Recently some students at Texas State University, emulating I believe the successful news-making success of the anti affirmative action bakes sales, “formed the Former Majority Association for Equality — a San Marcos-based nonprofit group that is offering five $500 scholarships exclusively to white male students.” Oddly, whites are defined (presumably everyone knows what a male is) as “at least 25 percent Caucasian” (but who’s counting?).
Like the bake sales, this effort makes a nice point, although really giving $500 grants to “whites” runs the risk of tarnishing the purely political/satirical purity that was one of the selling points of the bake sales, which is partly why I didn’t blog about this earlier.
But the white scholarships have, inevitably, drawn some attention, and now comes the always interesting Ilya Somin on Volokh, who I believe takes this group and its “diversity” argument far too seriously.
Their scholarships do, he claims, “raise the question of whether the diversity rationale for affirmative action might sometimes justify preferences for white males.” Insofar as he means persuasively or successfully justify, then the question isn’t really interesting because the simple answer is no. For all those who oppose racial discrimination in principle, “diversity” is too weak a reed on which to rest treating some better and some worse because of their race.
Somin notes that as the Supremes explained in Grutter, “the diversity rationale holds that preferences for African-Americans and Hispanics are necessary in order to ensure that whites and others get the educational benefit of being exposed to the unique perspectives these groups have to offer.” He doesn’t appear bothered, as I am, that “diversity,” so defined and justified, treats the preferred minorities as mere, fungible agents brought in so whites can benefit from being exposed to their “difference.” In other words, “diversity” involved discriminating against some whites and many Asians so that other whites and Asians can receive whatever benefits flow from being exposed to blacks and Hispanics.
Compared to the offensive but essential discrimination on which it rests, Somin limits his own disapproval of the “diversity” rationale for racial preference to a few of its glaring but, relatively at least, trivial inconsistencies. Thus, objecting to “diversity” preferences for whites even in institutions where they are a distinct minority, he writes:
Even if there is a critical mass of whites taken as a whole, there might not be a critical mass of individual subgroups of whites, such as immigrants from Sweden, Italy, or Russia. Each of these groups has its own unique culture, and exposure to it might have educational value for other students.
True, and equally true for other groups because of the variety of Native Americans (do admissions officers keep tallies of different tribes?), Hispanics, and blacks (American, African, Carribean) — and note how their race or ethnicity effectively obliterate their national origins.
Finally, Somin notes that he is
more sympathetic to the compensatory justice rationale, which would confine preferences to groups that have been the victims of large-scale discrimination in the past. The compensatory justice argument is not without its own shortcomings. But at least it doesn’t justify the use of racial and ethnic preferences for almost every conceivable group.
No, it doesn’t, but it still justifies discrimination for and against individuals because of their race (and it is individuals who apply to college or for jobs, not racial group to which they are assigned). Nor is the justice of “compensatory justice” self-evident since it so often results in rewarding individuals who have not been victims of discrimination at the expense of individuals who have discriminated against no one but who are taxed to pay for the historical sins of their racial “group.”
Racial discrimination is an ugly business, and it doesn’t become prettier by dressing it up as either “diversity” or “compensatory justice.”
The comments to Somin’s post have tended to run on, as they often do on popular blogs. One that particularly interested me was from Andrew Lazarus
If AA were limited to blacks who lived under Jim Crow (I don’t think we have to go so far back as chattel slavery), would you be in favor of it? Or is this just an evasion?
Can anyone think of a good reason that the ongoing quest for Holocaust reparations are OK and AA isn’t?
To which I replied:
1. Reparations are payments derived from taxes on an entire nation. Racial preferences extract payments from specific, guilt-free individuals penalized solely because of their race.
2. Reparations do not perpetuate what they purport to atone for: racial discrimination.
3. Discriminating against the descendants of discriminators (leaving aside the fact that Asians are the biggest victims of affirmative action) is a blunt, unwieldy, and ineffective remedy for those who experienced Jim Crow (what of their descendants?).
4. Finally, if someone could figure out the logistics — determining the amount, the recipients, etc. — reparations conceivably could be a reasonable remedy for Jim Crow. Indeed, on my blog I’ve proposed a Grand Bargain: A one time payment of X amount to Y people in return for eliminating all racial preference programs. So far, no takers….