricts all interpretation by preemptively ascribing causality. The underlying theme of any conceivable argument is “because racism.” There is no room for practical considerations, cultural factors, technological advances, or personal preferences.

These “progressive” arguments, made ostensibly for the benefit of minorities, are actually quite racially insensitive. It is entirely a construct of wealthy white people that attendance at one of the “Top 100” (as rated by them) propaganda centers is a measure of human value. How shocked they must be when a young black student expresses no desire to undertake a lifetime of debt for the “privilege” of going to Vassar. That he/she opts to get an affordable education at a less pretentious school is a sign of great decision-making, not a problem requiring state interference.

It never occurs to “progressives” that the vast majority of people do not share their beliefs, values, or ideals. It is not for lack of education that normal people fear government enforcement of a conformist (self-righteous narrow-minded sheltered white upper middle class) perspective as a universal truth.

II. Dictating Morality

Having established that assuming a crippling debt to undergo orthodox liberal indoctrination is the goal of every person, ever, we move onto the question of why we should bestow such a gift. Gutting presents it as “…an appeal to the moral demand to compensate for the damage done to minorities by along history of racial discrimination.” Simply stated, contemporary blacks in America suffer residual trauma from generations of mistreatment.

We are to believe that there is a pervasive sense of doubt and unease in every black mind that manifests itself in ways only known by omnipotent white overseers. Every academic obstacle encountered by every black person can be directly linked to these historical demons. How can we liberate our fellow citizens from this scourge that defies all worldly remedies? Easy. All you need is one acceptance letter from a nominally selective and moderately overpriced institution of higher learning.

It is terribly amusing that Mr. Gutting suggests that exposure to patronizing sympathy has a negative psychological effect on black children. How is it not patronizing to insist that all Americans with a certain level of melanin are utterly incapable of unassisted living? Later, an economic argument is made to support this position. Yes, slavery, racist laws, and restrictive real estate practices have contributed to generations of poverty. The government can conceivably quantify the consequences of former misdeeds, but it cannot assign a moral remedy. Why should we address the motivation of the former oppressors instead of the needs of the formerly oppressed?

III. In Search of Solutions

For the sake of argument, I will ignore my own convictions and accept everything in Gutting’s article as true. Negative discrimination caused all of these problems, so positive discrimination will fix them. We implement a robust affirmative action program and black attendance at top 100 colleges rises to 15 percent. What have we accomplished?

Whites have been overrepresented in colleges, business firms, government, and every other position of power since the founding of the republic. Millions of white people still live below the poverty line with no hope of social mobility. Somehow—mysteriously—the success of people with similar ancestry has failed to raise their own standard of living! Granted, it is not being offered as a panacea for all past wrongs, but does anyone actually benefit?

Not the black student who is entered into a program potentially beyond his/her ability. Not the professors who have to modify the pace of their classes. Not the school that may have to lower its standards and suffer a loss of reputation. In practice, all of this seems designed to increase resentment and prolong hostility. It is only a select group of pseudointellectuals who benefit, and even then only with a strong imagination. It provides a catalyst for “progressive” people to feel less guilty about their unearned wealth and undeserved acknowledgement. They can take pride in the paper benefits that they, through their magnanimity have bestowed upon the less fortunate. Finally, they have established credibility with their similarly misguided and insecure peers, and from the safety of their gated communities, have righted all the wrongs of their ignorant predecessors.

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