13 May 2012

Who's Afraid of Affirmative Action?

Meritocracy is rare indeed, however far back in history we may look.  Member-of-my-family-ocracy, on the other hand, can be found almost everywhere.  Political dynasties are as old as time.  Ancien régime France let state posts be passed down from father to son, like a house.  In clannish Arab lands today, one's spot in college, the army, or the civil service is largely determined by the power of one's relatives.  David Pryce-Jones on Arab society:

To take the everyday matter of wanting to obtain a job, a young man approaches the head of his family or clan, his patron.  The head of the family is under obligation to do his very best to make sure that his kinsman is given what he asks for.  The honor of the whole family is at stake. [...]  In the event  of the job going to someone else, the patron becomes the object of shame, and his standing is under threat [...] Whether or not the young man deserved the job is no kind of consideration.  Civic spirit, the good of the community, or mere consideration of who could best perform the job in hand has no part in these proceedings.

Where meritocracy is allowed, the results can be impressive.  The Ottomans' Janissary corps is one example. The ancient Chinese civil service exam system is another.  In the modern West, outbred and commonweal-oriented as we are, nepotism rubs us the wrong way.  Shouldn't the best man get the job?

Enter racial quotas.

We may understand why they came to be, and loudly proclaim their time has gone. But the affirmative action coin has two sides.  What happens when a foreign group arrives among us and out-performs us?  Are we in our rights to establish quotas to keep them from forming an alien elite?  Indians in Uganda, Chinese in Malaysia, Ashkenazi Jews in the U.S., Europeans in South Africa--all have been excluded via quotas by a native population ill at ease with their success.  Is this fair?  When are quotas justified?

A quick look at the U.S.'s history of affirmative action reminds us of two things: (1) The race exclusion Afros complained of then was real and widespread, and (2) A.A. was only meant to be temporary.

1) Exclusion was real: Snapshots

A few headlines from our past:

"Boston, March 23. Refusing to associate with Dr. Melissa Thompson, a Negress of North Carolina, who has been appointed a physician in the maternity department of the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, five young white women doctors sent in their resignation." 

(Baltimore Sun, March 24, 1911)

"New York, July 2. Twenty teachers, about half the staff at Public School No. 125, in Wooster Street, Manhattan have applied for transfers, owing to the assignment by the Board of Education of William L. Burkley (mulatto) as head of the school."

(Baltimore Sun, July 3, 1909)  (1)

Many companies simply refused to hire Blacks under any circumstances. Even during WWII:

After a series of hearings in 1942, the FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Commission (FDR's baby)] chairman stated that on the West Coast “company after company admitted that it did not employ Negroes, or persons of Oriental background, regardless of their fitness for the job. Here, in the midst of around-the-clock appeals for national unity and for an all-out effort to build our instruments for defense, we found unfair employment practices only slightly removed from the Hitler pattern.” (2)

2) Affirmative actions's humble beginnings

This extended to the army, civil service, universities, and trade unions. The first 'fair employment' initiatives were thus simply attempts to allow qualified Afro-Americans a foot in the door.  H.G. Graham describes it this way:

The race-conscious model of hard affirmative action was developed in trial-and-error fashion by a coalition of mostly white, second-tier civil servants in the social service agencies of the presidency (Labor, Housing and Urban Development, Health, Education, and Welfare). This was a network of Kennedy-Johnson liberals in Washington's mission agencies, working with a small cadre of young, often black policy entrepreneurs, coordinating with allies in the Justice Department and the EEOC, and linked to counterparts in regional and municipal government by the sprawling federal grant network. Once started in this way, hard affirmative action spread during the 1970s with surprisingly little attempt by conservatives to stop it.  (3)

President Johnson faced angry protests from black construction workers shut out of northern trade unions.  Fearing more riots, in 1967 Johnson announced the 'Philadelphia Plan', the germ of affirmative action in this country. All federal contracts in the City of Brotherly Love had to be carried out by shops using a minimum number of Blacks.  The Philadelphia Plan was scrapped, but Nixon revived it a few years later, and modern racial set-asides were born:

