Saturday, May 30, 2009

Race Matters

Megan McCardle on Judge Sotomayor's critics and affirmative action:

Given my politics, I am probably not going to like how she rules on many, maybe even most, issues. But almost none of those issues involve racial preferences, which, even if they are a problem, are a small problem for America, affecting fewer people than almost any of the other major policy questions we're debating today. Making race, or racial politics, the central complaint, makes it seem like your biggest policy priority is making sure that not one minority in the land gets anything they don't deserve.

I often agree with Megan, but not here. Let me try to explain.

First, it may seem to some these are the motives of affirmative action opponents, but I wish she'd followed that up with "of course, I don't believe anything so hateful." There are a number of reasons to oppose affirmative action (most of which I will not go into here), but an important one to many is that it's the wrong solution to the problem and, if anything, slows down the progress of African-Americans, as well as race relations. It's one thing for supporters of affirmative action to disagree with these claims, it's another to say to those who make them "you're lying" (or worse, "you're racist").

Second, people who oppose affirmative action have trouble with minorities doing well? Which discrete and insular minority are we talking about? Jews? Asians? Wouldn't Megan agree they're helped by everyone being treated--in the words that used to signify civil rights--"without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin"? Why are these racists who oppose affirmative action so selective?

Third, calling something a "small problem" is always a dangerous argument; the easy response (even without demagoguery*) is "okay, then let's do it my way--after all, no big deal." Of course, if we did it my way, we'd soon find out what a huge deal it is. Imagine if some company, large or small, said under no circumstances would they employ African-Americans. Would anyone think the argument "well, no blacks applied anyway, so no harm, no foul" or "very few of the blacks who applied would have gotten jobs so it really doesn't matter" is good enough?

Fourth, she says this affects few people. Affirmative action is a nationwide policy, enforced (generally against the will of the public) in business, education, and elsewhere, with hundreds of thousands of regulations and bureaucrats backing it up. Further, it creates an ethos, a world where the government is teaching us you don't know how to judge someone unless you know that person's race--something Megan opposes elsewhere in her post. (It also tells those it allegedly helps that they can't make it on their own, which can be dispiriting and make them more dependent.)

This is an important issue, especially if we're talking about a Supreme Court nominee. No one should feel any shame in bringing it up.

*Which goes along the lines of "This is a small problem? Tell that to..." followed by the name of someone who lost her job or couldn't feed his kids or died or whatever because of affirmative action.


Blogger QueensGuy said...

I've never had a strong opinion about affirmative action. On the one hand, I think it's likely that it does more harm than good in most situations. On the other, I'll drive past a 100% white firehouse in a 90% black neighborhood in the Bronx and say to myself "there's something wrong with this picture. I refuse to believe not one kid in this neighborhood wanted to grow up to be a firefighter." How to fix those sorts of entrenched situations without affirmative action is a problem to which I can offer no solution.

5:34 AM, May 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A quite separate argument against the affirmative action apparatus is the corruption it breeds. In my hometown of Detroit, the minority contracting that is required has been the preferred tool for payoffs that Kilpatrick and others handed out. Synagro and other scandals were at their roots affrim action scandals.

9:13 AM, May 30, 2009  

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