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My case against affirmative action

By Greg Pomeroy
web posted June 4, 2001

It is easy to tell that support for affirmative action is slipping because its supporters are having to yell much louder than ever before. The liberal din on this issue in opinion magazines and other places is easy to hear, if hard to understand. The logic is increasingly twisted, and the thinking is becoming even cloudier. Contradictions are ignored and terms switched for better effect. There is one principle that should anchor us in this confused and howling little tempest: To harm or benefit someone because of his or her race, no matter the high-minded motivation, is to harm us all.

The overriding irony of those promoting affirmative action is that they must downplay black achievement. To help blacks continue to advance, these folks must repeatedly remind everyone, blacks included, how poorly blacks are doing. The essence of affirmative action is commiseration, and you can't have pity without turning a blind eye to black achievement.

Instead of even noting any of the enormous accomplishments of African-Americans in the years since emancipation, liberals focus and refocus on the victimization of blacks. And it doesn't matter whether a black person has himself been a victim. His father or great-grandfather was no doubt a victim. And if an African-American is not actually related to a victim, then he's at least the same race as one. This victimization by association is more than enough for most liberals. They're of the same race, you see; all blacks must be victims.

For liberals it isn't enough that the sons and daughters of black doctors who attend prestigious prep schools are black. These kids can never be successful. Their blackness is their stamp of victimhood. What's more, liberals feel charged with selling the notion that there really are no children of black physicians; there are only the children of black welfare recipients.

The fact is, census data show, only 9.6 percent of black children living in traditional two-parent families were actually living in poverty in 1999. This achievement is not due to white liberals begging for affirmative action or quotas or anything else. These liberals would rather you thought all black children lived in poverty. Compare these African-American kids to the 6.8 percent of white kids in two parent families who lived in poverty in 1999. Not much difference.

So, what's the problem? The problem comes when the father leaves. With the father gone and only the mother left at home, the poverty rate for black kids skyrockets to over 47 percent. It seems the presence of one black man in the life of a black child is worth a lot more than the entire gaggle of liberal activists squawking on the kid's behalf. Not surprisingly, the poverty rate for white kids in 1999 sans a father skyrockets too, all the way up to almost 32 percent. If liberals really wanted to help, they would find a single mother, regardless of her race, and marry her.

Instead of seeing the obvious similarities between the races such as these statistics show, liberals wallow in their pity for African-Americans and are indignant toward others who don't feel the same way. Liberalism is, let's remember, primarily an emotional disorder. But they on the left are well-meaning. They want to help blacks by giving them things such as jobs and college admissions that they might not otherwise get. This is goodhearted, but wrongheaded.

Just giving someone something is rarely the answer to anything. Most of us can remember the proverb that it is better to teach a man how to fish than to simply give him a fish, but some of us fail to learn from it. Giving a fish is easy and impersonal; teaching someone how to fish can change his life. Giving a kid acceptance into a college is easy and impersonal; teaching him the knowledge and skills he needs to gain acceptance on his own can change his life.

Affirmative action currently seems to be losing respectability among most folks, so the pitiful liberals who still cling to it have had to march under that other banner: Diversity. In 1978 Justice Lewis Powell ruled in the landmark case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that diversity of viewpoint on campus might be a legitimate goal for a college's admissions office. The concept seems to be that college students will enjoy a better learning experience if a diverse student body surrounds them.

But how can a college achieve a student body with a diverse viewpoint? A questionnaire querying potential students about their views on various and sundry issues would seem to be the obvious method. But that would be too simple it seems. How about establishing a diversity of viewpoint through diversity in the students' ages? No, of course not. Through diversity in religion? No. Through diversity in political affiliation? Hardly. Through diversity in race? Yes, as a matter of fact, the liberal view is that a diversity of races on campus is the magic ingredient, like yeast in bread, which broadens and enlivens a student's college experience.

Of course, liberals don't care about diversity. After all, most of them strongly support this country's historically back colleges, which have to be the least diverse institutions of higher learning in the country. Plan and simple, what liberals want is more of the unqualified African-American applicants admitted to colleges and universities. Diversity is just a conduit for getting there.

A recent article in Newsweek on single moms tells us that, "The number of families headed by single mothers has increased 25 percent since 1990, to more than 7.5 million households." We can only imagine what other hardships are more prone to children of single parents, but as we have seen, kids raised by single parents are much more likely to live in poverty. There is no poverty panacea, but it's these kids, kids of all races living in poverty, who need steps taken on their behalf, including steps to better help them gain the knowledge and skills to be admitted into the college of their choice. The point then is not that some African-Americans kids don't need some action to be taken; it's just that this action shouldn't be the affirmative one.

This is Greg Pomeroy's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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    Walter Block tells us how the free market helps the victims of racism




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