Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Here's a pertinent little point I suspect might raise a few hackles, but that's what I'm here for, so let's go.
What would President Barack Obama do about affirmative action programmes after he was elected?
Try as I might, as I wade through the positivist verbiage that passes for political discourse in the US presidential election, I can't find a single hard statement by Obama on the issue.
But in the past, he has said he supports affirmative action supporting the promotion of blacks in educational admissions, public employment and state contracting. Then again, he's also said that the black community need to take responsibility for their own fate, and that there is no black or white Americans, just Americans. So, the position is a little contradictory.
But if he gets elected, the future of affirmative action going to come to a head, no doubt about it.
Because a black president would put the nail in the coffin of the theory that underpins the entire process. A black president would be walking, talking proof that there is no glass ceiling for minorities in the land of opportunity. Obama himself holds an undergrad degree from Columbia and a Harvard Law degree, and there is little evidence he entered either institution as a result of affirmative action. He's just a very smart guy.
Whither then, the state-sponsored skewing of access to higher education in favour of blacks?
Equally, a black president, mindful of his core vote while seeking a second term, would be mental if he rolled back on the system whereby blacks are privileged in terms of access to the halls of learning, by way of quotas, lower admission levels, and so on.
It's a perfect checkmate, and one that conservative Republicans would be all too quick to put him in.
Let's briefly consider the concept of affirmative action. Firstly, it's discriminatory and anti-meritocratic. It permits those with lower test results to enter higher education in the United States purely on the basis of their skin colour.
This is based on the theory that black people are in some sense the subject of endemic prejudice within the education system, as borne out by systematically lower levels of educational achievement across the board.
Now, one of three things is causing that lower level of achievement. (Here's where the hate mail begins.)
Either the systematic racism exists, is widespread, and in many cases is being perpetrated bizarrely by (presumably self-hating) black teachers in predominantly black schools.
Or black students are simply not applying themselves to their studies to the same degree white and Asian students do.
Or they can't apply themselves to that degree because they are generally not capable of competing at the same level.
Depending on your position, there's a case to be made for all three explanations. Does racism exist? Sure. But is it really as widespread as to push black student test results around 15% below that of white students in general? Let's say it is. In which case, a country so endemically racist is unlikely to ever elect a black president. We'll see about that come November. But if he is elected, then the country just isn't that racist.
Do black students not take their studies as seriously as other students? Perhaps not. Poverty could be feeding into that, of course. So could gang culture, family breakdown and a few other factors. But Latino students are just as impoverished in general, just as affected by gang culture and family breakdown, and they do better than black students in general. South-East Asian kids are, especially first and second generation immigrants, also impoverished. But they do better than the white kids in general, never mind the black kids.
Are black kids inherently less academically able? (Cue the hate mail.) There are IQ studies that show a clear differential in educational attainment for various races. Ashkenazi Jews score 15% higher than Caucasian kids on IQ tests. Black kids are a further 10% behind. Such studies are often depicted as racist, junk science in the PC media without their ever offering scientifically based counter-arguments.
But they're invariably done by highly respected scientists, who have a lot to lose and little to gain by publicising such research. And simple logic dictates that we are not all born with the exact same intelligence potential.
And simple examinations of post-grad level students, especially in the sciences, indicate a vast predominance of Jewish and Asian (including sub-continental Asian) kids well out of kilter to their predominance within the wider population. And given how many of those are the children of recent immigrants, at least among the Asians, affluent backgrounds don't explain it.
Which brings us back to President Obama's affirmative action conundrum. He cannot support affirmative action in education if his own election demonstrates that America is not endemically opposed to black betterment in society. And he cannot scrap it without alienating his core vote.
If you can work a way out of that checkmate for him, he may well have a job for you as Education Secretary come next January.