Curt Levey, spokesman for the Center for Individual Rights, the organization representing the plaintiffs in the Michigan cases, is quoted observing that “[v]ery few people can really justify why the son of a white coal miner gets zero points and the son of a black physician gets 20 points.”
University of Michigan spokeswoman Julie Peterson replies:
“Race (or) ethnicity and socioeconomic disadvantage are two completely different things,” Peterson said. “The majority of applicants who come from poor families are white. If we considered only socioeconomic disadvantage, we would not succeed in enrolling a racially diverse student body.”
There’s more. Ms. Peterson also defends strictly racial preferences as a way “to break down stereotypes,” allowing students “to be able to see differences within groups, and similarities across racial boundaries.” Critics argue, on the other hand, that preferences re-inforce the stereotype that minorities are incapable of meeting the same standards as whites.
I am increasingly convinced, however, that this debate reveals, or should reveal, a truth that usually goes unrecognized: racial preferences are primarily for the benefit of whites, who, so the argument goes, need to be exposed to minorities. They are not justified as a benefit to the preferred minorities, who, as I’ve pointed out here and elsewhere, would receive the same diversity benefit even if they attended a less selective university.
Thus, when Michigan defends racial preferences, it is essentially arguing that it is not fair to white and Asian students to deprive them of the benefit of being exposed to minority students who would not be admitted but for the racial preferences given them. When critics of racial preferences such as Mr. Levey argue in favor of socioeconomic preference instead, they are arguing that refusing preferences to poor people is not fair to those unpreferred sons of coal miners, etc.