Affirmative action has
not served U.S.
that legislation conferring special benefits on racial groups, such as the
Akaka bill, can work well, should read Dr. Thomas Sowell’s new book,
“Affirmative Action Around the World.”
that in country after country, including the U.S., not only does such
legislation not achieve its original goals but, far worse, the politicizing of
ethnic group disparities exacerbates interracial dissension.
a distinguished Hoover Institution economist, is black and began his academic
career in a Harlem public school. But, as he
says, Harlem schools in the 1940s were then far
better than they are today.
out how race-conscious programs can actually harm blacks and complains that
while the intent of such legislation is to improve the lot of the less
fortunate, the supposed benefits are only assumed and never tested or
He says, “Affirmative action in the United States has made blacks look
like peoples who owe their rise to affirmative action and other government
programs. It has been carefully cultivated by black politicians and civil
rights leaders so as to solidify a constituency conditioned to be dependent on
them, as well as on government.”
he points out that blacks were improving their condition at a faster rate
before the 1964 Civil Rights Act than they did afterwards, including increasing
their employment in high level positions.
As long ago
as the late 1800s, blacks had higher rates of labor force participation than
whites, and slightly higher rates of marriage.
And blacks, by their own efforts, had cut their poverty rate in half before
there was any affirmative action
while some black schools in the past had outperformed white schools.
Then, in 1964
Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act which made it illegal, “to discriminate
against any individual with respect to his employment, because of such
individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Supreme Court, with Justice Brennan writing the majority opinion, subsequently rejected
“a literal interpretation of the words” Congress had explicitly approved, claiming
that the “spirit” of the Civil Rights Act had, as its primary concern, the economic
problems of blacks. Justice Rehnquist, writing for the minority, disagreed, opining
that the logic used was Houdini-like in trying to escape the clear language of
opened the doors to racial quotas and other forms of ‘affirmative action,’ (the
British more honestly call it ‘positive discrimination.’)
One result has been that the bar has been lowered
to allow more blacks into elite universities by admitting many that would not
normally qualify. However, the bar has not been lowered for graduation. This
has resulted in a disproportionate number of blacks failing at elite schools whereas
they would have succeeded in schools that matched their abilities.
A new UCLA study
shortly to be published in the Stanford Law Review agrees with Sowell that
blacks would have significantly higher graduation rates were they matched with
appropriate schools — as are most non-minority students.
While integration was the goal, affirmative
action has tended to resegregate. Even academically strong black students get
tarred with the brush of being “quota” students while having weaker students in
elite schools has led to the development of black studies programs.
As Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has said,
“universities … talk the talk of multiculturalism and racial diversity in the
courts but walk the walk of tribalism and racial segregation on their campuses
— through minority-only student organizations, separate minority housing
opportunities, separate minority student centers, even separate minority-only
it is the black conservatives, virtually all of whom had an impoverished
upbringing, that are objecting to such policies as significantly harmful to
blacks. It is the black middle and upper classes, those born to success, that are
the backbone of the civil rights industry.
While we can
only hint at the richness of Sowell’s book, those favoring race-conscious
legislation should read it and ponder its findings.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted
columns are at: www.lava.net/cslater
Sowell, Thomas. Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study. Yale University
Some quotes from the book:
those “people living under indigenous rulers tended not to become as educated
or as modernized … as those living under British rule.” p. 37.
“Within the short run — which is to say, within the time
horizon of elected officials — the most politically expedient thing to do is to
continue to extend preferences to more groups and more sectors of the society
and the economy. That is in fact what is being done.” p. 51.
In Malaya, “a higher
percentage of Chinese children than Malay children received an education, even
though the Chinese had to pay for their own private schooling.” p. 58.
“Malays in Singapore
are economically better off than Malays in Malaysia. … Clearly, Malays have
done better as a minority without affirmative action in Singapore than as a majority with
preferences and quotas in Malaysia.” p. 73.
Nigeria: “As in other countries, the things made available
through ethnic balancing have been primarily those things of interest and
concern to the more fortunate members of the various ethnic groups, such as
university admissions, rather than free and universal compulsory education for
the poor.” p. 107.
“Women’s representation in professional and technical
occupations declined by 9 percent from 1940 to 1950 and then by another 9
percent from 1950 to 1968. As far back as 1902, women’s share of the people
listed in Who’s Who in 1902 was more than double their share in 1958. Women
received 34 percent of Bachelor’s degrees in 1920, but only 24 percent in
1950.” pp. 133-4.
“Whether the advantages that black males acquire over
white males, as a result of affirmative action, outweigh the disadvantages they
have relative to white women is an empirical question. But it is a question
unlikely to be asked.” p. 138.
“Galling as it may be to acknowledge, every evil of past
generations and past centuries will remain indelibly and irrevocably evil,
despite anything that we can do now. Acts of symbolic expiation among the
living simply create new evils.” p. 167.
Slater’s note: Our forebears who lived 500 years ago number over one
million for each of us. Given this number and the times in which our forebears lived,
almost by definition, each of us has innumerable forebears who committed vile
and unspeakable acts — no matter what one’s color, race or culture.
“… whites’ applications for home mortgages are approved at
a higher rate than those of blacks, but applications from Asian Americans are
approved at a higher rate than those of whites.” p. 175
“The fact that whites score higher than blacks on the
mathematics SAT has been taken as proof of the cultural bias of this test, but
the fact that Asian Americans score higher than whites has been passed over in
silence.” p. 175.
claims made for affirmative action programs, an examination of their actual
consequences makes it hard to support those claims, or even to say that these
programs have been beneficial on net balance — unless one is prepared to say
that any amount of social redress, however small, is worth any amount of costs
and dangers, however large.” p. 198.
“… it was not the disparities which led to intergroup violence but the
politicizing of those disparities and the promotion of group identity
politics.” p. 92. & p. 22.
Sowell. p.20 and p. 119. Moynihan,
Daniel P. Employment, Income, and the Ordeal
of the Negro Family. Daedalus, Fall 1965, p.752.
Statistics of the U.S.
p. 133. ; U.S.
Census, Marital Status and Living
Arrangements: March 1992. Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 468.
Sowell. p.164. See also Sowell’s essay Patterns of Black Excellence in Sowell,
Thomas. Education: Assumptions versus
Institution. 1986. pp. 7-38.
Slater’s note: It is notable that today a significant number of high poverty
schools in the U.S.
catering primarily to blacks outperform primarily white schools in affluent
areas. See www.noexcuses.org
“… to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation,
terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's
race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Sec. 703 (a). Civil Rights Act
There was no thought of treating
one race different from the other at that time. A little before the passage of
the Act, Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech that his children
would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of
their character.” (Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior,
Pocket Books, NY 1968.)
“Thus, by a tour de force reminiscent not of jurists such as Hale, Holmes, and
Hughes, but of escape artists such as Houdini, the Court eludes clear statutory
language, "uncontradicted" legislative history, and uniform precedent
in concluding that employers are, after all, permitted to consider race in
making employment decisions.” U.S.
Supreme Court, STEELWORKERS v. WEBER, 443 U.S.
193 (1979), 443 U.S.
While other scholars dispute the findings they do appear logical. If black
students, whatever their abilities, are bumped up to schools where, if they
were white, they would be denied, it is only inevitable that they will suffer
higher failure rates than they would if matched with their peers in less