Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Self-Fullfilling Prophecies

I was catching up with an old friend today, and the subject turned to Affirmative Action. My friend is a Republican (but the sensible sort), and was discussing a paper she had written in opposition to AA. One of the arguments she made was the popular claim that Affirmative Action hurts Blacks by increasing White resentment because it is perceived that they are getting something they don't deserve. My first thought on that front is what Pittsburgh Law Professor Richard Delgado pointed out--it doesn't seem borne out by the facts. In the era since we've had Affirmative Action, the public image and perception of Black Americans has improved dramatically. Many experts chalk that up to the increased presence of African-Americans in higher education, elite jobs and industry, and overall prevalence in the daily lives of White people. It's possible that this is just masking some negative effect AA has on popular views of Blacks. But it seems that any reduction in Black public image, if there is one, is outweighed by the positive effect of increased Black presence directly fostered by Affirmative Action.

But after reading about this controversy at Tufts University, I realized there is another issue in play here. The people who think less of Blacks or think them "undeserving" of their spots in elite colleges are the same as those opposing Affirmative Action! By and large, I haven't noticed the people who support Affirmative Action also subscribing to the view that Black students are inferior. So to the extent that there is a correlation between AA and views of Black inferiority, it's self-fullfilling! At Tufts, a conservative publication wrote up the following Christmas Carol "parody":
O Come All Ye Black Folk
Boisterous yet Desirable
O come ye, O come ye to our University
Come and we will admit you,
Born in to oppression;
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Sing, gospel choirs,
We will accept your children,
No matter what your grades are, F's, D's, or G's,
Give them all privileged status;
We will welcome all.
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

All come! Blacks, we need you, Born into the ghetto.
O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas.
Descendants of Africa, with brown skin arriving:
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
O come let us accept them,
Fifty-two black freshman.

O Come All Ye Black Folk!

Made out as a critique of Affirmative Action, this carol reveals more than it intends to. It just assumes that all the Black students at Tufts are D or F students, underqualified, accepted only to fill a racial quota. Even under the most cynical view, this is highly doubtful. Satirical or no, it is still a racist poem, and the overlap between the anti-AA and anti-Black camps should be disturbing.

The point is that I don't think the people who subscribe to the view of Blacks as undeserving of their earnings are the ones best suited to dictating policy on reparative action for African-Americans. They should not benefit from a problem of their own making.

Meanwhile, an interesting poll was just released detailing America's views on racism. Unsurprisingly, there were some racial splits, with 84% of Blacks but only 66% of Whites believing that racism was a "somewhat" or "very serious" problem. However, I would have lowballed even the 66% figure, so I think that's pretty good news. Twice as many Blacks compared to Whites reported being victims of racial discrimination (50% to 25%). Excerpt from the article:
Professor Jack Dovidio of the University of Connecticut, who has researched racism for more than 30 years, estimates up to 80 percent of white Americans have racist feelings they may not even recognize.

"We've reached a point that racism is like a virus that has mutated into a new form that we don't recognize," Dovidio said.

He added that 21st-century racism is different from that of the past.

"Contemporary racism is not conscious, and it is not accompanied by dislike, so it gets expressed in indirect, subtle ways," he said.

That "stealth" discrimination reveals itself in many different situations.

A three-year undercover investigation by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that real estate agents steered whites away from integrated neighborhoods and steered blacks in to predominantly black neighborhoods.

Racism also can be a factor in getting a job.

Candidates named Emily O'Brien or Neil McCarthy were much more likely to get calls back from potential employers than applicants named Tamika Williams and Jamal Jackson, even though they had the same credentials, according to a study by the University of Chicago.

I think publicizing the degree of "stealth discrimination" in America is absolutely crucial to revitalizing anti-racist sentiment here.


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Green Dreams said...

Why does no one question "legacy" admissions (like GW Bush) of undeserving kids of alumni and admissions tied to large donations? The fact that we react to AA but not to buying one's unearned way into a top school speaks volumes about our continued racism.

Anonymous said...

It's more embedded. It's harder to question what's normalized in society The fact is legacies get "points" in university admissions the same way minorities do but it's not called white affirmative action even though it still mostly benefits whites.

Anonymous said...

In the early 1960s, 2/3 of Yale legacies were admitted no matter what. W graduated in 1968.