Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Race, Individuality, and the Historicity of Difference: Reply to Florindo Volpacchio

By David Pan, Telos

In his response to my post last week on affirmative action, Florindo Volpacchio emphasizes that the goal of affirmative action is “to recognize the social pathology of discrimination and inequality that privileged race and sexual identity to begin with.” It is certainly important to remember this history and its effects on present conditions, and Volpacchio rightly points out past injustices, including slavery and segregation. Yet those injustices are also clearly in the past. There are no longer any legally enforced forms of segregation and discrimination against Blacks, and the United States can be proud of the progress that has been made. But while Volpacchio seeks to judge affirmative action based on its symbolic intent, its practical effects cannot be ignored, especially as they perpetuate the type of discrimination based on race that they are meant to oppose. Since the history of racial injustice involved the categorization and differential treatment of people based on their race, the resistance to this history must reject such differential treatment and affirm the principle of equality before the law. Yet affirmative action re-establishes racial discrimination as a valid policy for college admissions and hiring. Though this policy favors Blacks today, this can only be done at the cost of disfavoring others, to the point where it disfavors Asian Americans in comparison to both Blacks and Whites. As Thomas Sowell has demonstrated through his careful and extensive research, the track record of worldwide attempts to engineer equality through a set of reverse discriminatory practices is in fact dismal, leading consistently to a skewing of benefits to the wealthier members of the groups they are meant to assist as well as to growing identity-based polarization and even civil war.[1]

But rather than looking into such research on the practical effects of such policies, Volpacchio prefers moral grandstanding. He complains that the point of the cases before the Supreme Court concerning racial preferences in college admissions is to assert “the self-claimed rights and self-interests of individuals against the social pathology.” The implication is that these rights and interests of individuals are based on self-interest rather than a moral affirmation of principle. Yet racism is precisely an attack against the rights and interests of individuals, and the proper response would be to protect those rights. Racist biases are an example of treating people not as individuals but based on their belonging to a group. If one is to oppose racism, then it would make sense to insist that people be treated as individuals.


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