“Affirmative action” means that if blacks fall short it’s the fault of whites, so it’s only fair to take the benefits of success from whites and give them to blacks. Our established intellectual, moral and religious leaders—including the bishops—all say that’s just and moral, so one is reluctant to argue the contrary. Still, the system raises some obvious issues:
- The system works to the benefit of the established leaders who praise it, since it means that the way people run things on their own is in need of radical reordering and continuous close supervision by their betters. That doesn’t prove the system is bad, of course, but it does make you wonder if there’s something other than its sheer goodness that makes it so uniformly popular with our rulers and unpopular with the people.
- Since no evidence of specific injury is required, there’s no way to limit the principle that how blacks end up is the fault of whites. A consequence is that no matter what a black does it’s always whites who are at fault. Consider Jayson Blair’s book proposal “Burning Down My Master’s House”, which some literary agents say could bring a six-figure advance. In the proposal the middle-class and privileged Blair casts his story as one of “a young black man” told he would never succeed “by everyone from his white second-grade teacher to his editor at the Times, who rose from the fields and got a place in the master’s house and then burned it down the only way he knew how.” He goes so far as to identify with Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger Washington sniper: “The moment I began to see parallels between his life and mine was the moment things began falling apart.” (As well they should have!)
- Since the complaint against whites is totally non-specific, everything they do is wrong. If they treat blacks differently, that’s racist, and if they treat blacks the same (the “colorblind” ideal), that’s racist too. Absence of “affirmative action” is wrong, but to the extent affirmative action makes it visible that blacks get a special deal, that’s also wrong. Consider the criticism made by the president of an independent advisory group helping the London police diversify with regard to a scheme to pay black officers for getting their friends to apply “It is going to be said they only came because someone got a reward for them.” The police wouldn’t need the scheme, she said, if it became known as a good employer. Why wouldn’t the same criticism apply to all affirmative action programs?
- And of course, no theory that the problems have anything to do with black qualities or conduct can be taken seriously. If it were, what would happen to the moral imperative of proportionality upon which “affirmative action” depends? Rich, Black, and Flunking: Anthropologist John Ogbu thinks he knows why, but nobody wants to hear it.
We’re told that affirmative action is a requirement of social justice. But shouldn’t “social justice” at least be just? Shouldn’t it be consistent with ordinary truthfulness, fair dealing and charity? Shouldn’t it respect subsidiarity and local institutional autonomy? The complaint against affirmative action is that it violates all those principles. What is the persuasive response?