Phi Beta Cons

Prof. Sherlock

A left-winger has written a book critical of racial preferences, making the claim that an obsession with race covers up the more significant injustice of socioeconomic inequality. Left-winger Robert S. Boynton, a journalism prof at NYU, reviews it in The Nation. The most interesting part of Boynton’s review is the first few sentences:

Anyone who still believes in the reality of race ought to spend some time reading graduate school applications. Every year my department receives a few hundred, a growing portion from students who identify themselves as of “mixed race” or fail to check anything at all, leaving me to use my sleuthing skills for clues about their ethnic heritage. …  Why do I spend so much effort trying to fit students into racial categories whose biological basis has been thoroughly discredited?

Good question. Boynton answers it by retreating into familiar territory: He says that race really is important. And that’s why he must employ “sleuthing skills” to decode the grad-school applications of students who either don’t fit into neat racial boxes or who apparently would like to shrug off the albatross of race entirely. Boynton isn’t merely conscious of color, he’s hyperconscious. Can’t you just picture him, sitting in his office and pondering an application: “Is this one a quadroon or an octoroon? She doesn’t say, but I think I can puzzle it out…

John J. Miller — John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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