Why it is irrational to oppose affirmative action on the basis that it stigmatizes blacks
We are all sick to death of the mainstream-conservative argument that racial preferences for blacks are bad because they “stigmatize” blacks and harm them in a variety of other ways as well. The reality, as discussed by Richard Hoste below, is that affirmative action does not unjustly stigmatize all its black recipients, but only its black recipients who would have reached the same academic and professonal positions without affirmative action, and such blacks are a small minority of AA recipients. Secondly, as brutal as it sounds to say this, AA only stigmatizes blacks in the eyes of whites. Try to find a black beneficiary of AA who says that AA is bad and should be ended because it has stigmatized him and his fellow blacks; outside of a minuscule number of black conservatives, such blacks are virtually non-existent. What sense does it make to say that blacks are harmed by affirmative action, when the reality is that affirmative action provides tremendous benefits to blacks, and they will threaten to tear the lungs out of anyone who tries to end it?
The fact of blacks’ strong attachment to AA leads me to qualify the statement that only deserving blacks are unjustly stigmatized by AA. While the statement is correct as far as it goes, it is not correct insofar as it implies that other blacks are not stigmatized or harmed by AA. To anyone who believes in objective morality, all recipients of AA are stigmatized. The minority of the recipients who would have gotten where they are without AA are stigmatized because their abilities are doubted in a way that they wouldn’t have been in the absence of AA. And the majority of the recipients are stigmatized, not because they are unjustly seen as being less deserving than they really are, but because they are justly seen as having received very substantial unjust and unearned advancement. With or without their own consent, the AA system turns its recipients into thieves, recipients of stolen goods. And once it gives them those goods, and their place in life and their identity become dependent on those goods, they naturally become attached to them and don’t want to give them up and will start to justify their possession of them, either by lying and saying that they personally deserve them; or by saying that they deserve them because of white discrimination against blacks in the past. The upshot is that the AA system utterly corrupts blacks as moral beings and turns them into moral monsters. This, I think, is what well-meaning conservatives mean when they say that AA stigmatizes blacks.
But, again, the problem with the view I’ve just described is that virtually the only people who look at this situation from the perspective of objective morality and see how the blacks are being corrupted by it are whites. Blacks don’t feel that they are being corrupted. Blacks feel they’re getting all kinds of great things to which they’re entitled because of the evils of past white supremacy or present white privilege. That being the case, the preachy conservative argument that blacks are harmed by AA only serves to underscore white conservatives’ blindness to blacks’ own reality, and makes blacks despise them all the more.
Why do mainstream conservatives persist in ignoring blacks’ clearly expressed feelings in the matter? One reason is that to admit that most blacks simply want whatever advantages they can get, and don’t care about the individual-rights, meritocratic system in which conservative whites believe, would undercut the very basis for including blacks in that system. After all, the fundamental condition of a Lockean society based on man’s natural rights is that the members of the society recognize other people’s natural rights, not just their own. Furthermore, to admit the unhappy truth that blacks will fight for affirmative action with all their strength would be to admit that AA can only be ended by whites taking a leading role in America and acting against the expressed desires and perceived self-interests of most blacks. If mainstream conservatives acknowledged that maintaining or restoring an individualist-meritocratic system would require white political and cultural dominance, their race-blind, Martin Luther King dream of America would be kaput.
Now Richard Hoste has come up with an ingenious new way of showing the falsity of the conservative idea that AA harms blacks. Through a series of steps he calculates that ten out of eleven blacks admitted to the nation’s six top law schools were admitted despite having LSAT scores lower than those schools’ normal minimum. He continues:
So there are about ten undeserving blacks at the top six law schools for every one deserving case. This puts things in perspective for people who say that they oppose affirmative action because it stigmatizes African-Americans. Is it more rational to care more about the feelings of one black out of eleven who gets where he is based on merit than the ten whites and Asians who lose their spot to a beneficiary of the system? Only if the self-esteem of one black is worth more than the livelihoods of ten non-NAMs! [non-Asian minorities]That’s neat, and here’s another way the argument can be phrased. Is it rational to say that affirmative action at top law schools hurts blacks by stigmatizing deserving blacks as undeserving, when in reality ten out of eleven blacks at those schools are not deserving, and by being admitted there they are gaining an enormous benefit in life that they otherwise would not have had?
