Affirmative Action, Education / Schools, Law Schools, Minority Issues, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

George Will’s Disingenuous Idea on How SCOTUS Can Help Black People

Does George Will look like the protector of Black America to you?

People who think giving charity to those less fortunate also gives them the right to direct the personal choices of those receiving the charity are some of the worst people on the planet. The biggest offenders are religious organizations: “Ooh, here’s some food. Yes. You like food, don’t you? I bet you’re hungry — I can tell ’cause I can see your ribs. Well, it’s all you can eat in here… first, just say you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. SAY IT. Wonderful. Bon appétit!”

Organizations do it all the time, but there are plenty of individuals who also think giving a guy a buck gives them the right to tell the recipient how to spend the money. This behavior is the worst because it takes what should be a generous gesture (giving somebody money) and turns it into a cheap way to make a BS point about your moral superiority (“If this man did just one thing more like me, he wouldn’t have to beg for my scraps.”).

If you want to help, help. But don’t use “helping” as an excuse to further some ridiculous personal agenda. You’ll just look like an idiot. You’ll just look like George Will prancing around the pages of the Washington Post trying to act like he is against affirmative action because he suddenly wants the Supreme Court to step up to the plate and “help” black people….

Will’s editorial in the Washington Post argues that SCOTUS should grant cert in the Fisher v. University of Texas case and essentially overturn the use of race as a “plus factor” in college admissions. He thinks they should do this in part because affirmative action hurts the black people who are supposed to benefit from the program.

It’s not a novel argument. I’ve heard it before. There are two versions of it: 1) AA hurts black people because some white people think every black person everywhere needed AA to get anything, so we should change our social policies so that a few racist whites prone to generalizations aren’t so easily confused. 2) Darker skin pigmentation magically seeps into the brain with disastrous consequences rendering most blacks too stupid to benefit from, or keep up with, high level book learnin’, so they get the sad face and they end up sucking in life anyway, only now we’ve shown them where all the white women are at.

George Will is going with version number two. And since some people will say I didn’t give his argument a fair synopsis just now, I’ll let him explain:

But what if many of the minorities used [for affirmative action] are injured by it? Abundant research says they are, as two amicus curiae briefs demonstrate in urging the court to take the Texas case….

The details of the Texas policies are less important than what social science says about the likely consequences of such policies. A brief submitted by UCLA law professor Richard Sander and legal analyst Stuart Taylor argues that voluminous research refutes the legal premise for such racial classifications: They benefit relatively powerless minorities.

“Academic mismatch” causes many students who are admitted under a substantial preference based on race, but who possess weaker academic skills, to fall behind. The consequences include especially high attrition rates from the sciences, and self-segregation in less-demanding classes, thereby reducing classroom diversity. Blacks are significantly more integrated across the University of California system than they were before the state eliminated racial preferences in 1996, thereby discouraging enrollment of underprepared minorities in the more elite institutions.

I’ve crossed swords with Richard Sander before. His research is controversial, but interesting. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume it’s all true (not because I fully agree, but because I don’t have a grant and a research team sitting next to me right now). Let’s say that “academic mismatch” is a real thing.

George Will thinks that the way to help black people “injured” by this is to end affirmative action. Really George, you’re just trying to help?

George Will co-taught a class I took at Harvard. Will taught advanced political philosophy something or other with Harvey Mansfield and Michael Sandel. I bring it up because Sandel was actually the person who changed my mind about affirmative action. When I got to college, I was kind of against AA. See version one of the “AA hurts black people” myth. Being relatively confident that I got into Harvard “on my own merits” as they say, I was really, really sick of white people like George Will assuming that I did not. Or maybe assuming I did not. Or not being totally sure of what he assumed. Like Clarence Thomas, I was an idiot who thought that eliminating AA would end, forever, the ability of white people to denigrate my accomplishments. All I wanted was to never be in a situation where white people had the audacity to question how I got into school.

Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.

Sandel was one of the first guys to explain (in-class) that “my own merits” isn’t nearly as cut and dried as most people are led to believe. For instance, I’m also the first born son of two college educated parents… abject failure, Sandel argues, was never going to be an option, and it didn’t have very much to do with me. My merits are my parents’ merits, accidents of birth, yada yada.

Sandel was also one of a number of people to explain (in office hours) that racist white people were never going to stop. I needed to be less concerned about them, and more concerned about getting what I wanted and needed to get out of the college experience. I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody but myself (and his TFs).

Lastly, Sandel makes the best diversity argument I’ve ever heard and I can’t repeat it here as I literally can’t do it justice. It involves everybody being dumber alone.

It’s the middle argument I’d like George Will to be able to understand: the black people who are “underachieving” might be getting something out of it even as they underachieve. Maybe they’re the first person in their family to go to college, or the first person to go to professional school, and that is what’s important more then their ability to score highly on a test at the end of the semester. Hell, if all you learn from college is that all rich white people are NOT like George Will, then maybe that was worth the price of admission even if you do nothing more than get straight Bs.

Affirmative action grants an opportunity. It’s like giving somebody a dollar. It’s not exactly enough, but it is a start. What they do with that dollar is up to them. Maybe they’ll use it wisely, maybe they won’t, but I really don’t think George Will should be the final arbiter of whether or not an opportunity was valuable to another person.

It shouldn’t be the Supreme Court’s call, either. If they want to rule that affirmative action unconstitutionally confers a benefit on the basis of race, fine. I’d think they were absolutely wrong, but fine. Sometimes other people win. Sometimes Gaius Baltar gets to be president. But if they overturn AA on some trumped-up, patronizing nonsense of trying to “protect” black people, it’ll be the Court’s most racist decision since Plessy. Especially since that decision would be 5-4 with the majority comprised of four white males and Clarence Thomas. Honestly, if the anti-affirmative action crowd were a little more diverse, they might not look so illegitimate when they pretended to care about how policies affect minorities.

If the Supreme Court or George Will really wants to help black people, if they do become suddenly and surprising concerned with the black “race” (whatever that means given our modern understanding of genetics), they’ll think of the children. The real beneficiaries of affirmative action are not the recent and current students to be compared against a “control set” of white people who have been sending their kids to college for generations. The real beneficiaries of these policies will be their children. You think affirmative action benefited Barack Obama — wait until you see the achievement of Sasha and Malia.

That’s the prize that many in the black community are keeping their eye on. They forced my mother to desegregate schools in Mississippi when she was a child, and she ended up with two kids who can discuss Wuthering Heights at parties, and I’ll maybe produce a kid who can mint cash, homey. And at some point, it won’t just be that the achievement gap between my mom’s progeny and George Will’s progeny has vanished, it’ll be that you can’t distinguish between the two. Beat that with a stick.

Of course, by that point, the affirmative action fight will pit some whites and some blacks against Martians or something who are just looking for an opportunity.

The unintended consequences of racial preferences [Washington Post]

Earlier: Fifth Circuit Upholds Affirmative Action, But Is It Begging for SCOTUS Intervention?

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