Discover more from Glenn Loury
The False God of "Antiracism"
A conversation with Michael Fortner
Early last year, I had the opportunity to participate in Claremont McKenna College’s Marion Miner Cook Athenaeum, a student-centered speaker series. The organizers of the series asked me to discuss “civilization, commerce, and race,” topics upon which I, as always, had much to say. A little sweetener to the invitation was their chosen interviewer, my friend Michael Fortner, a political scientist at the CUNY Graduate Center whose outstanding book The Black Silent Majority presents an important revisionist account of the implementation of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Our conversation touches on some perennial themes: the history of slavery and achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, the need for black Americans to capitalize on the opportunities afforded to us in this country, the shallowness and incoherence of Ibram X. Kendi’s “antiracism,” and the important distinction between racial equity and equality of opportunity. You could look at this conversation as a précis of some of the through-lines in my thinking over the last year. If you want to know where I stand on the issues enumerated above, this is not a bad place to start.
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MICHAEL FORTNER: So before we start, many of you may not know this, but I’ve been fortunate enough to know Glenn for a number of years now and I met him at a particularly important part of my life. My book had just come out and despite what I thought was sort of a lot of wisdom there were a lot of critics who were uncomfortable with some of the conclusions and findings in the book. But that did not deter Glenn from, one, talking about the book on his show, but also inviting me on and giving me a platform to sort of share my ideas. And I’m not alone.
So I want to do tonight what the rappers call giving you your flowers and thanking you on behalf of a host of young intellectuals and scholars who do not fit a particular ideological mold and who have been ostracized in various ways because of that. But you intervened in our lives and gave us a platform and a space to do what we want to do and be who we are. So thank you, Glenn, for that.
GLENN LOURY: My pleasure, Michael. Thank you.
MICHAEL FORTNER: So now the hard part. Tonight the theme that was given to me was civilization, commerce, and race. And when I first got the theme, I was, as the young people today say, shook. I was shook because the first thing that came to my mind was that my ancestors were commerce, that they were sold, they were bought, they were traded, and that that was part—the interaction of race and commerce—the beginning of the history of this nation. There’s been a lot of talk about that founding moment, 1619. I just want to read to you a piece from Nikole Hannah-Jones’s lead essay.
Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his case for reparations, “America begins in black plunder and white democracy, two features that are not contradictory but complimentary.” Then he quotes one of my favorite books, American Slavery, American Freedom by Edmund Morgan. “The men who came together to found the independent United States dedicated to freedom and equality either held slaves or were willing to join hands with those who did. None of them felt entirely comfortable about the fact, but neither did they feel responsible for it. Most of them had inherited both their slaves and their attachment to freedom from an earlier generation and they knew the two were not unconnected.”
So the first question for you is how should we understand slavery and its role in our history?
Wow. Well, that’s a lot. That’s a question for a historian, not for a humble economist like myself. I mean the first thing that I would say is that if we’re going to take on slavery, let’s take on slavery. And slavery begins with the capture of the Africans who were enslaved by other Africans in Africa. This is not a “so-much-blame-here, so-much-blame-there” accountancy. It’s just a statement of historical fact. The Europeans did not pull that off all by themselves. So there’s a lot of blame to go around.
You say your ancestors. They were only some of your ancestors. They were only some of my ancestors. My name is Loury. I’ve got Scotch-Irish ancestors. Slavery in the United States, I can’t remember the exact quote from Hannah-Jones or from Coates—
“Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”
Okay, I mean these are words. It’s a poetic sentence. I’m not going to try to argue the point. I can see why a person might come to say that. But, as for slavery, it was a commonplace of human culture going back to antiquity. The historical sociologist Orlando Patterson has this big book, 1982, Slavery and Social Death, a comprehensive survey of the institution of slavery going back to antiquity. Slavery in the Orient, slavery in Africa, slavery in Islam. Slavery was not new and yes, indeed, the US was founded by slaveholders and, indeed, the US economy through the nineteenth century was built in part on the commerce that the slaves made possible in cotton and so on.
But is that what defines America? I don’t think so actually. I think Emancipation comes a lot closer to defining the spirit and the essence of the American experiment than does the fact of slavery. I think the seeds of Emancipation were already present in the compromise that the framers entered into in 1787 with the ratification of the Constitution.
