The Tenacious Absurdity of Anti-racism

The Atlantic is a magazine with a splendid history. Yet it recently published an article—“‘Race Neutral’ Is the New ‘Separate but Equal,’” by Uma Mazyck Jayakumar and Ibram X. Kendi—that is both self-contradictory and morally questionable.

“Separate but equal,” the policy outlawed by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, was explicitly racist because students were allocated to separate schools by their race. Yet the authors equate this policy to the explicitly raceneutral SCOTUS ruling against affirmative action. The court ruling forbids allocating admissions offers by race; “separate but equal” did the opposite. So how are they equivalent, exactly?

They are equivalent, according to Jayakumar and Kendi, because they are both associated with racial inequities. Evidently the Atlantic’s editors bought the authors’ claim that any policy that has disparate impact (although the authors don’t use that term) is … questionable, even racist (although they avoid that word):

[T]he Court endorsed SFFA’s [the plaintiff in the Harvard/UNC case] call for “race neutral” admissions in higher education … effectively permitting the major admissions metrics that have long led to racial inequities in college admissions … a normality of racial inequity.

In other words, “major admissions metrics” (SAT scores, grades, etc.) that make no mention of race might “normalize” racial inequities. By “inequities,” the authors seem to mean not some kind of objective unfairness but simply numerical disparities. If blacks as a group score less well than whites or Asians on academic measures, then, so long as the tests are fair, so what? But we have all become so hypersensitive to racial differences that any disparity is supposedly racist, no matter the cause. So, no need to actually use the word. Just jump right away to anti-racism:

Affirmative-action policies are anti-racist because they have been proved to reduce racial inequities [disparities], while many of the regular admissions metrics are racist because they maintain racial inequities.

Here, the authors finally state their basic thesis directly: Racism is to be defined not by laws, policies, or individual prejudice, but by results. Racism is proved if blacks as a group have less of anything (college admissions, money, health, etc.) than whites.

[Related: “Destroying the Racial Preference Industrial Complex”]

The anti-racism thesis was popularized by Dr. Kendi some years ago and, despite its questionable logic, has many supporters. But the error began much earlier, when poll taxes and literacy tests that didn’t mention race were condemned as “racist” because blacks, poorer and less literate than whites, struggled to pay the tax or pass the test.

Kendi’s thesis—disparate impact equals racism—makes sense from two points of view: 1) as a simple “black power” play, a way to get more resources for blacks, but also 2) as a way to identify racism, given that whites and blacks are equal in all their faculties. If the two groups are behaviorally identical, then, obviously, any social, academic, wealth, etc. differences must be due to differential treatment, i.e., racism.

Unfortunately, as numerous studies have shown, self-identified whites and blacks differ by many metrics, including their interests and cognitive abilities. Consequently, individual and group differences cannot be excluded, and disparate impact—differential results of a racially neutral test—cannot necessarily be attributed to racism.

What’s left is the power-play argument: blacks, because of their tragic history, just deserve more. That argument is unanswerable by logic, but let’s look a little closer at the unfairness issue.

There are usually more white than black applicants to most selective colleges. So, even if whites, on average, score higher than blacks, there will still be more white than black rejects. Yet the “disparate impact” on that group can hardly be called racist. What’s the difference, given that the “metrics” are race-neutral? What could justify the authors’ attempt to elevate rejected black students at the expense of rejected white students?

[Related: “Death of a Science Academy”]

The answer seems to be race-related emotion. It may help to distinguish three properties of any rule or requirement:

• What does it actually say? (Does it mention race, for example?)

• What effect does it have?

• What were the intentions of the drafter(s) of the rule/requirement?

These three are routinely confused. Literacy tests are sometimes called “oppressive technologies,” for example, though they aren’t racial, because certain races may perform differently than others. Literacy tests for voting are now considered racist, partly because many suspect the intention of those who imposed them. If the testers’ intentions are good, there is no reason to call such tests racist or “oppressive.” Tests like the ACT or the SAT, which also do not mention race, are obviously not intended to discriminate racially. Yet, like literacy tests, they, too, have disparate impact.

