Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The affirmative action conundrum
This morning we had a couple of guests on the morning show to talk about the issue of affirmative action, broadly defined as prohibition against discrimination against minorities and women, and more controversially characterized by target percentages of same within educational institutions, corporations and the like. We had on a guy named Dr. Claude Anderson, a friend of my co-host, and Professor Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, and a known opponent of affirmative action (both are African-American). I'm still not clear on what Anderson's point is, other than that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the subsequent executive orders by LBJ and Nixon did "nothing" for Blacks, who are, in his words, "permanent, institutional losers" in American society, and of course, always will be, because those amendments and executive orders were "whitewashed" to include other minorities, and women, who really don't deserve such protection because they weren't slaves. Oh, and we should live in separatist compounds away from white people.

The other guest, Professor Williams, argued that the free market, and not government mandates, will correct social stratification (something I'm not sure is true, and even if it is, we don't have a true free market system, because our government leans on the scales to aid corporations, sort of like the way China does...) He also argued that Blacks are set up for failure when they're simply given positions (in college, or on the job) based on race, and not on merit, and he cited the experience of Black students who under affirmative action had high admission rates and low graduation rates.

I'd argue that today, that's not necessarily the case. Black students are graduating at higher rates from elite "white" institutions than from historically Black colleges. And when I was at Harvard, this issue was tackled head on, and Black student scores coming out of high school were found to be higher than our white counterparts.

For the record, I support affirmative action. But I disagree with its use to hand opportunity to those who have not been prepared to make the most of it. Affirmative action was supposed to prevent discrimination of the qualified, not to hand out freebies to the underqualified. When the latter happens, what you create is villification, resentment, and a sense of unfairness in the minds of the excluded (whether that's other minorities or whites.) The problem with affirmative action has been in its application by some, whether well meaning or not, and in the failure of societal institutions, particularly K-12 education systems, to properly prepare young African-Americans for success (throw underperforming parents in there, too...)

The goal should be to have no question that we have both diversity and merit -- where everyone has a shot, but we all agree that everyone who got a shot deserves to be there.

Don't know if that's possible.

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posted by JReid @ 9:48 AM  
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