Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Why I Resist Affirmative Action: It ain't to Protect Whites

Zuska has a post discussing the findings of a study on the root source of our attitudes towards affirmative action. It's conclusion?

"The strongest source of white opposition to affirmative action today is neither racism nor a sincere conviction that any favoritism, even if compensatory, is wrong, but rather a "desire to protect fellow whites," three scholars argue in a paper released last week by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. That finding, the authors contend, offers a new window into white opposition to affirmative-action programs."

They dismissed the traditional interpretation, that this stemmed from a concern for quality and fairness rather than racism, because they found that people with a strong group identity were more likely to oppose programs that were presented as harming whites, rather than benefitting blacks, whereas those with a weak group identity did not.

Their conclusion doesn't seem to follow from their description of the data. All they've shown is that people obsessed with their whiteness are going to be against anything that hurts whitey. Gee, ya think? In our next report, fat people are heavier on average than skinny people, and illiterate people score worse in spelling bees.

I was more interested in how many people qualified as having the various ratings on the group identity test, because that is the root of the problem IMO, and they didn't even give that. Now sure, if there were far more people with strong group identity than weak, their conclusion would follow, but that's far from clear. Their implication, therefore, that those of us with strong opposition to affirmative action policies are probably hiding some racist agenda seems reckless to say the least.

Personally, I'd score very low on the group identity measure, and I have many principled reasons why I oppose some affirmative action programs. Citing this study and claiming it applies to me and people like me is surely not going to seem very persuasive to me. Yet that is surely what is going to happen.

Zuska asked: If I just say to you nicely that social inequalities exist between men and women that disadvantage women and advantage men, and affirmative action policies are intended to ameliorate the disadvantages and remove the advantages, not to harm men, will you all just come along now and be in support of affirmative action?

No. I am not interested in intent. I am interested in results, and I think I speak for a lot of people. I also am far more interested in making sure no one is harmed who has not personally earned it, than I am to reward someone because of a perceived social injustice. I'm not sure how many agree with me on that. :) I just don't think it is right to hire Nancy instead of George if George is the better qualified candidate, unless George himself is the source of the social injustice, say by being the incompetent son of the President. Doing otherwise not only harms George unjustly, but also harms everyone depending on whatever he would be doing. It might even harm Nancy if she ends up in over her head.

The people with the strong group identities are a lost cause. That's the real lesson of this study. If you want support for affirmative action from the rest of us in the reasonable middle, do it in a way that does't harm innocents. Special private training programs are a good example. No one is harmed by you volunteering your time to read only to poor minority girls for example.

Also, stay away from situations where the affirmative program is likely to result in people getting whatever it is being far less qualified than whoever would have gotten it otherwise. And for God's sake, gag the people on your side of the aisle who act like that doesn't happen, or worse yet doesn't matter.

I once saw an old 60 minutes episode on women trying to be fireman failing the standards the men were held to. The feminists interviewed said things like "any standard that men pass more than women is unfair", and "the standards should be changed so the women can pass, such as allowing them to drag a body rather than carry it. There may be less smoke down there anyway." Those women did your cause no favors.

I believe most Americans have a strong sense of fairness, and that's why the historically recognized disadvantaged groups of racial minorities and women have made the strides they have (that and lots of old racists and sexists dying). The fairer your policies are perceived to be, among reasonable people anyway, the more support you are going to get.

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