I think the Civil War is a watershed event in the history of this republic which resulted in the emancipation of the slaves—600,000 dead in a country of 30 million. I think Abolition, the movement, and I know it’s not only or even mainly an American movement, but the movement, the moral movement abetted by institutions of liberty that permitted people to assemble and to express their views and ultimately to persuade their fellows, I think that is much more emblematic of or characteristic of the essence of the American experiment than the fact of slavery itself. I think centering slavery does a disservice to the greatness, to the world-historic achievement which was the creation of the United States of America. I disagree with the spirit of The 1619 Project for that reason.
So, some four million enslaved persons were set free in the process of the Emancipation and the enactment of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the constitution. They weren’t made equal citizens at first. No, they were not equal citizens. They were stigmatized, denigrated, marginalized. But in the fullness of time the population of enslaved persons has given birth to we American Negroes—I’m going to use that old-fashioned word. I know the word is controversial, but I mean it in a specific historical context. I mean the people who descended from slaves who are referred to as black, African American, and so forth in contemporary parlance, but who for much of the post-Emancipation history of the country were referred to as the “American Negro,” capital N. We’re the richest, most powerful, freest people in large numbers of African descent on the planet.
So this debate over The 1619 Project is about control of historical narrative, and each generation is going to tell the story of the country in its own way. This is a contested narrative. The 1619 Project is a point of view about how to tell the story of the history of the country. It’s not one that I would readily adopt, frankly, for the reasons that I’ve tried to give voice to here.
Why do you think it has been adopted and embraced so widely then?
Well, I think that—I’m just going to be honest with you, Michael. You asked me a question. So the Civil Rights Movement—1945 to 1970 if you like, the Second Reconstruction—it creates an environment in which the continuing marginal status along many dimensions of social wellbeing of African-Americans needs to be rationalized. We have a wealth disparity. Well, slavery must be the cause. We have higher poverty rates, lower educational achievement, lower home ownership. Well, slavery. Slavery and Jim Crow. We have family structure issues. We have behavioral problems in our communities with our young people. We have an achievement gap in the educational sphere. We have prisons overflowing with young black men, mainly. Well, it’s slavery. Well, it’s racism in the very American DNA, anti-black racism.
You have to say anti-black racism now, because this narrative is meant to carve out a kind of exceptionalism for blacks. We’re confronted now in the twenty-first century with the country having so rapidly changed in the last 75 years, with immigration in large numbers. Tens of millions of new Americans coming mostly from non-European points of origin. The anti-racism activists have to somehow come to grips here in the twenty-first century with the continued laggardly status of substantial portions of the African American community. So they are attempting to do so by rewriting the American historical narrative to focus on slavery and post-Emancipation, anti-black racism.
So, I think the temptation is to embrace an account of the country and of our place within it which memorializes and elevates to an almost theological level the historical injury done to our people, the contempt for the humanity of our people, the hatred of our people. I think that this temptation is compelling for many. I’m not even sure that the people promoting it would even be consciously aware of this. But I think there is comfort taken by believing that rather than the country being what I think it objectively is, which is a beacon of freedom and hope to all humanity, to people from every corner of the globe, one of unlimited possibility, where the place of African Americans within it is, on the whole, a very favorable endowment. We’ve been dealt a good hand here, not a bad hand. Rather than accept that reality I think people take comfort in a different account and I think it’s a pity really.
I think it’s a pity both because it does not do justice to what’s been achieved over the last nearly three centuries here on the North American continent—the creation of the United States of America, and with all its warts —and also because it teaches our young children, our young African American children, a lie about their country. What does Ta-Nehisi Coates say in his book, Between the World and Me? He says, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t believe the hype. Fuck the American Dream. You must be kidding me, the American dream,” he sneers, so to speak. Is that what we’re going to teach our children about this great country where they are birthright citizens? That they’re forever with their nose pressed against the candy store window? That they’re forever on the outs? Forever marginalized?
But it’s not just slavery, of course. It’s Jim Crow, it’s redlining, it’s racial inequities in the administration of the New Deal, it’s disinvestment of American cities at the point at which sort of black power is erupting. And just some statistics from a paper that you wrote that I love. The median net worth for whites in 2014 was $144,000. The median net worth for Blacks in 2014 was $11,000. Home ownership for whites, 72%. Home ownership for Blacks, 43%. And we could go on and on and on. We talk about incarceration rates. Michelle Alexander talks about the New Jim Crow.
So it’s not just that we had slavery, but we had these sort of new systems and institutions after slavery that seem to account for the disparities that we witness in the data when it comes to home ownership, when it comes to net worth. How should we understand those disparities if not those sort of historical developments?
