The Anger of Affirmative Action Advocates

Kevin Carey, policy director at Education Sector, a DC think tank, has a commentary in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education that signals the kind of rhetoric we may expect from proponents of affirmative action as the Fisher case heads to the Supreme Court. It is a mixture of high-mindedness for one side and denunciation of the other.

Here is how it begins:

“The activist judges of the United States Supreme Court, by choosing last month to take up Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin,
have decided to put affirmative action back on the national agenda. The
fragile five-vote coalition that upheld race-based admissions policies
at the University of Michigan less than a decade ago has been dispersed
by retirement. Now the court’s conservative majority seems poised–stare decisis be damned–to upend decades of established law and prohibit colleges from creating classes as they see fit.”

The moral set-up is clear. While affirmative action amounts merely
to colleges “creating classes as they see fit,”
anti-affirmative action amounts to “activist” judging, high-handed legal
machinations (“be damned”), and disrespect of tradition.

The caricature proceeds from there. Carey mentions Chief Justice
Roberts and claims “This is a man who . . . failed to see any
distinction between the vicious state-sponsored racism outlawed by Brown v. Board of Education
and present day policies designed to give minority children a better
education.” Think for a moment about that characterization. Once
again, one side is all benign (all they want to do is better educate
minority kids), the other all sinister. Does Carey really think that
Roberts sees no distinction between Jim Crow and current practices? The
paragraph ends, “Perhaps somewhere in the court’s vast law library
there is a dictionary explaining that the word ‘discriminate’ has two
definitions, only one of which is malign.” This is sarcasm posing as

Carey goes on to note the endurance of legacy-based affirmative
action, concluding that “In other words, affirmative action for rich
white people will be legal, while affirmative action for low-income
minority students will not. This is justice?”

The rest of the piece maintains the condescension and
tendentiousness. Carey is so energized about the issue, and so firmly
convinced of one side’s right and the other side’s wrong, that he cannot
grant opponents of affirmative action a whisper of credibility. It
runs with indignation, and it views the entire issue as a contest of
justice and injustice.

It is hard to figure how opponents of affirmative action best respond
to such charges. If you enter a debate with your adversaries offering
as their first premise your iniquity, if they frame your evidence
and arguments as expressions of evil intent, you can’t win. This is
how political correctness operates.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

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4 thoughts on “The Anger of Affirmative Action Advocates

  1. I don t think affirmative action necessarily lowers the quality of workers. I think companies typically make sure a potential worker is qualified for the position. For example, if it comes down to a man and a woman of equal credentials, they might pick the woman to meet the quota. Even then though, the woman will probably work harder than the man would have because in the work force, especially in a field dominated by men such as engineering, women need to prove themselves so they are taken seriously, whereas a man who is hired will be more likely to slack off because he wouldn’t worry as much about what others thought. Unfortunately though, there are other cases where employers just pick a minority to meet the quota. In this instance problems can definitely occur if the new worker s qualifications are not up to par. I know this from experience because my dad works for the government and in his job if he interviews people of all types of races and backgrounds and does not end up picking a person of the minority then he has to fill out a large stack of papers saying why the white person was more qualified than the black person. And his argument had better be convincing or else he could be fired. My dad was actually put on trial at his job because a black woman accused him of being racist .for choosing a black man over her. This is absolutely ridiculous. I don t think there is any way to justify this. Sometimes affirmative action can be a good thing because it keeps diversity in the workplace, but anytime the quality of the company or product is neglected, affirmative action can have very negative effects.In regards to Nepotism, I think quality is often compromised. Usually when people help their family or friends, they are doing so because the person in need of assistance cannot find work or does not have the skills to get a job on their own. This means that the person will be given a position for which they probably do not qualify. This is not fair to other people trying to get the same position who are qualified, and it is also not fair to the employer or company. The new worker will probably do a below average quality level of work, and this will hurt the business. I definitely agree with the guy on this video that industries like healthcare can suffer. Nepotism should be used lightly, because if you help someone who is struggling to get into medical school and he/she becomes a doctor then eventually makes a big mistake such as killing someone during a surgery, you are somewhat to blame for helping them get to that position. I know this sounds extreme but there are instances where dramatic things like this can occur, and it s not worth taking the risk. If someone isn’t qualified for a position, they shouldn’t be accepted into it. A big problem with nepotism is that it is like lying because it often involves writing fabricated recommendations for people who do not deserve them. Doing this can have a chain negative effect and hurt many people including consumers or patients.

  2. The anger of the defense forces arrayed around racial preferences is well known — the recent riot by zealots at the University of Wisconsin being a recent and highly illuminating example. I am quite surprised, however, that Kevin Carey is also adopting this good versus evil approach. Many of his writings are entirely reasonable, often departing from straight leftist orthodoxy. The fact that he is unwilling to examine the issue of racial preferences in a way that acknowledges trade-offs and allows that opponents of race preferences are not bigoted people indicates the extraordinary, narcotic grip it has on so many.

  3. Note the dichotomy: It’s either poor black kids or rich white kids. No middle-class black kids and no white kids who are not well-to-do.
    I happen to know that many of the non-black students who attend the U. of Michigan are not from affluent suburbs, and at least some of the black students do not come from backgrounds of grinding poverty.
    The writer laughs at the idea of “two forms of discrimination.” He is correct to do so. When you give finite resources to some people but not others based on their race, it’s discrimination. You can argue that it’s good or necessary discrimination, but that’s what it is.

  4. There are ways to reframe it so that you take the moral high ground and focus on trying to convince your audience instead of the opposing speaker.
    So maybe the way to start out is by saying “So Kevin, you think too many Asians are going to college, do you now?”
    or “So Kevin, you don’t think Blacks can hack it under a fair admissions process, do you? Ever hear of George Washington Carver, Colin Powell, and, oh yeah, Barack Obama? You’re the pessimist. I’m the optimist.”

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