A debate with Randall Kennedy
How do any kids regardless of race that come from a disadvantaged community compete with kids that go to the best schools (many private prep schools) that demand academic excellence. Kids in these better schools are forced to compete with each other. These kids have more challenging classes and more choices of what classes they can take. These kids are measured, often times publicly measured against their peers. I am not even including advantages in individual households or communities.
There is a standardized test given to all kids when they are 16 or 17, regardless of what schools they attend, what communities they live in, what kind of home they come from. And we are surprised there are test score differences.
We need to test kids earlier and give resources and opportunities for the kids that have the intellectual ability to advance and complete against anyone.
What?!? And give up the "Minority's" privilege to hate others, situated atop a sanctimonious high horse? Never!!!
As difficult as it may be, we must begin by scraping away the politics...scrape away the emotion .......to consider the fundamental question: what is racial equality?
The answer is quite simple. It's nothing.
Or rather it's nothing we here, in this world, can address beyond the elegance of the declaration : all men are created equal.
We agree, of course, but so what?
Does it mean we all look alike? We all weigh the same? Have the same hair color or nose size? Not in the least. Does it mean we're all equally smart, equally fast, equally quick, equally determined, equally competent at all equally available things? No, it doesn't mean that either. Does it guarantee in some Constitutional way that we'll all be equally successful, equally wealthy, equally positioned within an equal social & cultural context, equally shared? Of course not.
To say all men are created equal is to say only that all men are equal before God and -- or so we hope -- the Law. But the law is a very human thing, made by humans, administered by humans, and subject perpetually to human error. So the fact of our philosophical equality before it does not and cannot guarantee our perfect equality before the human understanding and administration of that law.
So what does it truly mean to say we are equal? It means that God considers us all the same.
But beyond that holy truth, we are as different as snowflakes. Born with unequal sets of genetic luggage, we walk into the unequal lives our unequal parents unequally made. Gifted with entirely different sets of talents, abilities, proclivities, strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, preferences, ambitions and fears...we each wrestle the very same question: what are we to do? How we answer that question produces, of course, nothing but more inequalities.
Truthfully, we wouldn't have it any other way. We strive, not to be the same as everyone else, but to be better, to achieve more, to make an 'unequal' life for our children which is better than the unequal life our parents made for us. And on it goes.
So given this understand, what then is Racial Equality?
Well, it's the same as any other kind of demographic 'equality'. It's an empty trope, a sounding brass. What could it possibly mean -- for Black people to be equal to Asian people to be equal to White People who are equal to Brown People (and every skin tone shade in between)? Quite obviously these things aren't true and can never be true in any kind of real world, tangible way: just line us up and look at us. Look at what we've done with our lives. Look at anything or everything and all you'll see is Difference.
Ah, but what about the Law of Large Numbers? Would we expect -- shouldn't we expect -- that equivalently unequal populations of individuals, taken as a massive group, demonstrate some kind of magical equal achievement averages, over time, in the long run? The best we can say is Maybe. Maybe, given a constant social & cultural equality of context across all populations, then maybe those large numbers over time balance out. But our social & cultural contexts aren't equal. Growing-up in a small town is vastly different from growing up in the inner city. Growing up with one parent is vastly different from growing-up with two. Having a drug addict for a brother is different from a brother who’s a valedictorian. To Glenn's very point, the 'developmentals' are not the same, and until or unless the State acts to standardize everyone’s ‘developmentals’.... to remove every child from that child's home and give him or her to the State to be raised within the loving embrace of the State, within a State home, taught by State Teachers, in a State approved fashion...those developmentals will never be the same.
And the ‘long run – over time’ question? Heck, I’d give it 2000 years – just a small moment carved from eternity. Come back to me when we have that data which measures the nature of social & cultural cross-group equality as we compare the year 1000 with the year 3000. Or what the heck, what about the comparison of the year 1000 with 2000? Just one measly millennium. That’s not asking too much is it? Well we can’t do that either. We think the ‘long run’ is two generations, maybe three. And of course it’s not, not if we want the ‘law of large numbers’ to be impactful.
As for Affirmative Action & Reparations, neither works. . Nor can we reasonably believe they should work. The NBA has existed for 77 years. 71% of the NBA is Black. 66% of the population is White. This is, no doubt about it, a massive racial inequality. Three generations of players have come & gone and STILL we have this massive outcome imbalance. Doesn’t AAction tell us we should be acting to fix that? Shouldn’t we be altering entrance standards (like playing outstanding college ball) to allow the ’lesser qualified’ (those who didn’t make their college teams) a place on the professional bench?
God no. No one wants that. No one is even asking for that because we all understand, intuitively, that two wrongs do not make a right. Mandating a ‘racially equal’ basketball team mandates Mediocrity AND it cheats those more qualified out of their NBA opportunity. The End, no matter how glorious it might sound, does not and cannot justify the Means. Because someone at some point in the past – who looked vaguely like me -- discriminated against someone else who looked vaguely like you...the fact of that wrongful discrimination does not mean that I owe you anything. It does not even mean that you are in any way owed. Two differently colored newborns in the nursery lying side-by-side do not enter the world with either an account payable or an account due.
So what remains?
The same thing that always remains:
“It matters not how strait the gate..... How charged with punishments the scroll... I am the master of my fate... I am the captain of my soul.
Unequal at birth, unequal in life we can only do what we have ever done which is, always and forever, ‘the best we can’. Where that best effort ends-up, how our life is then summed:
“We believe... in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current...”
What else is there?
Glenn, I’m struck by how little you and Randall actually disagree on substance. It mostly seems to be a difference in how you react emotionally to data that leads you rationally to pretty similar conclusions.
Tonight while traveling, I find myself in the middle of nowhere in Big Piney, Wyoming. I check into this old but clean motel, settle down, grab a chair outside, watch the sunset and have a chance to read about this discussion/debate by 2 intelligent, well read, well written, intellectual academics.
Before I can finish, a carload of black guys roll up and start arguing with one another. F and N words flying, a local mother gathers up her young son who is staring with mouth agape at the increasing loud incident. As the mother starts walking away, the kid is pointing in their direction saying, "Mom, he said he's gonna kill him, he's gonna kill him."
I gather my things and head to my room thinking. These guys are keeping the stereotype alive, and this is as good as it gets.
you know , people in the struggle and those who critiqued need to accept the world has changed . we are not a black and white nation , we are truly diverse and in ways binary thinking no longer serves a purpose