Oh, well, here we are. So who am I going to blame? How are we going to understand these disparities? Now if I said that parents need to raise their kids, if I said that the behavior—the violent behavior, the predatory criminal behavior of large numbers of black people walking around in American cities—was substantially responsible for the large numbers who are incarcerated, if I said the streets are paved with gold in this country, what are you talking about? You look at what one wave after another after another of immigrants have been able to accomplish. If I were to say, have you heard of affirmative action? By which I mean the industrial-strength efforts to make amends in one form or another by special dispensation offered to African Americans in one elite venue after another. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is the language of the day, et cetera, et cetera.
If I said, whoever promised that every group would come out equal in everything that people do? Have you heard about the Jews? They’ve got a lot of wealth. What about the Asians? How much educational achievement have they got, et cetera? If I said any of these things, or raised any of these questions, the anti-racism activists would dismiss me as an apologist for white supremacy.
But why should we think that any outcome disfavorable to African Americans is, ipso facto, an indictment of society, when America is as diverse, as dynamic, as prosperous, and as full of opportunity as it is? Where in this accountancy of responsibility is the ball ever in our court? When are we going to be responsible for how we raise our children and what we do with the opportunities that are in front of us?
So here’s my bottom line. We can lose ourselves in this pipe-dream narrative about “systemic racism” if we want to, but the twenty-first century is not going to wait for anybody. While we are going around with our hand out, talking about what was done to our ancestors, other people are busy building businesses, building their families, building their homes, and creating their lives. They’re not going to stand still for us. What do you want to see in 2050: a third or 40% of black people being wards of the state who are dealt with through a special dispensation because of something that was done 200 years before to our ancestors? When are we going to recognize that it’s time to man up and woman up, to face the realities of life. No one said life was fair. There’s no guarantee anywhere that life is fair. It is what it is, and we’d better get busy making the best of it right now.
Now, let me just say this. That’s not the political speech that I would give. I’m saying that here because I’ve been asked a question by my friend who was so generous in his introduction, I feel like I owe him an answer. I wouldn’t run for Congress on that speech. But I would damn sure run my family on that speech. That’s what I would tell my kids.
Yes, but you would not deny the history of discrimination in labor markets, you would not deny redlining, you would not deny that there have been systems that have created a situation that would make it harder for African Americans to enjoy the fruits of the American dream. And if you would not deny that, wouldn’t that suggest some type of remedy that attends to those dynamics?
No, I wouldn’t deny it, because, as I said, life is not fair, and, in the case of African Americans within the American context, life has been particularly unfair at many junctures. Those things that you pointed to are a part of it. They’re not the only things you could say, but they’re a part of it. But I want to know what the program is here. So, I have my program. My program is: Get busy and seize the opportunities that exist. They are plentiful. Let’s stop bellyaching and man and woman up. That’s my argument. Let’s man and woman up. That’s what I’m going to say to my kids. It’s not the political speech that I would give, but that’s what I would say to my kids. Let’s get busy.
I want to know what the other argument is. What is the other argument? Reparations for slavery and Jim Crow?
We’ll get there, we’ll get there.
I mean, do you really want to put yourselves in the hands of a purportedly systemically racist, black-hating majority of this country? You want to throw yourself on the mercy of a court which you have already declared to be intrinsically biased against you and contemptuous of your very humanity? Is that your plan?
We have the young generation is much more critical of capitalism. There’s a constant critique of neoliberalism, free market ideas, and so the question for you is that what you just said, I think, presupposes that capitalism could work for black folk. Do you believe that there’s space in capitalism in America for black progress?
Oh, yes. I mean this with great respect, my brother: I think your question is absurd. Compared to what? I mean, has anybody been paying attention to what’s happened in world economic history in the last 75 years? I mean, capitalism as compared to what? What are you going to do, seize the means of production and socialize the economy? Capitalism is the foundation of our prosperity.
I am not talking about an unregulated, Wild West cowboy capitalism where anything goes and we shut down the Federal Trade Commission or we don’t have a welfare state or we have tax rates of zero. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m fine with a social safety net, with a welfare state, with a sensible set of structures to try to take care of our fellow citizens and whatnot. But the idea that markets are the enemy? I’m talking about prices. I’m talking about allocating resources based upon people seeing price signals and knowing what the relative returns and costs are to the alternative activities that they can pursue. The idea that profit is the enemy. The idea that corporations are bad, that our greatest enemy is the greed of corporations—this is sophomoric rhetoric, in my opinion, and it is not to be taken seriously.
