A critique of an “Inside Higher Ed” column on affirmative action
What’s really lacking is a willingness to admit that the reason Black kids aren’t getting admitted to top universities without racially discriminatory policies favoring them is that Black kids aren’t being prepared by the primary education system to be successful in top universities.
I mean maybe some “traditional” metrics for admission unfairly overlook some minority students. But grades and SAT scores and basic literacy really do predict college success, and Black students are lagging on these metrics. You can’t fix this by offering a slot at Harvard to an unprepared 17 year old - the damage of lousy education is done by that point. You’re just going to end up with students in over their heads among better prepared students racking up debt (and indeed Black students have much higher college dropout rates and higher average debt).
I can’t find it at the moment, but there was a study of UC outcomes post the 96 amendment that found that basically, the end of RBAA has significantly reduced Black admissions… but hadn’t changed Black graduation much at all. In other words, most of the students who were getting in “because of” RBAA were washing out.
The problem hasn’t been “anti-Black racism in college admissions” for half a century at this point, so explicitly pro-minority discrimination at college admission was never going to be more than a band aid.
Any serious proposal to improve minority outcomes in post-secondary education needs to start at correcting the abysmal performance of minority education at the primary and secondary levels. That’s a much harder but to crack, but the only one that’s going to work.
What a long, strange trip it's been, this reckoning with race these last 60-70 years. I remember when I became aware of RBAA in the early 1980's. I thought in those long ago times it (RBAA) made a lot of sense, even if most of the folks I worked with didn't agree. I'm not so sure it makes sense in 2022.
When someone suggests to me that no...in fact we've made little progress towards a less racist culture, I can't take them seriously....because I was there, all those long years ago.
It's a monster of a problem, complicated, painful, a real struggle, and results a mixed bag. but we're a work in progress, and I still have hopes for us.
I'll close with this: Loudly proclaiming that....if you don't agree with us or my ideas, you're a racist. Or casually claiming that millions of fellow citizens are Fascists!!! isn't helping the cause: It's offensive; it's insulting; and it's obnoxious. It not how to win friends and influence people.
Your readers (I speak for all) are unlikely to complain about you dedicating a post to a single article when what you're really doing is illustrating a widespread trend using the power of example.
I will grant Derrick Bell et al. the reality that people do tend to react with instinctive fear or suspicion toward any sort of "other," and our inherent compulsion to form tribes makes skin color a very easy way to draw these shitty but, in survival terms, once-necessary or at least once-sometimes-helpful lines.
But to go from that premise to "The United States is terminally racist" isn't only cynical beyond measure, it's basically somewhere between carte blanche to behave like a racist and outright exhortations to do so. I find it impossible to believe that anyone using words like "Whiteness" as an explicit slur is expecting comity from the people they see as their political or other adversaries.
Meanwhile, poor black people have been treated to the sight of rich white people forking over untold millions of dollars to rich white grifters like Robin DiAngelo and Tema Okun rather than giving that money to people who could use it. If I were in their shoes, I'd be pissed off and inclined to think, "Well, if they're that fake about it, fuck it, I'll just grift away myself."
The resentment and insincerity driving all of this couldn't be more obvious, yet we're still in a "Don't be the bad person in the room by making sense" phase,
Racism is Forever aka Everything is Oppression is one of the foundational dogmas of leftist academia (along w the Blank Slate). Of course the professional activist class will scream and scheme and fling promiscuous bigotry accusations at half the country because the end of AA is a direct assault on their perpetual project to rule us all as a vanguard class of philosopher-kings aka racial commissars. Leftist academia is a direct outgrowth of the Crit Theory will-to-power which was best exemplified by Herbert Marcuse and his desire to "liberate" society through heavy doses of "critical consciousness"--which is why his descendants can only suggest repeated applications of indoctrination as the solution to every setback. Theirs is a theological project, not empirical or scholarly, and certainly not with the best interests of poor black children in mind.
I think when U of Michigan talks about people lacking "competitive academic qualifications" it most likely comes down to the fundamentals: reading, writing, and math. (Not coincidentally, subjects that the SAT and ACT focus on.) Not how many niche electives you took, even if they are APs.
So, I would say solutions to this problem need to focus on improving the education of Black and Hispanic/Latino students in those fundamentals, starting as early as possible. Talking about high school ethnic studies requirements in this context is just laughable. (Even if you can make a decent case for such courses on other principles.)
That kind of improvement, nationwide, is a Herculean task, and I don't know the best way to accomplish it. But it's still the task that needs focusing on.
