The New York Times today has run an op-ed by Yascha Mounk, who teaches expository writing at Harvard, about his school’s policy of discriminating against Asian Americans in admissions and, in particular, the policy’s historical parallels with Harvard’s anti-Jewish quotas of yesteryear. All good stuff, and it’s good that the Times ran it.
The only off-note is two or three paragraphs that defend Harvard’s policy of giving racial preferences to African Americans and Latinos in order to achieve a “critical mass” of them. That kind of discrimination is okay, says Mr. Mounk, but giving whites a preference over Asian Americans is not.
Really? If you have a quota-floor for African Americans and Latinos, then you have a quota-ceiling for Asian Americans and whites. But, as we have seen, Mr. Mounk doesn’t like quota-ceilings for Asian Americans. So Mr. Mounk must be arguing either (a) that it’s okay to have a quota-ceiling for Asian Americans vis-à-vis nonwhites but not vis-à-vis whites, or else (b) he thinks that the quota-floor for African Americans and Latinos should be entirely at the expense of whites, and never at the expense of Asian Americans. That is, either it’s okay to discriminate against Asian Americans in favor of African Americans and Latinos but not in favor of whites, or else it’s okay to discriminate in favor of African Americans and Latinos against whites but not against Asian Americans.
Now, can either (a) or (b) be justified? The first hinges on their being something particularly unobjectionable about discrimination in favor of any “underrepresented” minority group, and the latter on there being something particularly unobjectionable about anti-white discrimination.
I don’t think that Mr. Mounk is arguing (b), and I don’t think that there’s anything in the Supreme Court’s “diversity” caselaw to support (b) either. So we are left with (a).
But wait: If it is okay to give any “underrepresented” group a preference over any “overrepresented” group, then why shouldn’t it be permissible to discriminate against Asian Americans in favor of whites? After all, Asian Americans are much more “overrepresented” at Harvard than whites are. In fact, of the four groups we have been talking about—whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans—only whites are significantly “underrepresented” in comparison with the general population, according to Harvard’s own numbers. And this is without drilling down further: Surely there are some white subgroups (Eastern European non-Jews, for example) who are outnumbered even in absolute terms by some Asian subgroups (Chinese Americans, for example).
The best approach, though, is to say it’s all spinach (discrimination), and to hell with it.