But you do believe in government intervention in terms of the social safety net. You did say that.
Yeah, yeah. But you asked me about capitalism. I’m comparing capitalism to its opposite—socialism. I mean let’s be real. I’m not saying don’t have a state that tries to take care of people, that ensures that people have health care, that feeds the hungry and houses the ill-housed and stuff like that. Those are debates that we can have around the margins about how much and how little and when and where and how.
I’m talking about a free enterprise economy where the major decisions about resource allocation are driven by people’s calculation about what’s in their interest, their private interest. I’m talking about the virtues of the institution of private property. I’m talking about not politicians deciding on where plants get built and what industries get fostered and so on, but private investors directing their capital this way or that through a market of finance that is mediating between these investors and those who will use their capital. I’m talking about not having prices under the dictate and the control of commissars but having them set by the free interplay of supply and demand. That’s what I’m talking about. And what I’m saying is, looking at world history, where a capitalist system of economic management has been abandoned, poverty has ensued, starvation has ensued. That’s not any way to run an economy, if you’re serious. Just ask the Chinese.
So do you believe—since your formulation does allow for the government to sort of intervene—do you believe it should intervene on racial questions as well?
What do you mean?
What I mean is that before you were talking about how we shouldn’t rely on the state to save us, because it’s not going to save us. And so I wonder, since you do have a sense that the state can serve a positive role for the poor, the working class, why couldn’t the state intervene on these racial questions and produce a positive result as well?
Okay, yeah. I do want to be clear because the first part of the conversation was about what to do about persisting racial inequality. Here we are. We have disparities by race. What are we supposed to do about it? And I was saying reading the history of the country primarily through a lens of slavery, I thought, was missing the boat in terms of what the country is really about. And I was saying I wanted to put a lot of responsibility on, the onus on we Black people ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, imperfect such as they are, and to man up and woman up, as I put it.
Then you asked me about capitalism, and I was saying it’s okay by me, subject to various restraints and regulation, but it’s basically the way I’d want to order an economy to ensure the prosperity of all our people. I’m not against capitalism, and I don’t see America as an anti-black, racist state. It’s an imperfect arrangement but one that’s moving toward being more nearly perfect, as Obama once put it.
Now you’re asking me whether I want the state involved in the mitigation of the historical overhang of anti-black racism. And I guess it depends on what we’re talking about. If we’re talking about anti-discrimination laws like the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and various extensions thereof, where the state tries to regulate commercial transactions so as to ensure that they’re not discriminatory, to ensure fair housing opportunities and so forth, I’m all for that. I mean, there were people who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it was coming through the legislature, on some kind of libertarian grounds: “Don’t tell me who to hire and don’t tell me who to rent my place to.” That’s an argument that you would not hear me making.
So if it’s trying to make it a level playing field in the economy on behalf of a racial justice imperative, that’s one thing, and I’d be okay with that, more than okay with that. If it’s racial discrimination in favor of African Americans—and we can talk specifically about affirmative action policies. It’s not just higher education, it’s in a lot of stuff: credit markets, procurement by governments and so forth. It’s hiring of public employees, et cetera, where a government puts its thumb on the scale in favor of African Americans in an effort to mitigate the consequences of historical discrimination. Then I think that’s much more problematic, and we can talk about that. And if you’re talking about a large-scale effort in that vein, I assume it would have to be mainly the federal government using its fiscal instruments to try to redistribute in racial terms between populations on behalf of mitigating the effects of historical discrimination the legislature. I’m against that and I can say why.
I want your thoughts on, one, a new language that we have, the language of antiracism. A lot of institutions, a lot of individuals are using this language to develop remedies to think about the problems of race and to think about remedies for it. But of course, antiracism doesn’t always mean opposition to racism. It sort of means, according to some people, a particular thing, and I want to read to you what Ibram X. Kendi says in How to Be An Antiracist.
A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.
I want to add this. “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” What do you think about Kendi’s formulation of antiracism?
I think it’s gibberish. That’s a cheap shot, okay? He’s not here to defend himself. I’d be happy to debate him anytime, anywhere on this point. If I understood the definition, he said—
He doesn’t want to debate you. He said he’s not interested in you or John [McWhorter].