 [In 1970] the Labor Department issued Order No. 4. This dull bureaucratic label disguised an aggressive regulatory power play. It extended the Philadelphia Plan's proportional hiring requirements from construction projects to all federal contractors. To qualify as bidders for government contracts, employers such as defense firms, builders, and suppliers were now obliged to submit written affirmative action plans, including detailed numerical goals and timetables for minority hiring that would remedy “underutilization.” Underutilization meant worker distributions in all job classifications that failed to reach proportional employment for protected classes (African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans). 
[It] covered 230,000 contractors, together doing $30 billion worth of business and employing more than 20 million workers—one-third of the entire U.S. labor force.  Employment standards imposed... would set the new national standard.   (3)

3) A 'temporary' measure

A de facto quota system was born and, unsurprisingly, quickly challenged in the courts.  Which is where 'temporary' comes in.  Most early fans of affirmative action believed it should soon go the way of the dodo.  In the 1978 U. of California Regents vs. Bakke case, the Supreme Court rejected racial quotas but allowed race to be a 'factor' in college admissions.  Justice Blackmun:

"I yield to no one in my earnest hope that the time will come when an 'affirmative action' program is unnecessary and is, in truth, only a relic of the past."

Justice Marshall:

"If we are ever to become a fully integrated society, one in which the color of a person's skin will not determine the opportunities available to him or her, we must be willing to take steps to open those doors."

Richard Kahlenberg reports:

Congressman Robert Drinan (D-Mass.) called race and gender preferences "an interim strategy," and Eleanor Holmes Norton, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Carter, acknowledged that "there is a general consensus in our society" that affirmative action "ought to be temporary." Most proponents did not specify a time limit, though a few did. Whitney Young, Jr., of the National Urban League called for "a decade of discrimination in favor of Negro youth, " and Justice Blackmun said he hoped that affirmative action programs would be unnecessary "within a decade at most."  (4)
Quelle naïveté!  Three and a half decades later:
[Attorney General] Holder expressed support for affirmative action, saying that he “can’t actually imagine a time in which the need for more diversity would ever cease.”

“Affirmative action has been an issue since segregation practices,” Holder said. “The question is not when does it end, but when does it begin ... When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”

When indeed, Afro-American Attorney General. When indeed.

4) Reining in an alien elite, yesterday

Just as a 'temporary' toll booth gets harder and harder to give up as time goes by, these 'temporary' level-the-playing-field measures have stretched out to nearly half a century, with no end in sight.  Human biodiversity being what it is, we're all familiar with the absurdities created: Dumbed-down firemen and police exams, black students with 1100 SAT scores given college spots over white students with 1400s, colleges scrapping cancer research in favor of diversity outreach departments.

The answer is obvious--get rid of quotas, and let the best man win, right?

But what if the best man isn't our man?

                           Image source

Henry Feingold:
These ambitious Jewish students [of the early 1900s] were unaware of what Thorstein Veblen called the "canons of genteel intercourse" which governed these institutions and were transmitted by them. Character, sportsmanship, and leadership ability ranked higher than scholarship and intellectualism. The governing class naturally possessed a sense of proprietorship in the older and more prestigious universities which their parents and sometimes grandparents had attended. Their resentment was expressed in a popular ditty sung by members of the established fraternities:

    Oh, Harvard's run by millionaires
    And Yale is run by booze,
    Cornell is run by farmer's sons,
    Columbia's run by Jews.

    So give a cheer for Baxter Street
    Another one for Pell
    And when the little sheenies die,
    Their souls will go to hell.  (5)


Although never officially legislated, between 1918 and the 1950s a number of private universities and medical schools introduced numerus clausus policies limiting admissions of students based on their religion or race...

