According to a fascinating front page article in today’s New York Times, it has begun to dawn on Lani Guinier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and other preferentialists at Harvard and elsewhere that you’d better be very careful what you subsidize, for you’ll certainly get more of it … and it may not be exactly what you had in mind.
One of the dirty little secrets of racial preferences, now beginning to leak out, is not only that most of the beneficiaries are middle class or actually rich — that has been known if not advertised for a good while — but that most are not even American, or if they are American they are of very recent origin. 8 percent of the undergraduates at Harvard are black (still “underrepresented,” says Guinier), but “the majority of them — perhaps as many as two-thirds — were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.” Moreover,
Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania who have been studying the achievement of minority students at 28 selective colleges and universities (including theirs, as well as Yale, Columbia, Duke and the University of California at Berkeley), found that 41 percent of the black students identified themselves as immigrants, as children of immigrants or as mixed race. [Editorial Aside: Has the NYT lost its copy editors? The comma after “… Berkeley)” should not be there. If the Times were not as foolishly opposed to the serial comma as it is to President Bush, it should be after “Duke.”]
For many preferentialists, subsidizing dark foreigners is not at all what they had in mind. Gates himself has taken a scholarly if quizzical stance:
“I just want people to be honest enough to talk about it,” Professor Gates, the Yale-educated son of a West Virginia paper-mill worker, said recently, reiterating the questions he has been raising since the black alumni weekend last fall. “What are the implications of this?”
Others know what the implication is, and they don’t like it.
The president of Amherst College, Anthony W. Marx, says that colleges should care about the ethnicity of black students because in overlooking those with predominantly American roots, colleges are missing an “opportunity to correct a past injustice” and depriving their campuses “of voices that are particular to being African-American, with all the historical disadvantages that that entails.”
Do you think President Marx doesn’t know that the Supreme Court has ruled out correcting past injustices as a justification for engaging in racial preference, or that he simply doesn’t care? Does “diversity” at Amherst consist entirely of being exposed to the voices of the historically disadvantaged?
In any event, other preferentialists do not think the “underrepresentation” of American blacks is a problem.
Even among black scholars there is disagreement on whether a discussion about the origins of black students is helpful. Orlando Patterson, a Harvard sociologist and West Indian native, said he wished others would “let sleeping dogs lie.”
“The doors are wide open – as wide open as they ever will be – for native-born black middle-class kids to enter elite colleges,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
I’m confused. I thought Prof. Patterson supported racial preferences, which require lowering admission requirements for blacks. But here he seems to be saying that, at least among blacks (whoever they are), merit should prevail.
Oh well, I suspect I’m not the only one who is confused. Lee Bollinger, for example, seems to me to be almost schizophrenic on this issue.
“I don’t think it [nationality] should matter for purposes of admissions in higher education,” said Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, who as president of the University of Michigan fiercely defended its use of affirmative action. “The issue is not origin, but social practices. It matters in American society whether you grow up black or white. It’s that differential effect that really is the basis for affirmative action.”
Bollinger seems really confused, since these foreign students, of course, don’t grow up in American society. Oh well, perhaps the Times is simply wrong. This couldn’t be the same Lee Bollinger who used to argue that the basis of affirmative action was “diversity,” without which, he consistently maintained, the university as we know it would simply cease to exist. “Diversity,” he always used to insist (as, for example, here) is “as essential as the study of the Middle Ages, of international politics and of Shakespeare….”
And what, pray tell, is that “differential effect” of growing up black in the U.S. that this new Bollinger thinks is “the basis” for affirmative action? He doesn’t say, but others are not so reticent.
Mary C. Waters, the chairman of the sociology department at Harvard, who has studied West Indian immigrants, says they are initially more successful than many African-Americans for a number of reasons. Since they come from majority-black countries, they are less psychologically handicapped by the stigma of race. In addition, many arrive with higher levels of education and professional experience. And at first, they encounter less discrimination.
So, there we have it. American blacks are so “psychologically handicapped” by the presumably internalized stigma of being black that they must be benevolently handed the crutch of racial preferences. I would like to think that if I had friends like this I would begin to rethink my friendship patterns.
“You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action,” Professor Waters continued. I would be tempted to ask where she has been, but then she’s been at Harvard. Has Harvard really not had such a discussion, or has she simply been unaware of it? In any event, here’s her dramatic philosophical contribution:
If it’s about getting black faces at Harvard, then you’re doing fine. If it’s about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you’re not doing well. And if it’s about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you’re not doing well, either.
Well of course. If you give preferences to “black faces,” what you get is “black faces.” Why should anyone be surprised? I would say that’s Harvard for you, but that same surprising surprise seems to be prevalent across preferentialdom.
But maybe there are seeds of progress in that surprise. Maybe some among the preferentialists will finally stumble upon the perception, trying so hard now to sprout through the layers of rhetorical muck that have been so thickly spread for the past generation, that race is not a valid or even reliable proxy for diversity.