I can live with that, too. If I understood Kendi’s argument, it is something to the effect of, if we have a racial disparity, anything you do that exacerbates that disparity is “racist,” and anything you do that mitigates that disparity is “antiracist,” by definition. And since anything you do is either going to exacerbate or mitigate the disparity, an action is either racist or antiracist, and there’s no such thing as a race neutral action.
Well, that’s tautological based on the definitions. Okay, so I can’t argue with the logic given the definitions of what he means by racist and antiracist, but I just ask you—I said this in short compass earlier in this conversation. I see disparity everywhere I look. I’m not just talking about in the United States of America. I don’t know who gets to be an engineer in this country and who doesn’t, but I’ll bet you anything that some groups are overrepresented and some are underrepresented, amongst the people who get degrees in engineering.
I know who plays in the National Basketball Association because the Celtics are killing it. My team, the Celtics, we are going to the NBA finals this year, and we got some white players.1 You see what I’m getting at? I mean, who’s doing brain surgery in this country? Who’s trading bonds in this country and doing credit default swaps? Who’s teaching our school children? Who’s mining coal in this country? I mean, any activity I can think of, there’s going to be a profile of participation which is going to diverge in some measure or another from the people’s representation in the population.
So if every time an African American is underrepresented in getting admitted to the Bronx High School of Science, where they give a hard test and you have to do well on a hard test to get in, Caltech, which is right down the road from here, where they do rocket science, medical school, law school, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Georgetown Law Center Law School, people getting admitted there, et cetera, et cetera. Everywhere I look I see disparity.
So Mr. Kendi will never be able to sleep in his crusade against “racism,” in virtue of the fact that there’s never going to be a world without racial disparities. And by the way, this is not just in the United States of America. Everywhere you look on the planet you see disparities by ethnic, racial, cultural groups within societies of one form or another, whether it be the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Igbo in West Africa, et cetera. One could go on.
The Jews. I say it again because Jews are doing very well in America, by the way. And, by Mr. Kendi’s logic, that’s an indictment of them. They must be the beneficiaries of some pro-Semitic racism if indeed they’re overrepresented in this and that endeavor, et cetera. I won’t belabor the point.
Here's what I think. We should be a constitutional order of law. All of our people should stand equal before the law. Their standing before the law must not, in our republic, be allowed to become conditioned on their racial identity. I don’t care what historical narrative you’re enamored of. The neutrality of the law is a bedrock of our civilization. So Kendi plays with fire if he thinks a jury’s deliberation is racist or antiracist, based on whether or not statistics on convicted felons match up with the latest demographic survey about racial representation in the population. That is why I’m against the ideology which he’s given voice to.
But surely you do believe that some types of disparities are unfair, right? I mean you make the case that perhaps in basketball the racial disparities there make sense and are fair, according to you, but there certainly are conditions under which disparities—
Well, you just changed the script.
We went from “every disparity is ipso facto unfair” (Kendi) to “there exist unfair disparities” (Fortner). But I never disputed that there exists some racial unfairness.
I’m moving past Kendi at this point. You’re not going to buy that, but I’m trying to think through then how should we think about disparities. How do we adjudicate this question about which disparities are just and are okay and which disparities require some kind of response?
That’s why I mentioned “rule of law,” because we have ultimately to deal with how people are being treated. That should be our ground for ethical assessment: Are individual people being treated fairly? Not: Did the outcomes match up with some ex ante desiderata of equality. So long as people are being treated fairly, whatever outcome ensues should be perceived as fair. This is going to be my philosophy. It’s not going to be everyone’s philosophy.
I’m influenced by Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I’ll acknowledge that to you. It’s a procedural account that I’m looking at here, not a substantive pattern of outcome account in Nozick’s terms. I’m willing to accept unequal outcomes, so long as individual people are being treated fairly, as long as there’s a level playing field, the outcome should not be the standard by which I’m going to indict a society.
Now, you may say that, given background conditions, even if I’ve got employers or people who are making admissions decisions at colleges or people who are making loans at a bank or whatever who are following strictly the letter of the law, the general circumstances of society—you know, your mother didn’t have the education, your grandfather didn’t leave you with a nice little bank account or whatever—means that people don’t start on even ground. And I agree with that.
But some of those people who don’t start on even ground are white people. So that even if I grant the conditioning of an entitlement and procedural-like account of justice, to take on board the fact that there are extra personal circumstances that could be judged to be unjust or unfair, I don’t get to a theory of racial egalitarianism from there. I get to a theory of social egalitarianism which would apply with equal force regardless of the racial identity of the person. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the activists are so busy bending over backwards to indict antiblack racism that they become racists themselves—racists in that they worship at this shrine of identity and privilege the claims of some people over other people based upon their racial identity. That is not a place that we want to be in this country, in my opinion.