My experience: I am really only close with Pacific Islander and Native American communities (which I say for the sake of everyone reading this since all the ones I know call themselves Indian except for twitter).
The policies designed to help are almost always anti productive and prevent normal natural development sequences taking place inside the community itself. It’s like if someone saw an oyster trying to make a pearl and said “just think of how good a pearl would be made if I removed this irritant” not realizing the irritant is what makes the pearl.
You can’t jump from A to Z without hitting the letters from B to Y along the way or you end up building something that won’t sustain itself.
When rich white people come in to save the day it’s now not just a question of if you should do something to make more money and live a better life (and even that is fraught) it’s like you’re bending the knee and saying someone is better than you and makes the whole situation slightly toxic because now you feel like you were handed something you earned. I won’t a relatively prestigious scholarship and I always felt like I hadn’t earned it because I had a deep suspicion they had given it to me because they needed someone who wasn’t Asian and I was the smartest kid that year in our white trash congressional district. It made me feel like a fraud. Native Americans especially are living in a world where from their perspective, it’s like if a small population of Jews were walking around a world where Hitler won and now they have to live spending money with swastikas on it and all the Germans want to know why they wont send their kids to the premiere universities because at least they say they are upset about the whole thing now. It’s not quite the same thing but to the Navajo I know it might as well be. Participating in the system to say the history of the system was okay. Thats the really hard thing to disentangle. I saw a Navajo mother teaching her teenage daughter to hitch hike between drilling rigs to prostitute herself because at least that wasn’t giving yourself over to a system that said your enemy was right to destroy you. My driller was Navajo and gave her a ride and tried to talk them into just going home. I think he almost had them convinced until I opened my dumb mouth to offer to just give them some of my money for just going home. It was freezing cold and I’d given the daughter my coat and the mom made her hand it back to me.
The genetics argument just doesn’t make sense when you consider things like how being Mormon makes you smarter or how white people were doing all the same things people point to as problems in other communities on a time scale that doesn’t allow all white people to share a common ancestor for a sudden superior intelligence trait. It’s that the societal super structure these things track that have the causal relationships are so close to genetics that the parts that show it can’t be genetic seem like noise. I felt the slightest twinge of feeling like I had to betray my culture to get a degree and I can’t imagine what it’s like for others.
My brother is visibly not just a white guy and he caught so much shit from all his cousins for being good with computers. I was told I was gay for liking math and I am a white guy. There are certain communities and where it’s a betrayal to perform well in education and I even sort of get why. I’m not going to become part of a system of fake experts that does things like show up and shut down entire industries on science that turns out to be wrong decades later.
The whole thing is a mess, but the fundamental problem from what I’ve seen is: how do you have educational opportunities present that give people the ability to succeed without it feeling like a betrayal or a threat to the community.
The debate over affirmative action is red herring. The education achievement gap starting in elementary school is the bigger problem that decades of research and billions of dollars has failed to solve. This isn’t because people don’t know what causes the problem it’s because policymaking is captured by vested interest especially teachers unions and now universities.￼ Reality is that most public universities outside the state flagships are open enrollment, nonselective places where you can easily pursue a decent education as long as you graduated high school with a C average￼. And since the market is so bad for academic jobs you may even end up with a professor who attended an Ivy League university because this is the only job they could get.! When universities like that lack diversity it’s not the admissions, it’s the demand. Universities need to be asking themselves why so many students are not interested in the product that they offer, and why so many of those students are men from working class backgrounds.
Not sure I'll ever understand why the path to a more inclusive tolerant society is race reification.
I have some knowledge about Yale’s commitment to New Haven’s education
In a recent email to the President of Yale, I asked him how many of Yale’s professional class sent their kids to Hillhouse High.
Hillhouse is an underperforming (which is being generous) public high school in New Haven.
Peter sent back a nice email but did not respond to the question
That Yales’s professors and administrators send money to New Haven schools, sit on committees, and send in students volunteer is nice but when an actual commitment is in front of them- sending THEIR kids to Hillhouse- well, that’s a bridge way too far.
"[the lack of qualified minority candidates] reflect, in part, the fact that certain groups have gotten a raw deal as a result of the nation’s very racist past and need more help to catch up with everyone else. It has nothing to do with being black per se — certain recent black immigrant groups are flourishing (those from Nigeria and Ghana in particular), doing better than many non-black ethnic groups, in part because they simply aren’t lugging this baggage around. It’s the subgroups that have been locked in intergenerational cycles of poverty that are the ones most likely to be shut out of higher education."
