Liberal web publication Slate has a surprise for its left-leaning readers: a long critique of affirmative action.
Tanner Colby, author of Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, wrote Monday night that, in his view, “affirmative action doesn’t work. It never did.”
Though unwilling to say that the preferential treatment of blacks in employment and school admissions is intrinsically harmful, Colby seeks to inform his readers of something the Right has known for decades: Affirmative action has been nothing short of a failure.
Colby throws some red meat to his left-leaning readers in the form of overt accusations that Republicans are disdainful of and callous toward blacks, seeking to control and subdue them rather than help them. Still, many of his arguments come right out of the conservative playbook.
“For starters, the government doesn’t actually enforce affirmative action,” he writes regarding private-sector employment. Contrary to popular belief, he admits, the government cannot regulate to utopia. The 600 staffers in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, tasked with ensuring businesses adhere to affirmative-action laws, cannot possibly review every single business in America with more than 50 employees.
Even if government could police every business, preferentially employing blacks does not actually solve the problem of racial inequality. “Affirmative action treats workplace discrimination like a bureaucratic, process-based problem,” Colby says. “In reality, workplace discrimination stems from a very nebulous social and cultural problem.” The problem is not necessarily that there aren’t enough blacks in the workforce (at least not on its face), but rather — as conservatives have long acknowledged — that a substantial number black Americans live in a culture that does not prepare them for later success.
So what if government attempts to create equality before minorities enter the workforce through affirmative action in college admissions? Well, that doesn’t work either, Colby says. “In the end, most colleges end up cherry-picking the black kids with the best SAT scores in order to show their ‘commitment to diversity,’ while the real problems of inequality go unaddressed,” he says. “That hardly seems like a solution.”
Meanwhile, “affirmative action becomes more contentious, more stigmatizing, harder to enforce, and less effective the older its purported beneficiaries are,” he adds.
In the end Colby, seeing the failures of government-engineered racial equality measures, recommends further government intrusion through a “New Deal–style reformation.” But at least he recognizes that “the Democratic party and the racial justice movement are sitting on a junk heap of racial preference programs that aren’t doing anyone much good.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.