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March 31, 2003

Race on campus

Two stories about race & higher education from The Washington Post: At U-Michigan, Minority Students Find Access -- and Sense of Isolation, At Boston U., 'Holistic' Admissions Venture Beyond Black and White (thanks to Steve Sailer for the second link). I must admit there is a paradigm gap between the reporters that filed the stories and I, while I tend to put the burden of proof on those arguing in favor of affirmative action of any sort, the authors of the pieces seem to assume that "pro-diversity" policies are beneficial as the default position. The first story especially seems to emphasize personal stories and cherry-picks minority students that might get into the University of Michigan even without race-conscious policies. The focus should be on those who are significantly below the average academically of their fellow students. Check this out:

She carries a 3.8 grade-point average while taking advanced courses and finished in the 98th percentile of students who took the PSAT. Recruitment letters are cluttering her mailbox. Without affirmative action, Currie said, the letters would almost certainly dwindle, and so would offers of financial aid. Her mother is raising three children on a waitress's wages, so she needs a scholarship.

I'm a bit curious as to why the PSAT score rather than the SAT score was mentioned. And if the SAT score is in the same percentile, along with the GPA, this seems like a student that could get scholarships, no matter the race. And let me be frank, I know plenty of people that need a scholarship and have working-class parents, who happen to be white or Asian. The crap about financial difficulties of underrepresented groups is only tangential to their concern with diversity, as middle-class blacks tend to suffer academically in comparison to their peers as well. Needless to say the journalists that file these stories don't propose replacing race-conscious affirmative action with income-conscious policies. Now more silliness:

In 1954, there were 200 black students at Michigan, according to school records. Twelve years later, there were 400, barely more than 1 percent of the total student population of 32,000. At that time, 55 percent of Detroit's 300,000 students were black.

Uh, do we really want to use Detroit as an example for black Michganders? Other parts of the article refer to the insensativities that are creating a hostile racial environment for black undergraduates (you know, questions about rap music and differences in hair washing methodology)-which seem to point to the fact that Detroit and its normal social mileau is typical for African-Americans in the heads of mislead whites. Is it? Isn't it? Be a little clever and put the assumptions in different articles so you don't seem to crassly exploitative of the facts. Additionally:

Helen Basterra, a 23-year-old junior from England, said, "I find it astonishing the amount of people who are against affirmative action. America is a colorblind society, but there's such division on campus. It goes to show you how much race is a factor in this society."

Ah yes, the Brits. I have relatives in Britain, I know a bit about their racial situation, and let me say that my kin (who are professionals) generally assert that the United States is more accepting of browns as normal members of society than England. They could be wrong-and it takes two to tango, but Europeans lecturing America on race in this day & age is kind of ridiculous to me. And how about the logic of a woman who is confused as to why color-blind America has an issue with race-aware affirmative action?

If proportional diversity is the end itself affirmative action is probably necessary. Many socieities espouse these values without controversy, they keep the peace. But they don't lie to themselves and act as if it reduces segregation. All the complaints about white-black lack of interaction at U of Michigan (a liberal campus from what I know) seem to imply that the problem is with the whites-but blacks also often are more comfortable "among their own kind." As someone who isn't particularly, I think I can assert without prejudice that being more comfortable among one's own race is normal, uncontroversial and not contingent upon a hostile racist environment. And though many of us anti-affirmative action conservatives can be a bit self-serving about our talking points-I do sincerely believe that excessive concern about race during admissions leads to greater racial & racist awareness among students, not less [1].

Update: Just listened to a self-righteous chick talk about how she never would have met black people if she hadn't had a black roommate in law school. Oh yeah, this is the type of person that really gets changed by the experience-she never would have met black people if it weren't for law school! If she lives in Michigan she must have had a segregated background, she could have just gotten out, dated a black guy, I don't know. Christ, why the fuck is it so hard for white people to meet colored folk??? Idiotic. I guess I'm doing a public service by introducting white people to someone brown everyday, yip-dee-dee!

