Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  

There's a proxy for discussing race in America--it's called "merit." And boy, has it been on display since the Michigan decision came down yesterday. As in "Improved lower schools would ensure that minority (and majority) kids learn their subjects and qualify for admission based on merit instead of relying on a system designed to excuse underachievement." (Modesto Bee)

Invoking the "merit" argument is a socially-accepted way of playing the race card without actually playing the race card. ("Race preference" is a less successful sleight-of-lip.) How so? Let's have a look.

Meritocracy Debunked
In the Michigan admissions process, there are a number of factors that have nothing to do with merit--geography, genes (e.g., Dad went there), income, race. If it were a pure meritocracy, none of these factors would be considered. That the three non-race factors aren't challenged indicates that the public (and the law) pretty much agree: it's appropriate to consider factors which will strengthen the student body as a whole. Makes you wonder--why do people get angry about the black applicants beating them out, but not the fifth-generation ones?

Race Reconsidered
Touting "merit" and "race-neutrality" seems like a PC thing to do. After all, it was MLK's dream. But it conceals the fact that whites have a definite advantage in college admissions. According to the census, 32% of white Americans aged 25-34 have a college degree, and only 15% of blacks do. Based on the numbers, there's no reason to think that blacks are disproportionately edging out whites for college slots--even under the policy of affirmative action, they were being admitted in lower numbers.

So blacks don't get into college proportionately, and Michigan's policy of uses race as only one factor--along with other non-achievement criteria. So why is there such a furor over this decision? It's because we still have a big problem with race in America. This shouldn't come as a surprise. The current right swing of the Republicans began back in the 60's, when Lincoln's Party began recruiting racist Southern blue-collar workers who were disenchanted by their party's civil rights agenda. Recent conservative politics have had a definite racist cast--witness the "Southern Strategy" of confederate flags and pilgrimages to Bob Jones University. Somewhere between Nixon and Bush, racists figured out that cloaking one's racism in the Constitution was both more effective and more noble.

I'm no defender of Affirmative Action. It was an inelegant (and possibly unconstitutional) solution to a very real problem. Moreover, it set up a psychological two-tiered system in which one group became regarded as a charity case (and aggrandized the nobility of the patron). The reason I like Michigan's policy is because it recognizes a critical piece of the solution to our problem of race: it brings people together. It's the stated goal--and I think the real goal--of the policy.

I don't generally call out people on the other side of the fence on issues political, but I will on this one. If you're so offended by this decision, let me ask you this: why is it that this particular inequity (that blacks are getting preferential treatment) so offends you above all others? People go to bed hungry in our country, they wander the streets, they live on dirt-poor reservations, they work two jobs to feed their families. Why is it that the possibility of a white college applicant getting edged out by a black applicant is so abhorrent? I may be out of line, but that's my question.

posted by Jeff | 3:59 PM |
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