For instance, the [Jewish] admission to Harvard University during that period fell from 27.6% to 17.1% and in Columbia University from 32.7% to 14.6%. [U.S. Jewish population was then 3 %.] Corresponding quotas were introduced in the medical and dental schools resulting during the 1930s in the decline of Jewish students: e.g. in Cornell University School of Medicine from 40% in 1918–22 to 3.57% in 1940–41, in Boston University Medical School from 48.4% in 1929–30 to 12.5% in 1934–35.

An alien group, making up just a fraction of the country's population, taking up to 50% of the top college spots.  A reason to worry?

5) Reining in an alien elite, today

Is this a reason to worry?

A freshman at Yale filed a complaint in the fall with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, contending he was denied admission to Princeton because he is Asian. The student, Jian Li, the son of Chinese immigrants in Livingston, N.J., had a perfect SAT score and near-perfect grades, including numerous Advanced Placement courses.
“This is just a very, very egregious system,” Mr. Li told me. “Asians are held to different standards simply because of their race.”
To back his claim, he cites a 2005 study by Thomas J. Espenshade and Chang Y. Chung, both of Princeton, which concludes that if elite universities were to disregard race, Asians would fill nearly four of five spots that now go to blacks or Hispanics.

“I’ve heard from Latinos and blacks that Asians should not be considered a minority at all,” says Elaine Kim, a professor of Asian-American studies at Berkeley. “What happened after they got rid of affirmative action has been a disaster — for blacks and Latinos. And for Asians it’s been a disaster because some people think the campus has become all-Asian.”

Are these worries legitimate?  Does a historic population have a right to keep aliens out of its institutions?  In the 1920s, elite colleges resented the Jewish invasion:

"The idea that any shrewd boy can by cramming get by on written examinations," asserted the President of Brown University, and "must thereby automatically be admitted to college is anti-American."

To fight it, Ivy League schools put in place 'legacy admissions,' and more:

Increasingly such devices as alumni screening committees, character tests which sought such factors as "public spirit" and sociability, and quotas based on geographic region, were employed to limit the enrollment of Jewish students. (5)

All criteria, we note, that are used today to bring larger numbers of Afros and Hispanics into the collegiate fold.


*     *     *

Euro-Americans who are HBD-aware seem almost split in two camps: (1) Those who favor an all-white or mostly-white society, pushing out folks such as the high-performing Chinese and Indian immigrants, and (2) Those who favor a multi-racial society of cognitive elites, where eugenics weeds out the least fit.

Whose vision is better?

Our African problem complicates things: Afros in America did not come here by choice. Not only were they brought against their will, but if you are of Irish, Italian, or Polish blood, their ancestors came here before yours.  Despite their cognitive deficiencies, do they have a 'right' to some slice of the employment/education pie, as cognitively-inferior Malays have given themselves against their superior Chinese minority?  Furthermore, should 'white' Americans--at this point an ethnic hodgepodge--reserve for themselves a certain slice of that pie against high-achieving alien immigrants today?

The poorly-conceived 1965 Immigration Act nearly assured that we would become the racially fractured state we are today, with wailings of ethnic grievance rising to the rafters on all sides.  In an ethno-stew like ours, meritocracy is never as clear-cut as it seems.  Genetic science may soon leave policy-makers with the unenviable task of doling out racial spoils in a world that is HBD-aware.  What grief could be saved tomorrow if we try to start thinking clearly about it today.

(1) Collins, W.H. The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South. NY: Neale Publishing Co., 1918.
(2) Anderson, Terry H. The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.
(3) Graham, Hugh Davis. Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America. NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.
(4) Kahlenberg, Richard D. The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action. NY: Basic Books, 1997.
(5) Feingold, Henry L. Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Twayne Publishers, 1974.


Anonymous said...

“What happened after they got rid of affirmative action has been a disaster — for blacks and Latinos. And for Asians it’s been a disaster because some people think the campus has become all-Asian.”

I doubt most of the Asian students think this is a disaster.


M.G. said...

They might think the anti-Asian sentiment being whipped up is a disaster (Asians 'shouldn't be a minority'? Figure out your verbiage, NAMs) but like every other ethnic group they're no doubt thrilled (1) to go to college and (2) to get to hang out mainly with folks that look like themselves.

