Sowell on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

In this column, Thomas Sowell contemplates the progress — and retrogression — America has made since the famous 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous speech.

Sowell is well-known for his opposition to preferential policies (in fact, one of his books is devoted entirely to that subject) and writes, apropos of King’s idea that people ought to be judged on the content of their character, “judging individuals by their individual character is at the opposite pole from judging how groups are statistically represented among employees, college students or political figures.”

Despite the widespread use of racial preferences in admissions to prestigious colleges over the last 40 years or so, the deep problems that plague much of black America have gotten worse. Sowell observes, “There has been much documented racial progress since 1963. But there has also been much retrogression, of which the disintegration of the black family has been central, especially among those at the bottom of the social pyramid.”

The question is why do we hardly ever find the beneficiaries of “affirmative action” among the combatants in the fight to deal with the socio-economic pathologies that keep poor people (no matter what their color) from advancing. The case for racial preferences depends on the notion that advancing a few minority-group members to “better” colleges advances the groups they supposedly represent. That obviously does not happen; nor do we often find those beneficiaries fighting to free poor children from the clutches of the education blob. Eric Holder is doing exactly the opposite.

I think that the answer, for the most part at least, is that the beneficiaries of racial preferences are happy to enjoy the good life but don’t want to risk the opprobrium that comes from challenging the leftist status quo — if they even see that as the problem. Being educated at our “elite” universities makes it unlikely that they would.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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