This fall, I debated or spoke about racial preferences in college admissions at lots of schools. By far the most common challenge/question in favor of preferences I hear is some variant of:
How can you favor colorblind policies when discrimination still exists–and without using racial preferences, what is to be done about discrimination, and the various racial disparities that exist, and the lack of diversity that universities might otherwise have?
To save time next semester, here is my response:
- Nobody denies that discrimination still exists (although only a delusional person–not that there aren’t lots of them–would assert that the amount of discrimination that exists today is anything like the discrimination that existed prior to the 1960s). Those of us who oppose preferences want colorblindness as a matter of law and admissions practice; we are not suggesting that individuals are or ever will be literally colorblind, duh.
- Fighting discrimination against some African Americans by some individuals through replacing it with discrimination in favor of other African Americans by universities is nonsensical; no university uses this argument to justify admission preferences, and if one did no court would accept it.
- There are, in any event, better ways to fight the discrimination that remains, the most obvious of which is enforcing the laws that we have on the books that make it illegal and that have transformed American society in less than a generation. More broadly, we can stigmatize discrimination and vilify it in the popular culture, as of course we already do.
- Racial disparities in admission rates at the top schools are, in 2007, not a result of discrimination. They reflect a pipeline problem: By the time kids reach the age of 18, a disproportionate number of African Americans are not among the most academically qualified. The reason for this, in turn, is (a) a disproportionate number go to lousy public schools (and the way to address this problem is by giving parents more choice in the schools to which they can send their children); (b) a culture that treats academic excellence as “acting white”; and (c) first and foremost, the fact that seven out of 10 African Americans are born out of wedlock. Less parental support and supervision means worse social outcomes.
- Address these problems and colorblind admission policies will yield more diversity (i.e., more African American admittees) than if we don’t. But in the meantime, I am not willing to forego admitting the best qualified students–not willing, that is, to sacrifice the principle of nondiscrimination on the altar of political correctness–even if that means less diversity of melanin content on a particular (selective) college campus. The need for such diversity is exaggerated and, in any event, it’s not worth the personal unfairness and myriad social costs of discrimination.