California's the exception though, due to Proposition 209--most schools in the nation use still 'soft quotas' (per the Bakke decision) and if ever the rest of the country follows Cali's path, it could be an Asian invasion on a par with the Jewish one of the 1910s. That Espenshade study said

To have the same chances of gaining admission [to a top school] as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550.

So the bake sale sign up there has it wrong--those paying the most for their affirmative action cupcake should be Asians. Who knows if/when they'll start really making noise about it though.

Anonymous said...

Steven Farron wrote a long piece about Affirmative Action and Asians

M.G. said...

Thank you for the link to the Farron piece, Anonymous. I wasn't aware there was a victim-battle going on between Asians and Euros over who was suffering more from NAM soft quotas.

If I follow, he seems to be arguing that Asians may have better high school GPAs and SAT math scores than Euros, but that they go on to have worse college GPAs and professional board exam scores. For this reason, Asians shouldn't be peeved that, all else being equal, they need a 1550 SAT to get into a top college where a Euro only needs 1410.

What interested me most was this:

David Dai cites several studies, conducted in both the United States and Asia, that compared creativity of Chinese and Whites. All except one found that Chinese are less innovative and creative - less able to generate new ideas and approaches - than Whites.

[...] Creativity - "thinking outside the box" - does not contribute to high school grades. In fact, it may lower them. Nor is it captured by the SAT or the tests for entrance to professional schools. But it is an important factor in university performance and on professional qualifying examinations.

These debates about the different 'types of intelligence' of Asians and Euros are, I think, going to become a bigger issue as the racial spoils pie becomes smaller.

B322 said...

The race exclusion Afros complained of then was real and widespread....

A few headlines from our past:

"Boston, March 23. Refusing to associate with Dr. Melissa Thompson, a Negress of North Carolina, who has been appointed a physician in the maternity department of the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Roxbury, five young white women doctors sent in their resignation."

Whoa, wait a second. Having been educated by feminists for most of my life, I'll admit that I am woefully of ignorant of the actual facts of historical discrimination against women. I just have to say, off-topic, that the gender exclusion feminists complain of was either far less real or far less widespread than they have maintained.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but we're talking about five female doctors in one department of one hospital, in 1911.

Next thing you know, someone's going to say that all the major libertarian-conservative anthems of 1943 were written by women. Ridiculous! Or that in North Carolina, free blacks could vote on exactly the same basis as whites, in the 1790s.
Preposterous! Oh right, both of those things are true.

Back to the topic, I really don't see how Federal domestic policies could work properly without meritocracy. I have nothing against legacy admits, or AA or other types of racism, at private universities (as long as they don't take public grants--wouldn't that be nice?)

AA arguments are so odd and I rarely follow them; I see the point about Blacks' ancestors having been here longer than some Whites', and I don't know what to make of it. Blacks are supposed to be allowed to rob us of our livelihoods and neighborhoods because of what our ancestors did to theirs, yet Poles and Italians are being robbed too. I also don't understand the point about Afros coming here involuntarily; the major beneficiaries of AA are recent immigrants who came here voluntarily from Africa and Latin America.

M.G. said...

I really don't see how Federal domestic policies could work properly without meritocracy.

I agree. France's civil service is only accessed via anonymous exam, and for all its unwieldiness (and for all we moan about it) it actually runs very, very well. I've heard anecdotally that India's bureaucracy works badly in part because of set-asides for 'low castes' (sounds like our Post Office or TSA = giant make-work programs for Afro-Americans).

I also don't understand the point about Afros coming here involuntarily; the major beneficiaries of AA are recent immigrants who came here voluntarily from Africa and Latin America.

