The Corruption of Affirmative Action
Affirmative action continues forward on a basis of denials and misperceptions. In discussing the Sotomayor nomination, Michael Gerson wrote in a recent column:
Racial injustice against African Americans is still alive in America, and the wounds and disadvantages of slavery and segregation linger. The vision of an entirely colorblind society can itself be a kind of blindness, ignoring continuing struggles and continuing bigotry. Institutions should be able to address past and present injustice through some forms of affirmative action, including the aggressive recruitment of minorities and the use of race as one factor among many in subjective admissions and hiring decisions. But denying earned benefits because of race alone is an injustice that will never solve an injustice.
We’ll leave aside the non-specific indictment of America for ongoing racism, an unhelpful note sounded now and again during the Bush administration by various people. Regarding the idea that race can be a factor in admissions and hiring but must not be the sole factor, this is a meaningless distinction. We know from years and years of experience that making race a factor leads to its being the only factor, and that this in turn supports, de facto, the idea of group rights and proportional representation, a.k.a. quotas.
This is illustrated in Judge Sotomayor’s own pronouncements deploring that Hispanics are not represented on the bench according to their share of the population. The absence of group equality in given fields is often the only argument produced to prove that America is still racist. Sotomayor has explicitly said that minorities should reject the idea of “selection by merit alone,” and should insist on race and ethnicity as wedges to gain admissions and appointments. And she agitated ardently for more inclusion of Hispanics at Princeton and Yale.
Yet she was insulted when a recruiter at Yale Law School tactlessly wondered aloud in her presence if she might have been the recipient of affirmative action, and she went on to file a formal complaint. Opponents of affirmative action have always warned that it would lead to suspicion about the credentials of any given minority.
Then in the early 1990s, Sotomayor did admit that she was a beneficiary of affirmative action and that her SATs were lower than average for Princeton. At that point she turned to the argument that Hispanics score lower because of cultural bias on the tests. But cultural bias on the SATs has been disproven, and Sotomayor herself went to a good, competitive Catholic high school. She can’t really point to any specific cultural bias on the test; she invokes it as a generality. Affirmative action is like the tangled web we weave when first beginning to deceive both ourselves and others.