Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Affirmative action in practice

There has been some discussion elsewhere about John McWhorter, a professor at UC Berkeley. He dared to question affirmative action, and immediately he was pounced upon with allegations that he benefited from it.

So what if he did -may we not evaluate his statements on their own merits? "Well, he said 1+1=2, but can I trust him?"

Racial spoils systems are offensive inherently, but they become pernicious too when standards are bent to accomodate. I'm not sure that was the case with McWhorter. (It was true with Alan Bakke, though - his alternate, Patrick Chavis, has been maiming or killing his patients.)

Some years back I worked for a company with a highly placed black executive in the engineering department. After the Bakke decision and numerous others, I knew that this might not have anything to do with his talents. So I discreetly asked a few people who weren't known for parroting party lines. They were unanimous in their praise for him, and noted he had worked his way up from the control room. Belated apologies, Mr. Reed.

In the early 90's I went to the personnel office at the University of Illinois. I wasn't there to research social justice, but eventually I noticed that of the dozens of people I saw, I was the only white male there. Sure, it could have been a statistical anomaly....

Sometime in the 80's a relative sought a job as a state trooper in Illinois. He took a test and did fine relative to traditional standards. But he wasn't good enough for a white guy, and minorities with lower scores got in instead. Are they fine cops? Maybe so.

But when considering the propriety of affirmative action, you have to consider that this is a zero-sum game - you're creating losers. Is it just my imagination, or is this just never discussed?

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