One of the most corrosive effects of slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination was the hypocrisy they required of those who practiced or benefitted from them while still professing a commitment to the principle of equality. The most famous example of this glaring inconsistency is, of course, the slave-owing author of the Declaration of Independence, but lesser versions of his hypocrisy were a staple of American, particularly Southern, life for generation upon generation.
Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 classic An American Dilemma chronicled the tension caused by this hypocrisy better than anyone before or since, and he predicted, accurately as it turned out, that the power of what he called “the American creed,” the belief that individuals should be judged “without regard” to race, religion, or national origin, would eventually discredit and undermine the discriminatory practices that contradicted it.
Myrdal did not foresee, however, the emergence of a new set of discriminatory practices marching under the banner of “diversity” that would become so pervasive that they in turn would threaten to discredit and undermine the very creed that ended segregation and enshrined the fundamental principle of non-discrimination into law. The conflict over preferences in which we are now engaged, in short, will determine whether the principle of non-discrimination is so deeply embedded in our core values that it will eventually overthrow the regime of racial preference, or whether the practice of preference has itself become so entrenched in American life that it will succeed in substituting a new, multicultural principle of proportional representation in place of the old “without regard” creed.
My sense, based on survey and polling data and the few votes that have been taken (plus a large dollop of unsupported hope), is that a substantial majority of Americans still adhere to the “without regard” principle, but that that principle has been largely rejected at the upper reaches of our society — in higher education, corporations, large media, and in the leadership rungs of the Democratic party. At the moment the outcome of the ongoing conflict is too close to call.
Matthew Arnold (I think) (No, a reader points out it was Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld) defined hypocrisy as the tribute vice pays to virtue, but it is also the tribute paid to a widely shared principle by those who routinely violate it in practice. Today the epicenter of this new hypocrisy can be found in the university.
Just about any university, but the more selective and elite the more blatant the hypocrisy is likely to be. Take, for example, the University of Pennsylvania. Here are the key passages of its Policy of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Nondiscrimination:
Penn adheres to a policy that prohibits discrimination against individuals on the following protected-class bases: race, color, sex (except where sex is a bona fide occupational qualification), sexual orientation, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, age (except where age is a bona fide occupational qualification), disability (and those associated with persons with disabilities), or status as a special disabled, Vietnam era veteran or other eligible veteran.
Penn is committed to ensuring that all academic programs (except where age or sex are bona fide occupational qualifications), including social and recreational programs, and services are administered without regard to an individual’s protected-class status.
Penn is also committed to ensuring that its personnel and other employment decisions are made without regard to an individual’s protected-class status. [Emphasis added]
Penn not only affirms its commitment to the nondiscrimination principle but also affirms, through the mission statement of its Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, that in its activities
[t]he University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, color, national or ethnic origin, age, disability, or status as a Vietnam Era Veteran or disabled veteran in the administration of educational policies, programs or activities; admissions policies; scholarship and loan awards; athletic, or other University administered programs or employment
It would be hard to find better statements of fealty to the fundamental principle that individuals should be treated “without regard” to their race, sex, ethnicity, or religion, but it would be equally hard to find evidence that Penn actually adheres to this policy in practice.
Not only does Penn ignore its own policy in practice, but it proudly announces that it does so. Thus there were two separate Penn briefs supporting the University of Michigan’s use of race in admissions, and Penn itself, as Lee Stetson, the director of admissions told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1999, practices race conscious admissions. “We continue to be committed to affirmative action in admissions,” he said, “what we prefer to call being conscious of the background the student comes from.”
It is impossible, of course, to practice race-conscious admissions while remaining faithful to the official policy that requires all university decisions to be made “without regard” to race.
Let me hasten to add, however, that in accusing Penn (and similar institutions) of hypocrisy I am not making a legal argument. I am all too well aware that in the hands of a willful Supreme Court the meaning of the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” is almost limitlessly elastic, and that the Supremes have (mistakenly, in my view) declared that the perfectly clear language of Title VI (of the Civil Rights Act) prohibiting federal funds to institutions that discriminate is redundant because it means no more or less than what “equal protection” means, which is whatever the Court says it means.
Still, the fact that, alas, Penn may well be acting under the color of law when it violates its own stated policy and principle does not shield it from the charge of hypocrisy. Dropping its pretense of promising to treat people “without regard” to their race, ethnicity, etc., is the only way to do that.
Let me also add that one does not have to be a Philadelphia lawyer —
Philadelphia Lawyer: A lawyer of great ability, especially one expert in the exploitation of legal technicalities …. A shrewd or unscrupulous lawyer.
— to argue that race preferences are good and wise and even a compelling governmental interest. Many decent and reasonable people believe that, some of whom used to be (and one or two still are) my friends. But even the battalions of Ivy League Philadelphia Lawyers at Penn cannot pound the square peg of “race conscious” into the round hole of “without regard” to race.
Penn’s violation of its own “without regard” policy is bad enough, but it has actually gone well beyond “taking race (and sex, etc.) into account.” As we saw here over a year ago, and as Erin O’Connor has amply documented (here, here, and here), the president and provost at Penn have promised to provide “incentives for departments to hire and promote women while creating disincentives for them to hire and promote men.” Penn’s policy on “gender equity” indicates that this promise has been kept.
Thus Penn not only violates its stated “without regard” policy with its “race conscious” admissions, it actually rewards departments that violate it and punishes those that don’t.
Given Penn’s behavior, it’s interesting that its formal policies haven’t been revised. I suppose we should take some small solace from the fact that even people and institutions who don’t believe in the “without regard” principle are reluctant to admit it. That’s the “tribute” their discriminatory behavior pays to their abandoned principle of non-discrimination.