Sunday, January 26, 2003

No sooner do I post what I hope will be my last word on the subject of racial preferences, than a New York Times columnist seizes the moment and publishes a defense of it so reprehensible that it fairly begs to be refuted. Nick Kristof, acknowledging that both he and President Bush benefited from preferences of one kind or another when applying to college, warns that "it would be a mistake to consider preferences for blacks in isolation. How can we evaluate the justice of preferences that favor blacks without considering preferences that benefit whites (legacy), athletes (football players), the wealthy (children of donors), and farm kids from Oregon (me when I applied to colleges)?"

Yes, let us consider them. Awarding undeserved college admission to the children of wealthy donors is obviously a kind of corruption, but at least it's a fairly frank, undisguised form of corruption, and its victims and beneficiaries are thankfully few in number. The college athletics system, on the other hand, is an appalling travesty that cheats and exploits many thousands of "student athletes", a population of disproportionately poor, minority youth who earn billions for their colleges while being prevented by the NCAA cartel from earning so much as one red cent for their (all-consuming, largely education-free, and often health-destroying) labors.

As for the absurd practices of granting "legacy" and "geographic diversity" preferences, there is good reason to believe that both were originally at least partially intended as a form of racial discrimination. They were introduced into Ivy League admissions procedures in the early part of the twentieth century, at a time when immigrant families from Southern and Eastern Europe, mostly living in the urban Northeast, began producing college-bound children in non-negligible numbers. Needless to say, they also both had the effect of favoring corn-fed WASPs over the new immigrant stock. (Other, more explicit policies, such as ceilings on the number of Jews admitted, were instituted around the same time.) Like today's "affirmative action" advocates, the inventors of these policies were simply trying to engineer what they deemed a more suitable racial and ethnic composition for their student bodies. Today, of course, we would excoriate them as ugly racists.

Or would we? Kristof happily swallows the claimed justification for "geographic diversity", as though it was the most natural thing in the world that college admissions officers a century ago would have believed, like Kristof, that "[i]t's good for colleges to have hicks from the sticks." He even has a good word for preferences that explicitly favor wealthy scions like George W. Bush: "The affirmative action succeeded. If he was in part a diversity candidate, so what?" In other words, in his desperate desire to defend "affirmative action", Kristof finds himself defending a representative pillar of the entire edifice of institutionalized racism that "affirmative action" was originally intended to counteract.

Peter Beinart, in The New Republic, has also recently compared racial preferences with other currently popular forms of discrimination, but at least he never denies the immorality of all the practices involved: "Republicans aren't wrong to espouse merit and color-blindness. They're wrong to espouse merit and color-blindness while ignoring the ways in which they violate those principles themselves." It's a fair criticism--witness William F. Buckley's nauseating defense of alumni legacy preferences in the New York Times. But if many conservatives are hypocritical for supporting some of these odious practices while condemning others, what should we say of the many liberals, like Kristof, who enthusiastically embrace all of them?

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