I was looking at the other side of the A.A. coin there. Some people reject the 'oppressed minorities should get quotas' argument (that new immigrants benefit from these is a travesty by the way), but embrace the 'historic population should use quotas against high-achieving newcomers' argument. For the latter, the debate often devolves into who the historic population really is--'Who was here first?' (or, 'Whose country is this?') South Africa has this problem, Malaysia too. Those Ivy League ethnic quotas in the 1920s didn't just target Jews, but Catholics and Blacks too. I was just acknowledging the fact that WASPs once felt (and some still do feel) they needed quotas to keep out later ethnic interlopers, and that in that sense Afros in America can't really be considered 'later' or 'interlopers.'

arguendo said...

in 1965, it was probable that almost all blacks in the new world were the descendants of slaves. Arguendo Affirm. Act., the 1965 cohort had "unrealized labor appreciation" on the america their grandfathers built.
In 2012, though, there have been massive influxes of africans (see: POTUS). The "unrealized appreciation" line does not work well with someone from nigeria who now lives in texas. As "black" dilutes with immigration, so to does the intellectual framework for AA

M.G. said...

The "unrealized appreciation" line does not work well with someone from nigeria who now lives in texas.

Agreed. Among many others, Kahlenberg gives this anecdote:

At the University of Michigan,...the wealthy daughter of a black ambassador, attending a prestigious Ivy League college, was preferred in graduate admissions over a comparably qualified white welfare daughter who was schooled at a public university.

I didn't go into it, but the whole story of how fresh-off-the-boat immigrants have wormed their way into the 'historically oppressed minority' camp is instructive (and depressing). I recommend Chapter 6 of the Hugh Davis Graham book for anyone who wants the sordid details.

B322 said...

I like reading what you write, M.G., even if it takes a few passes to figure it out.

I'm all in favor of coming with a solid ethical-intellectual stance on AA.

A compromise might be, in a word, citizenism. Reduce or eliminate student visas. Private colleges who want to join in could dramatically reduce the number of slots for foreigners. Only US-born Asians (still a large pool) would be around to dominate academe, though I'm still okay with purely-private unis erecting racial quotas as long as they are open about it.

Discard said...

The Chinese and Hindus in this country are an imported overclass. They are brought here for the same reason the British brought Indians to Africa, as loyal servants of the rulers. They, of course, will be free to exploit us as long as they do the bidding of their patrons.
In Southeast Asia, the Chinese are the market dominant minority, they despise the locals, and the locals hate them right back. Expect the same here. They have no more regard for us Americans than the open-borders lobby does. Don't play equal rights with these people, cut them off and send them home. They are no more American than Somalies are, wherever they're born. Deport them now and save future generations a boatload of trouble.

M.G. said...

Now that's the kind of practical yet ethical (and workable) policy idea I would like to see floated. Yet today it would be considered 'fringe;' I hope that in the not-too-distant future it is will be part of the mainstream conversation.

I agree about the lack of regard. Unfortunately the 1965 Immigration Act opened up a flood of chain-migration from places which have no cultural, linguistic, or religious affinity with the U.S.'s historical population. Reforming that piece of legislation would be an excellent first step.

Audacious Epigone said...

I think Olave nails it.

When in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. We haven't figured out how to create a harmonious multi-ethnic/racial state, so we need to stop pouring more fuel on the fire through Latin American and to a lesser extent Asian immigration.

From there, only meritocracy seems workable--is white nationalism really even workable without white separatism, at least the sort of thoughtful white nationalism espoused by guys like Jared Taylor?

This doesn't address the political feasibility of either steps in this two-step process, but there is reason not to assume they are utterly unrealizable. Immigration restrictionism and ending affirmative action are both populist issues, as Kris Kobach and Ward Connerly have done a damn good job of illustrating at the state level.

M.G. said...

Audacious Epigone--
Immigration restrictionism and ending affirmative action are both populist issues

Indeed. The 1924 Immigration Act which effectively turned off the tap on South and East Europeans was preceded by years of lobbying and activism. It was a very popular law. This 1921 editorial supporting it amazes me, as it was printed in the New York Times. It refers to newer Catholic immigrants as 'isolated alien colonies' (!) and says:

From England, Scotland, and Ireland we shall receive immigrants who already speak our language, have kindred standards of living and similar political traditions. Scandinavians, though foreign to us in language, are racially and politically close kindred.

