When the Justice Department announced its investigation into Harvard’s possible racial discrimination against Asians, almost on cue the usual suspects came forth with all-too familiar rhetoric on affirmation action. For liberals it was all about keeping our cherished diversity or helping the disadvantaged; conservatives meanwhile lectured on merit-based admissions or how preferences will stigmatize beneficiaries of preferential treatment. And on and on. Without exception, regardless of the speaker’s ideology, everything offered was the usual pabulum and, no doubt, the speeches will be resurrected again given that racial preferences are unlikely to vanish.
There is, however, one argument justifying putting a heavy thumb on the scale for blacks that is unspeakable, at least publicly. I’ll call it an impolite conservative argument, conservative in the sense of preserving a relatively tranquil status quo and impolite insofar as it acknowledges an uncomfortable race-related truth.
The argument is that admitting academically unqualified blacks to elite schools is, at core, a policy to protect the racial peace and, as such, has nothing to do with racial justice, the putative benefits of diversity or any other standard justification. It is this peace- keeping function that explains why the entire establishment, from mega corporations to the military, endorses constitutionally iffy racial discrimination and why questioning diversity’s benefits is the most grievous of all PC sins. Stated in cost-benefit terms, denying a few hundred (even a few thousand) high-SAT scoring Asians an Ivy League diploma and instead forcing them attend Penn State is a cheap price to pay for social peace.
This argument rests on an indisputable reality that nearly all societies contain distinct ethnic or religious groups who must be managed for the sake of collective peace. They typically lack the ability to economically compete, may embrace values that contravene the dominant ethos, or otherwise just refuse to assimilate. What makes management imperative is the possibility of violence either at an individual level, for example, randomly stabbing total strangers, or on a larger scale, riots and insurrections. Thus, in the grand scheme of modern America’s potentially explosive race relations, academically accomplished Asians, most of whom are politically quiescent, are expendable, collateral damage in the battle to sustain a shaky status quo.
Examples of such to-be-managed groups abound. Recall our own tribulations with violent Indian tribes well into the 19th century or what several European nations currently face with Muslims or today’s civil war in Burma with the Karen People. Then there’s Turkey’s enduring conflict with the Kurds and long before the threat of Islamic terrorism, there were Basque separatists (the ETA), and the Irish Republican Army. In the past 45 years, there have been more than 16,000 terror attacks in Western Europe according to the Global Terrorism Database. At a lower levels add the persistently criminal Gypsies who for 500 years have resisted all efforts to assimilate them. This listing is, of course, only a tiny sampling of distinct indigestible violence-prone groups.
The repertoire of remedies, successful and failed, is also extensive. Our native-American problem has, sad to say, been largely solved by the use of apartheid-like reservations and incapacitating a once war-like people with drugs and alcohol. Elsewhere generous self-rule has done the trick, for example, the Basques in Spain. A particularly effective traditional solution is to promote passivity by encouraging religious acceptance of one’s lowly state.
Now to the question at hand: what is to be done regarding American blacks, a group notable for its penchant for violence whose economic advancement over the last half-century has largely stalled despite tens of billions and countless government uplift programs.
To appreciate the value of affirmative action recall the urban riots of the 1960s. They have almost been forgotten but their sheer number during that decade would shock those grown accustomed to today’s relative tranquility. A sampling of cities with major riots includes Rochester, NY, New York City, Philadelphia, PA, Los Angeles, CA, Cleveland, OH, Newark, NJ, Detroit, MI, Chicago, IL, Washington, DC and several smaller cities.
The damage from these riots— “uprisings” or “rebellions” according to some—was immense. For example, the Detroit riot of 1967 lasted five days and quelling it required the intervention of the Michigan Army National Guard and both the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. When it finally ended, the death toll was 43, some 7200 were arrested and more than 2000 buildings destroyed. Alas, much of this devastation remains visible today and should be a reminder of what could happen absent a policy of cooling out black anger.
To correctly understand how racial preferences at elite colleges serves as a cost-effective solution to potential domestic violence, recall the quip by comedian Henny Youngman when asked “How’s your wife?” He responded with, “Compared to what?” This logic reflects a hard truth: when confronting a sizable, potentially disruptive population unable or unwilling to assimilate, a perfect solution is beyond reach. Choices are only among the lesser of evils and, to repeat, under current conditions, race-driven affirmative action is conceivably the best of the worst. A hard-headed realist would draw a parallel with how big city merchants survive by paying off the police, building and food inspectors, and the Mafia. Racial preferences are just one more item on the cost-of-doing business list–the Danegeld.
In effect, racial preferences in elite higher education (and beneficiaries includes students, professors and the diversity-managing administrators) separates the top 10% measured in cognitive ability from their more violent down market racial compatriots. While this manufactured caste-like arrangement hardly guarantees racial peace (as the black-on-white crime rate, demonstrates) but it pretty much dampens the possibility of more collective, well-organized related upheavals, the types of disturbances that truly terrify the white establishment. Better to have the handsomely paid Cornel West pontificating about white racism at Princeton where he is a full professor than fulminating at some Ghetto street corner. This status driven divide just reflects human nature. Why would a black Yalie on Wall Street socialize with the bro’s left behind in the Hood? This is the strategy of preventing a large-scale, organized rebellion by decapitating its potential leadership. Violence is now just Chicago or Baltimore-style gang-banger intra-racial mayhem or various lone-wolf criminal attacks on whites.
Co-optation is a staple in the political management repertoire. The Soviet Union adsorbed what they called the “leading edge” into the Party (anyone exceptionally accomplished, from chess grandmasters or world-class athletes) to widen the divide the dominant elite, i.e., the Party, and hoi polloi. Election systems can be organized to guarantee a modicum of power to a handful of potential disruptors and with this position comes ample material benefits (think Maxine Waters). Monarchies have similarly managed potential strife by bestowing honors and titles on commoners. It is no accident that many radicals are routinely accused of “selling out” by their former colleagues in arms. In most instances the accusation is true, and this is by design.
To appreciate the advantages of the racial preferences in higher education consider Henny’s “compared to what”? part of his quip. Certainly what successfully worked for quelling potential Native American violence, e.g., forced assimilation in “Indian Schools” or confinement in pathology-breeding reservations, is now totally beyond the pale though, to be sure, some inner-cities dominated by public housing are increasingly coming to resemble pathology-inducing Indian reservations. Even less feasible is some legally mandated homeland of the types advocated by Black Muslims.
I haven’t done the math but I would guess that the entire educational racial spoils system is far more cost effective than creating a garrison state or a DDR-like police state where thousands of black trouble-makers were quickly incarcerated. Perhaps affirmative action in general should be viewed as akin to a nuisance tax, probably less than 5% of our GDP.
To be sure, affirmative action at elite universities is only one of today’s nostrums to quell potential large scale race-related violence. Other tactics include guaranteeing blacks elected offices, even if this requires turning a blind eye toward election fraud, and quickly surrendering to blacks who demand awards and honors on the basis of skin color. Perhaps a generous welfare system could be added to this keep-the-peace list. Nevertheless, when all added up, the costs would be far lowers than dealing with widespread 1960s style urban violence.
This peace-keeping aspect of affirmative action understood, perhaps we ought to view those smart Asians unfairly rejected from Ivy League schools as sacrificial lambs. Now, given all the billions that have been saved, maybe a totally free ride at lesser schools would be a small price to pay for their dissatisfaction (and they would also be academic stars at such schools). Of course this “Asian only” compensatory scholarship might be illegal under the color blind requirements of 1964 Civil Right Act, but fear not, devious admission officers will figure out a way around the law.