Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift

In the spirit of politics isn’t about policy, Shelby Steele:

The original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America — the world’s oldest and most unequivocal democracy — finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. …

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. … Research … has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. …

But affirmative action has been quite effective in its actual, if unacknowledged, purpose. It has restored moral authority and legitimacy to American institutions. When the Supreme Court seemed ready to nullify the idea of racial preferences in the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases, more than 100 amicus briefs — more than for any other case in U.S. history — were submitted to the court by American institutions in support of group preferences. Yet there was no march on Washington by tens of thousands of blacks demanding affirmative action, not even a threat of such a move from a people who had “marched” their way to freedom in the ’60s. In 2003, the possible end of racial preferences did not panic minorities; it panicked institutional America.

So the question that followed from the Michigan cases — how long will minorities need some form of racial preferences? — is the wrong question. A better question is: How long it will take American institutions to feel legitimate without granting racial preferences? … Disparate impact and racial preferences … are “white guilt” legalisms created after the ’60s as fast tracks to moral authority. They apologize for presumed white wrongdoing and offer recompense to minorities before any actual discrimination has been documented. …

Today’s “black” problem is underdevelopment, not discrimination. Success in modernity will demand profound cultural changes — changes in child-rearing, a restoration of marriage and family, a focus on academic rigor, a greater appreciation of entrepreneurialism and an embrace of individual development as the best road to group development.

Whites are embarrassed to speak forthrightly about black underdevelopment, and blacks are too proud to openly explore it for all to see. So, by unspoken agreement, we discuss black underdevelopment in a language of discrimination and injustice. We rejoin the exhausted affirmative action debate as if it really mattered, and we do not acknowledge that this underdevelopment is primarily a black responsibility.

Our policies are often not about what we say and think they are about.  Each side in politics is better at seeing through other sides’ hypocricies; don’t assume that because you see many of their hypocricies and few on your side, that you don’t have just as many.

Added: This morning’s Post says it is living in poor neighborhoods that most impoverishes middle class black kids.  Doesn’t sound much like discrimination.

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