What a difference a century makes. Immigration restriction still popular, but now taboo in the establishment media.

Today, as you say, it's being left more and more to the states to work out these issues. What worries me is the feds sticking their nose in (e.g. Arizona being sued by DOJ over immigration enforcement), particularly under this glorified Jesse Jackson we've got as Attorney General. (Prop 209's under fire too, but still holding on.) Let's hope our fifty 'laboratories of democracy' can keep doing their work free from Fed meddling--an Obama victory this year may make that less likely.

rjp said...

I am afraid of Affirmative Action.

Anyone who is hired because of such is generally rather hostile, they know they don't belong there, they're out of their league. And having to work in anyway with them is a tippy-toe adventure in avoiding offending them.

I would rather work with an unqualified white son or daughter than an Affirmative Action hire. At least they generally know why they got their job and that if they don't mess up, that they will advance. Or they will just move on -- Affirmative Action hires are for life, or until convicted.

Anonymous said...

An excellent post as usual. I don't think meritocracy is compatible with "diversity". Powerful forces work to maintain ethnic/racial divisions in the U.S. Affirmative action is one of them, programs like "Black history month" are another. As long as these identities are valued, nepotism will prevail.

bjdubbs said...

One solution to AA in college admissions (and to racial grievance more generally) would be more ethnico-religious institutions. There are HBCs. Evangelicals started Liberty and Ave Maria in the last few years. Jews founded Brandeis. I think there might be less racial and ethnic grievance if groups felt they had their own separate-but-equal institutions. HBCs appear to be very popular with their audience. Brandeis is also popular among first and second generation Jews, and Liberty and Ave Maria likewise. Mormons started BYU. There is nothing more American than starting your own sectarian university.

M.G. said...

a tippy-toe adventure in avoiding offending them.

It seems everyone who's worked in an American office in the last generation (myself included) has experienced this, but it's hard to quantify and even harder to find published anthologies of such accounts. I've been scouring the internet for a repository of just such anecdotes, with little luck. If you know of any do let me know; I would like to write about that.

I used to think meritocracy was compatible with diversity, but I've become more disabused of that notion as the years go by. Which makes our future in America look bleak indeed.

Yes, this is a really solid proposal. Of course at the grade and high school levels, sectarian private institutions have already become the (expensive) solution for urban white (and talented-tenth black) families fleeing the dysfunctional NAM public schools. Can/will this expand further? I'm more and more of the opinion that Afros, realizing they truly cannot compete with other ethnic groups on their own merits, will start to demand more and more all-black institutions, even at the primary level. I personally would be thrilled to see more sectarian universities for Euro-Americans.

Anonymous said...

I think there might be less racial and ethnic grievance if groups felt they had their own separate-but-equal institutions.

Well as the OP more or less explained, that was the status quo post-American civil war to the civil rights era and yet it resulted in plenty of racial grievances.

Anonymous said...

"For this reason, Asians shouldn't be peeved that, all else being equal, they need a 1550 SAT to get into a top college where a Euro only needs 1410."

Actually the Espenshade study didn't say that.


Espenshade's 2009 study found that in some ranges, increasing the SAT or ACT scores or number of AP exams reduced the chances of admission. This is not a statistical error, it is a correct description of his data, and is a real effect. But the source of the effect is applicant behavior, not the admissions offices. Applicants with better test scores and more AP exams apply to schools with lower admission rates, and Espenshade's study mixed more and less selective schools in his data set.


The "elephant in the room" in the Espenshade et al statistical studies is that their clearest and most important finding as to how admissions works (though they may not have fully understood it, or didn't want to talk about it) was that gender, not race, is the key factor driving the manipulated admissions standards, especially as they concern whites and Asians, and that the discrimination is performed in favor of women.

Ryu238 said...

Bullshit: http://nilevalleypeoples.blogspot.com/2022/06/critical-race-theory-debunked-part-2.html