Affirmative Action Isn’t About Uplift

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Politics isn’t about policy, Robin Hanson says, and affirmative action isn’t about uplift, Shelby Steele explains:

The original goal of affirmative action was to achieve two redemptions simultaneously. As society gave a preference to its former victims in employment and education, it hoped to redeem both those victims and itself. When America — the world’s oldest and most unequivocal democracy — finally acknowledged in the 1960s its heartless betrayal of democracy where blacks were concerned, the loss of moral authority was profound. …

Affirmative action has always been more about the restoration of legitimacy to American institutions than the uplift of blacks and other minorities. For 30 years after its inception, no one even bothered to measure its effectiveness in minority progress. … Research … has completely failed to show that affirmative action ever closes the academic gap between minorities and whites. …

But affirmative action has been quite effective in its actual, if unacknowledged, purpose. It has restored moral authority and legitimacy to American institutions. When the Supreme Court seemed ready to nullify the idea of racial preferences in the 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases, more than 100 amicus briefs — more than for any other case in U.S. history — were submitted to the court by American institutions in support of group preferences. Yet there was no march on Washington by tens of thousands of blacks demanding affirmative action, not even a threat of such a move from a people who had “marched” their way to freedom in the ’60s. In 2003, the possible end of racial preferences did not panic minorities; it panicked institutional America.

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