Sociologist: White Preference Critics Are Biased, Racist

At the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York, which concluded yesterday, Frank Samson, an assistant professor at the University of Miami, argued that “white people” who criticize affirmative action are biased, racist hypocrites, and Inside Higher Ed backed him up.

“Critics of affirmative action generally argue that the country would be better off with a meritocracy,” Inside Higher Ed editor Scott Jaschik writes in his gotcha!-celebrating report on Samson’s paper. “But what if they think they favor meritocracy but at some level actually have a flexible definition, depending on which groups would be helped by certain policies?” Samson’s findings, Jaschik writes, “suggest that the definition of meritocracy used by white people is far more fluid than many would admit, and that this fluidity results in white people favoring certain policies (and groups) over others.” Note how Samson, or Jaschik, or both sloppily assume all “critics of affirmative action” are “white people.” That will be news to Ward Connerly, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and many others.

Samson surveyed “white California adults” and found they claimed to favor meritocratic admissions standards, but when they learned that Asians have higher grades and test scores than whites “their views change.” Whites, in short, “are something other than pure in their embrace of meritocratic approaches.”

And, Samson charges, not only impure but also unfair. “While the principle of fairness may be a driving concern” in whites’ attitudes towards affirmative action, Samson writes, “the malleability of white respondent’s attitudes … about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process.”

Perhaps whites who claim to believe in meritocratic standards until they hear that Asians benefit more are hypocritical, but are they really “anything but fair?” Or any less fair than minorities who favor lower standards for themselves and thus obviously don’t believe “all groups should be subject to the same procedural process”? We should withhold judgement on this question until we can see the actual questions in Samson’s survey, since by now it is well established that substantial numbers of respondents say they support “affirmative action” but oppose preferential treatment based on race. Or maybe Samson thinks they are impure, unfair, and hypocritical as well.

But for white racial bias, Samson writes, even “key Supreme Court decisions” [that] have been framed as being about meritocracy … might have been framed differently or not even brought at all.” Referring to Ricci v. DeStefano, in which the Supreme Court upheld a complaint by white firefighters in New Haven that the results of a promotion exam had been thrown out because not enough blacks passed, Samson asks whether the white firefighters would even have sued “if Jews or Asians had taken the test and gotten higher scores?”

Even this implication of selfish racism is clumsily opaque, since why would “white firefighters” complain that high scoring “Jews [who Samson obviously believes are not white] or Asians” were not promoted?

Many papers at the sociologists’ annual meeting were devoted to ferreting out “hidden bias,” but the anti-white bias that drips from Samson’s paper is anything but hidden.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

2 thoughts on “Sociologist: White Preference Critics Are Biased, Racist

  1. The entire premise of the Inside Higher Education report is a straw man:
    “Critics of affirmative action generally argue that the country would be better off with a meritocracy, typically defined as an admissions system where high school grades and standardized test scores are the key factors, applied in the same way to applicants of all races and ethnicities.”
    Actually, that characterization of opponents of affirmative action is incorrect. I think opponents do generally favor a more holistic criteria that could even take income into account, but they do not want admissions officers to use that holistic criteria as simply a proxy for black race or Hispanic ethnicity. Moreover, opponents do not like that affirmative action rewards some students “points” in admission based simply on a census box they check.

  2. This is the sort of academic research that gives research a bad name. Even if we agree that Samson has shown that whites (not just his sample of Californians) are inconsistent in their views regarding affirmative action, nothing whatsoever logically follows from that. You will find inconsistencies in any group of people on any issue. If you survey business owners, who claim to favor capitalism, and find that some substantial percentage of them want tariffs to protect their businesses, does that in any way undermine the case for capitalism? No.

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