Hoste goes on to say that at the fourteen top law schools, undeserving blacks outnumber deserving blacks by a ratio of five to one. He further calculates that
About 300 Ice People (mostly whites) are locked out of [the top fourteen law schools] every fall to make room for blacks.Pointing out that admission to a top-fourteen law school is a prerequisite for a significant law career in this country, he goes on to show the financial impact on the future of a black admitted by AA to a top fourteen law school, versus the financial future of a deserving white excluded from a top fourteen law school to make way for an undeserving black.
Here are some of my past blog posts and articles critiquing the mainstream conservative understanding of why AA is bad:
James P. writes:
You wrote:Mike writes:
I would just like to point out that you make the unfortunate mistake of thinking about Affirmative Action only in the context of blacks and whites. AA is not about “helping” blacks, it’s about hurting white men. Virtually every group other than white Heterosexual Christian men benefits from affirmative action, either explicitly or implicitly. Women get AA. First-generation Hispanic immigrants get AA. Gays, Asians, and Muslims get implicit AA through our anti-discrimination and “diversity” programs. I noticed that one of your earlier commenters gave a statistic that showed blacks overwhelmingly oppose “racial preferences” while supporting affirmative action. That’s because the idea of affirmative action in this country has become synonymous with giving blacks a “leg up”—when in practice it’s just a way for the entrenched powers to protect themselves from competition from the only demographic group that poses a threat: white men.Mike continues:
To clarify my point, framing affirmative action as a way to help native-born blacks is how the practice maintains its legitimacy. When you look at how it works in practice—giving blanket preferences to Hispanic immigrants, African immigrants, white women, and basically everyone over white heterosexual Christian men—I don’t think that any person with a sense of justice can honestly support it. There is evidence that suggests nearly two-thirds of all black affirmative Action college admissions slots are given to African immigrants, many of whom come from wealthy African elite families. We have to dispel the myth that affirmative action exists for the benefit of native-born blacks, because in reality they may well be the group it benefits least.LA replies:
‘You are correct of course. This article emphasized the black angle because that’s the one that is most often discussed and it is the filter through which most people see the issue. Also, one way to delegitimize the extension of AA beyond blacks to other groups is to show the injustice of AA for blacks.LA to Richard Hoste:
Last night I posted something on your article. But I kept expanding it, and as a result, the part where I discuss you is now less central to the piece than it was originally. Sorry about that. The article kept growing and took on a shape of its own. I do mention you at the beginning.Richard Hoste replies:
It’s alright. I’m glad that you got the most important point. Stigmatized blacks who would’ve got where they are without AA are very rare.Jonathan W. writes:
The problem with the affirmative action debate is that it’s almost always framed as “Giving an advantage to poor blacks who didn’t have the same opportunities as rich whites.” Of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that the bulk of the black beneficiaries of affirmative action are from middle class to upper middle class families, and also that there are many poor whites as well. Further, it’s a common sentiment from both conservatives and liberals that they would support affirmative action if it was based on socioeconomic status, and not race. However, white kids from the bottom income bracket consistently outscore black kids from the top income bracket on the SAT and other standardized tests. The liberals that run academia know this, and consequently know that an admissions policy that utilizes affirmative action by income only will result in an entirely white and Asian class. The liberals’ main objective to affirmative action is to increase the representation of blacks and Hispanics in our schools and workplaces, not to “correct” any past discrimination or further any sense of justice as they may claim.LA replies:
And that is the main point of the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which racial preferences are justified solely on the basis that expanding diversity is an educational and societal value. But as I pointed out in my article on Grutter, the proponents of race preferences play a double game, going back and forth between the diversity argument and the argument that blacks have this coming to them because of past discrimination.LA writes:
The larger question to address is: what is to be done about this? Which leads to an even larger question: can American and Western society be saved at all, or, as Fjordman and others suggest, is it too late for that, and we have to start looking to new social forms beyond the existing order of the West? If we assume, just for the sake of discussion, that the evil liberal system can be defeated and that America can still be saved in something like its historic form, how would the nonwhite preference system, which is a major part of the liberal system, be overcome?A. Zarkov writes:
Yesterday while listening to the radio as I drove, I heard a conservative commentator repeatedly tell his audience that liberals are bad for blacks. He seemed to think that somehow repetition alone can make something true. Let’s look at why he’s wrong, and why we really have affirmative action (AA).LA replies:
Yes, the actual “hopelessly naive, well-meaning liberals” in this scenario are not the liberals, but the conservatives.A reader writes:
The whole discussion is spot-on. I never met a black at the federal agency where I worked who thought he/she was not entitled to AA and happy to receive it. When they later failed at the job (frequently), they filed a grievance complaint—and usually won.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 24, 2009 12:25 AM | Send