Unfortunately, the muddled precedent of literacy tests allows Jayakumar and Kendi to label as racist any test on which blacks do badly. The result is the absurdly self-contradictory concept of anti-racism, which urges racist remedies for non-racist actions.

The Atlantic should be embarrassed to lend its prestige to this logically false and morally challenged project.

Image: Montclair Film, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

6 thoughts on “The Tenacious Absurdity of Anti-racism

  1. “despite its questionable logic”????????
    Mr. Rivieux is way too kind…significantly too deferential…and far too collegially polite.

    Kendi’s ‘Anti-Racism Thesis’ is garbage. It’s always been garbage. And it’s racist garbage at that.

    Racism is race-based discrimination & prejudice as measured NOT by outcome but by action, by intent, and/or by declaration to so distinguish, separate, or demarcate by race. To insist that racism is none of those things but only non-equal outcomes is not just ‘questionable’, it’s flat out idiotic.

    If I separate a given population by height (over 6′ stand here; under 6′ stand there) …I am discriminating on the basis of height. If the outcome of that height sort puts 80% of all Blacks in the over 6′ group THAT is not racist…it’s ‘heightist’. The fact that the outcome is racially imbalanced tells us only that more Blacks are taller. This is not evidence of anti-Black (or anti-White) racism; it’s evidence of height. The sort standard is not race-discriminatory; neither is the sort process.

    If the best BBall players get to play in the NBA, then the sort standard for the NBA is quality of play. This is not a racial standard; it’s a performance standard. The fact that 73% of all NBA players are black does not mean that measuring scoring, rebounding, defense, and ball movement is racist. It just means more Blacks, relatively speaking, are damned good at BBall.

    If you and I run the 100m dash…and I beat you time, after time, after time… there are really only two possibilities: either the race is crooked…or I’m faster. And if we race at 10,000 different venues, for 50 years straight, with different judges, different starters, different referees, different shoes, different socks, and different coaches….and I win 9787 times….well, it’s pretty darned reasonable to conclude that you’re slower. If you’re Black and I’m White that does not make me a White Supremacist…nor does it make you a victim of race racism. It just indicates I’m faster in the 100m dash.

    Most times the simplest and most direct answer, with the fewest moving parts is the best answer; just ask Occam.

    So when the Court finally, agonizingly, confirms that it’s illegal, and unconstitutional (also immoral, unethical, and wrong) to discriminate on the basis of race…that truth does not move us backwards; it moves us forward, thank God. And the answer to outcome imbalance is and always has been abundantly clear: you wanna win more races, get faster. You want to play in the NBA, get better. You want admission to the best schools, work harder.

    It’s always been that simple. But it’s never been easy.

  2. The fallacy that disparities demonstrate racism is debunked convincingly and in great detail in “Discrimination and Disparities” by Thomas Sowell. The point is that every human being was subject to many influences besides heredity to produce a variety of abilities and behavioral traits. Trying to give just one of those influences the power to cause outcomes is quite mistaken

  3. Crying racism is the default excuse used by blacks not being admitted to good colleges. Lower academic skills could not possibly be the reason. No, it must be racism. And any possible example that can be twisted into supporting the racism accusation will be used, no matter how absurd.

    This practice has been around for many decades. I recall back in the 70s when it was first claimed the SAT exam was racist the following example question was given as “proof”:

    (I don’t remember the exact wording so I’m paraphrasing.)
    In a boat race a yacht completed the 5 mile course in 12 minutes. What was the average speed of the yacht in miles per hour?

    The question was deemed racist. Why? Because blacks are not familiar with yacht racing.

    No doubt Kendi would approve of the claim.

    1. Heaven help me — I am in a very dark mood today:

      Kendi was fleeing the cops after having shot someone, he ran 5 miles in 12 minutes — what was his average speed in miles per hour?

  4. I say again: A 76% illegitimacy rate is not healthy for children, particularly boys.

    We’re not allowed to even say this, let alone study it, but my guess is that if we took a look at young Black men who grew up with a father in their household, they’d probably be doing a whole lot better than their peers. But we can’t say this, let alone research it…

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