So we’re going to open it up to questions in a few minutes, so prepare yourself. But one of my last questions, if not the last question, is a lot of institutions have embraced this approach to race. Why do you think it’s become popular at elite institutions? And what do you think we should do about that? And generally, where we should go from here?
[Sigh] Oh, okay. I can’t … I mean you need a cultural historian, somebody who’s read all these books that keeps tabs on all of the different developments and various aspects of journalism and the academy and the marketplace and commerce and whatnot.
He reads all these books, by the way, so …
You know, a Christopher Lasch-type figure, somebody like that—the late, great Christopher Lasch—who could then opine on how it is that we’ve come to this particular juncture. I gave my gloss on one dimension of it, which is that twenty-first century lagging status of African Americans cries out for an account and so on. But I think the institutional response is complicated. I think, why does Nike or whatever do what they do? Okay, so they’re a company, they’ve got a market, they’ve got a brand, they have to worry about what they do. Why does Brown University does what it does? Well, it’s a particular institution with a particular kind of history. And I only single out Brown because that’s where I am, but it stands in for a lot of places including perhaps this place. The elite institutions of higher education who have a certain logic within their own administrative development. They have various stakeholders and constituencies and they are managing the problem the way that they are managing it.
I think there is a certain appeal, is there not, to the music of antiracism and to the music of white privilege and all of that. Frankly, I have deep issues with it as a way of talking about the conditions of African Americans. I think it’s patronizing in the extreme. I think it’s cheap grace to a certain extent.
I mean affirmative action, for example. An elite university can bend over backwards to get its optics right and to get 8, 10, 12% or whatever it needs in the incoming class so that everything looks right. That doesn’t actually address the underlying fundamentals of human development, the disparities by race of which are reflected in the conventional instruments of assessment when universities decide whom to admit, like test scores and so forth. And so using lower cutoff scores for your African Americans and fudging that and talking about “Well, we’re holistic assessment” and whatnot is fine for an institution, because the institution is managing its brand and it’s trying to keep its image up and it wants to have a nice, “diverse” composition of its student body on campus.
But there’s a collective action problem here. Each individual institution may be doing what’s good for itself, but the net effect of that may be to avoid addressing the root causes of the disparity in the test scores, which are what necessitates the use of the affirmative action admissions policy, which causes have to do with K-12 educational failure, and may go back to issues of family organization and parenting and things of this kind.
Again, you’re not supposed to talk about the behavioral and cultural foundations of the disparities. This has no place in the universe of an Ibram X. Kendi, for example. Such an accountancy that calls attention to the root developmental foundations of the human behavior leading to disparities is verboten. Everything must be ascribed to some atmospheric, systemic, white, antiblack racism.
I think it’s a whole lot easier to embrace this outlook, but it’s ultimately a false god. It is not equality. Just to talk concretely about higher education admissions as a case of the more general point that I’m making, using different assessment standards as a compensatory mechanism given differential performance by race will give you representation, but it won’t get you equality. It will get you “equity,” in the Kendian sense of the word, but it won’t get you a racial parity of standing. It won’t get you equality of respect. It will not give you objective mastery. It’ll not give you the solid foundation on which your status should stand. Instead, as petitioner for “equity,” you become a ward, you become a client. Your position is by their leave. It’s because they are sorry for you. It’s because they are guilty about what they take to be their role in your circumstance. That, my friend, is not equality.
So what should these institutions do?
To be honest with you, I don’t much care. That’s flippant. What should Harvard do? Harvard’s in court right now.The Supreme Court is going to hear this case with SFFA (Students For Fair Admissions.) These are Asian students suing Harvard University for fair admissions. What should Harvard do? I frankly don’t care.
I mean I can give an answer. They should hew to comparable standards of assessment regardless of the race of their students. They should perhaps be prepared to live with not as high a number of African Americans on campus as they’re now getting. They can make whatever marginal investments they can make in trying to contribute to their development, but Harvard’s not in the K-12 business. As I said, it’s a collective action problem. They should obey the law, and the Court is going to tell them what the law is.
All right. Please join me in thanking Glenn Loury for a provocative and thoughtful presentation.
The Boston Celtics lost the 2022 NBA Championship to the Golden State Warriors - Ed.