Politics & Policy

Liberal Distortion at The Atlantic

Contra what is said about my recent column, affirmative action is the true racial injustice.

From time to time, someone who blogs at The Atlantic named Conor Friedersdorf, self-identified as a Venice Beach writer, critiques columns that I write. His commentary is usually illogical and sometimes puerile — and his latest post about my prior essay on the fallout from the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case is unfortunately no exception.

But before offering a reply to Friedersdorf, I might offer some advice. The way to reach our goals of racial parity is not to downplay black urban male youths’ statistical underperformance in terms of test scores and GPA records, or statistical overrepresentation in criminal activity, but to reverse the equation — statistical overrepresentation in matters of academic excellence and underrepresentation in matters criminal. As someone who taught Classical languages for over two decades to mostly minority youths, both goals are achievable. In that regard, I would advise Conor Friedersdorf that he might be more successful in achieving racial parity by spending more time tutoring in Huron or Sanger and less offering the now-tired liberal hysterics from the Santa Monica–area beaches.

Friedersdorf is obsessed over the idea of a “glaring contradiction” — indeed “an exception!” — between my past (“last year”) skepticism over affirmative action, and one’s practical awareness that young black urban males who approach one in a city are statistically far more likely to commit violent crimes than those outside their age, gender, racial, and geographical categories (e.g., other racial groups or females, older blacks, rural blacks, etc.). For these observations I am supposedly a hypocrite or worse.

Of course, there is no such contradiction, despite Friedersdorf’s accusation that “colorblindness is his sacred ideal, group statistics be damned.”

On the contrary, he somehow fails to see that it is precisely affirmative action that is emblematic of “statistics be damned”: Grade-point averages and test scores are often nullified by considerations of race — on logic that is so poorly articulated and incoherent that it is rarely published or transparent (e.g., Which particular group is entitled to how much preference? How can we assess racial lineage in an increasingly multiracial society? Does class or race better illustrate diversity or privilege and advantage? How are we to weigh competing historical claims from various groups on the need for compensation? Etc.).

Most Americans (cf. a younger Jesse Jackson’s infamous assessment) assume that a particular profile can be connected to an increased likelihood of criminality — without automatically assuming that all who might fit that profile are statistically likely to commit a crime, or that one need necessarily to do anything about those statistics other than to be mentally aware of the troublesome percentages.

Does Friedersdorf understand that basic concept?

Students compete for slots on the basis of their records — in other words, those statistics calibrating how they performed both in class and on tests. To ignore numbers consistently would be to assume other factors should outweigh (rather than be a consideration in) students’ recorded achievement in college admissions, and to assume that a group of young urban black males approaching you is no more likely to commit a crime than, say, are four elderly Asian women or three African-American seven-year-olds.

Friedersdorf also either cannot read or is abjectly dishonest. He sneers at my father’s advice to note the greater propensity of young black urban males who approach you to commit crime: “A given black male is very unlikely to rob, rape, or murder anyone. But Hanson still warns his kid to be wary of all young blacks on the street. He knows the vast majority of blacks who perceive that wariness will be innocent.”

But I most certainly did not write what Friedersdorf claims I wrote.

In relating my father’s own experience and advice, I did not warn about “all young blacks on the street,” but instead qualified such wariness with the following careful admonitions:

1. “In my case, the sermon — aside from constant reminders to judge a man on his merits, not on his class or race — was very precise.”

2. “‘When you go to San Francisco, be careful if a group of black youths approaches you [emphasis added].’ Note what he did not say to me. He did not employ language like “typical black person.” He did not advise extra caution about black women, the elderly, or the very young — or about young Asian Punjabi, or Native American males. In other words, the advice was not about race per se, but instead about the tendency of males of one particular age and race to commit an inordinate amount of violent crime.”

And he distorts further when he says, “[Hanson] knows the vast majority of blacks who perceive that wariness will be innocent.” Of course, black elderly, the very young, and females will be aware that statistically speaking they are not necessarily more likely to commit violent crime than other groups, but they also know that statistically speaking black urban male youth are — and statistically in urban areas both more likely to target other blacks, and when they do target whites to do so at rates eight times more prevalent than white-on-black crime. In the Washington, D.C., area, for example, 75 to 85 percent of black males will at some point have been arrested, and over 40 percent involved in the criminal-justice system. So if Friedersdorf is referring to young black urban males per se, I am not sure “vast majority” is always a statistically correct description. And yes, regrettably, many blacks outside of that statistical group will perceive the wariness of the general population, but why does Friedersdorf assume that a middle-aged black woman will not herself be more wary of a group of young black urban males approaching her than some young Asian males, given the disturbing statistics of criminal propensity by race, age, and gender?

Only by distorting or ignoring entirely those preconditions can Friedersdorf strut that he has found some contradiction: “Like the college-admissions officer of his nightmares, he just finds race too useful as shorthand to refrain from giving ‘special treatment’ based on skin color.”

No, in both cases, I find that race should not nullify statistical probability, as in diminishing the importance of someone’s GPA or SAT due to her skin color, or believing that all racial, gender, and age groups offer equal statistical likelihood in an urban context of committing a crime. I apologize if in fact the combination of GPA and SAT data is a less reliable predictor of future academic success in college than is race, or that there are no statistical data that confirm greater criminal proclivity based on age, race, gender, and locale.

Friedersdorf’s elitism is manifest when he writes, “For Hanson, it is a miscarriage of justice worth lamenting if an Asian-American applicant to UC Berkeley loses a spot to a black applicant due to racial preferences. And perhaps that is an injustice. Maybe the Asian American is the child of an impoverished family of Hmong refugees and the black applicant is the president’s daughter. What is the likely result of that injustice? The Asian-American applicant must attend UCLA or UCI.”

From his sarcastic perch in Venice Beach, I suppose it is no big deal to Friedersdorf that an Asian American who worked a lifetime to achieve superior grades and test scores, inter alia, might have that record nullified by being denied admission to the flagship Berkeley campus due to his race — even if he might be poorer than someone more privileged of a more favored racial category. But for thousands of students who strive to achieve academic excellence in the hope that our system will commensurately evaluate their achievement in a racially blind way, the consequence deserves far more than his offhanded and condescending “perhaps.”

 NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.


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