Dennis Mangan reviews Steven Farron’s The Affirmative Action Hoax. I haven’t read Farron’s book myself, but if this reviewer’s summary of it contents is accurate, it makes a pretty convincing case that affirmative action is a messy hodge-podge of policies whose real purpose is to keep bureaucrats in their jobs and is of dubious benefit to the genuinely disadvantaged. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with a system to identify and assist persons of any ethnic/racial/cultural background who demonstrate genuine ability but are held down by circumstances: poverty, dysfunctional families, crummy local schools, social outgroup status, etc. But AA seems to be yet another middle class entitlement whose purpose is purely political. Also, one need not share the racial determinism of this reviewer to criticize AA as an institutional phenomena. The idea behind meritocratic individualism is that those of superior ability and effort are allowed to succeed without being held back for irrelevant or arbitrary reasons, something that can’t be done if privilege is given on the basis of broad group categorizations and generalizations.
Current AA policy relies on defining favored groups, and Farron ably dissects the absurdities of this practice. For instance, “Black” denotes anyone with at least one Black ancestor, and furthermore, bureaucrats are not allowed to override the self-description of any candidate for hiring, promotion, or admission. In other words, someone who says that he’s Black (or Hispanic, etc.) must be taken at face value, no matter how absurd it seems. “Hispanic” was so defined as to exclude anyone with origins in Brazil, yet fully White Argentinians and Uruguyans fall into this category. Financial success is no impediment to becoming a recipient of AA either; a Black millionaire is eligible for preference over a poor White, and in fact most AA benefits go to the middle and upper middle class. It will not have escaped notice that while AA was meant to benefit victims of historical discrimination, not only have most Blacks alive today not experienced it–especially so when they come from the middle class– but Hispanics have never been subject to slavery or Jim Crow, and have not even been a major presence in the U.S. until recently.
AA also gave rise to the notion of “diversity.” When the Supreme Court outlawed racial favoritism in the Bakke case, it left an opening for “diversity”; that is, if an institution claimed that it needed a certain racial/ethnic mix, it could be allowed to favor certain groups. This is why we are constantly prodded to “celebrate diversity,” why we are always told that it’s such an important value; it’s the only means by which the AA bureaucracy, which by now numbers in the hundreds of thousands, can stay in power. And Farron shows the illogicality behind the favored term; for example, some institutions claim that a certain critical number of, say, Black students are needed for these students to perform well. Yet other groups, say, American Indians, are normally admitted more or less according to their proportion in the population (in their case in the low single digits). Thus a group like this will never have the alleged critical number needed for them to perform well, which was the whole basis of group discrimination in the first place.