This talk of "baggage" is hogwash. Nigerian immigrants in particular *were* subject to absolutely horrendous brutality, and within living memory, not 150 years ago; the vast majority of Nigerian immigrants during the 20th century came between 1960 and 2000 as a result of horrific religious and ethnic persecution in Nigeria under various military governments. A significant chunk were Igbo people fleeing the aftermath of the Biafra war, which was very nearly genocidal. If anyone should have "cultural baggage" its people fleeing from genocide, right? And yet somehow the results don't bear that out.
No, African Americans have had every prestigious university desperately begging for more recruits for, conservatively, 40 years. Everything with cultural cachet in this country has been begging for ambitious, capable, hungry African-American people to step up for more than a generation. Philanthropies have poured millions of dollars per year into outreach, uplift, investment, opportunity, enrichment, and encouragement, to no serious effect. Government policy has set up ethnic spoils in significant quantities for them, in ways which in other circumstances would almost certainly draw Civil Rights lawsuits. These "cycles of intergenerational poverty" haven't been the result of white peoples' boots for generations; the only thing keeping black people down in the U.S. today is themselves.
I think that the point of the measures proposed by the Inside Higher Ed piece is that Black kids will be funneled into AP classes on African American Studies, so that even if they don't have other AP classes, this will make them AP students, and recognizable as Black to the admissions office--at least when this strategy is combined with an admissions essay that addresses racial justice, which really means revealing one's racial identity in the essay, so that the admissions office will see that this is a Black student. Admissions will then be able to give special weight to students who have done well in AP African American Studies and who have written especially well about racial justice, with the idea being that these will be the Black students (even if the essay is badly written, the fact that the author is Black will far outweigh this). And so affirmative action can continue even after it's been ruled unconstitutional.
A call for honest-to-God struggle sessions verbatim! At least the Groups and their favored representatives tell me what they are.
Inside Higher Ed is even more vapid than the Chronicle of Higher Education. Has been for at least a decade.
The solution to closing racial achievement gaps is in primary education. If kids can’t read at grade level when the leave 5th grade, for example, it doesn’t matter what is done at the secondary level. It is unlikely that they will college ready by the time they leave school. We need to be providing funding for elementary schools and supporting families with young children. The child tax credit is a move in the right direction on this, for example.
> There’s an ingrained breezy entitlement in some liberal intellectual spaces that mucks everything up. If people don’t agree with our preferred racial justice policies, it’s because they’re racist. Okay, whatever, they’re racist — what are you going to do about it? Ummmm, more ethnic studies? Wait, so your argument is that affirmative action is on its deathbed because society is too racist, but you think ethnic studies is part of the answer instead?
Well, the strategy seems to be, "if we can convince people at large that our plan is correct (via courses on, for example, racial justice" and get those people into positions of power, down the line there will be powerful people in institutions who will be friendly to more important reforms, as well as, hopefully, assisting the small number of black and latino students who will be their classmates and students. (You would be surprised to see how horrifically racist many white students can be to black and latino students, and over time it can be sufficiently demoralizing to lead to people dropping out. I'm not talking microaggressions, I'm talking just straight-up racism. Some unpleasant examples can be found in the book "Why are all the black kids sitting together at the cafeteria".)
And to a certain extent, it's... working? Several years ago, you would not have seen any mainstream publication talking about, as you point out, unpopular ideas like privilege, prison abolition, critical race theory, etc. and now it's everywhere. The gamble/hope is that by getting the message out there, you'll be able to change these popularity numbers. In short, the belief is, "our policies are unpopular because they are misunderstood; we need to do a better job explaining them and their consequences, and then people will agree."
Unfortunately for them, there is a certain contingent among this class that seems to view the task of explaining policies to average voters with a certain amount of condescension. It's not enough to bask in your own moral superiority - if you genuinely believe that people will change their minds once you explain to them concepts like structural racism, then you have to walk them through all their questions and concerns, even when they seem silly, even when it's a ton of work and you have to find all the data and go through each part of the argument. You have to give them specific examples and policy proposals (which can be found in books like "The New Jim Crow" and "The Whiteness of Wealth"). As you rightly point out, the fact that many African Americans are not convinced of the appropriateness of affirmative action means that the burden is on the pro-AA people to explain why they believe it's important and not unfair.
There's something fascinating in how these "liberal intellectual spaces," as you call them, have gotten so far in spreading their message, and nevertheless end up kneecapped by many of their own cultural norms.
Aren't there black and hispanic kids getting in to highly selective schools without the need for affirmative action? Wouldn't people want to see what they and their families are doing? I suspect that would be considered racist......