Update II: Let me make myself clear, the reason I get ticked off about whites gushing about how experiences with non-whites "changed their whole view on the world" is that they are obviously superficial and patronizing when they say this-they never really specify what the hell they are talking about. I'm an interesting & entertaining person I'd like to think-my brownness might contribute to that, but I suspect that it is only a minor variable in the equation. I'm not some exotic animal that the fully human individual white person can experience to make them understand the beauty of all God's creations. But I've had plenty of people treat me like this.

[1] By self-serving, I mean the stuff about how it is bad that unprepared black and Latino students get sent to prestigous schools to fail. I mean, that's important, but the principle of race-blindness and opposition to social engineering a priori is the real deal.

Posted by razib at 10:25 PM

I knew this medical student who was blonde/ blue eyed and Latino. There are many more examples I could think of like this. In the minds of these 'White' latinos, do they even care that AA was not intended for them? I don't blame them for using it to their advantage as long as they acknowledge this irony.

With more race mixing in the future, will the vast bulk of the Latinos be almost completely 'White' Latinos who benefit at AA at the expense of the 'Brown' Latinos AA was designed for?

The avg south Asian is usually darker than the avg Latino yet we seem to do fine without the benefit of AA in colleges- rendering a lot of the argument for AA moot. The main argument that remains is that it is necessary to promote diversity- which, of course, means it's needed in perpetuity.

Posted by: -R at April 1, 2003 12:55 AM

is in any surprise that true brown ppl are browner than the faux brown latinos? :)

Posted by: razib at April 1, 2003 02:02 AM

" ... the reason I get ticked off about whites gushing about how experiences with non-whites 'changed their whole view on the world' is that they are obviously superficial and patronizing when they say this ... [etc., etc.]" -- Razib

Razib, know that non-PC whites get just as ticked off about this superficial and moronic patronizing as you do. We wonder how non-whites can stomach it.

Posted by: Unadorned at April 1, 2003 02:41 PM

I know one guy at school who's a living caricature of the PC "open minded" white guy. This dude will say things like "oh you lived in africa ? that's so cool and like .., different and stuff" with a straight face :)
Asked about his own background, he'll say something like "i'm just a boring white guy from toronto, although my mom's jewish so it's a little cool ethnic touch! " .
Other pearls (paraphrasing): "like, you know, i like to read about all cultures . like i read the bible, i read a little bit of the koran and that indian book you know"
me : "baghava-gita ?" "yeah something like that .. it's cool"
"i really like this city man, there's all this multiculturalism and stuff"
I dont even find him offensive, just hilarious.

i do find the attitude of some educational institutions really offensive though : You get the impression that some of those schools use "cool, hip" black guys and girls as means to attract a certain type of white students. The blacks on campus are basically not really there to get an education, but to provide a "cool, different" atmosphere for the white students.
They're there to show up at parties and add an exotic touch. They're there so the "activists" can have someone to fight for, or whatever...

Posted by: ogunsiron at April 1, 2003 05:50 PM

In spite of the large number of immigrants in America, society here is far from the melting pot it is made out to be...the only place I've seen interaction between whites and non-whites on a normal basis is within universities whites are taught to preserve their "purity" and the enforced politeness and sensitivity training white kids receive at home make them see non-whites as nothing more than objects that can add more ethnic variance to their lives. This is something you will not see in continental Europe..there a non-white is more likely to face abuse on account of his skin colour as europeans dont believe in being PC and at the same time definitely more likely to be accepted into a social setting without prejudice.

Posted by: Pawan at April 1, 2003 07:15 PM

Razib, This is a hilarious post. I wonder if you have ever read 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison. It is a great book and the major theme of the book is how dehumanizing it is to be treated as a member of an exotic group instead of as an individual human being. One of the funniest chapters is when the main character (who is black) becomes a communist and is forced to address women's groups. He unwittingly becomes a great sexual prize for the radical chic women in the group.

Posted by: Larry Levin at April 1, 2003 10:52 PM

Larry, Invisible Man was written about 40 years ago. It describes a world that no longer exists.

Posted by: markm at April 5, 2003 09:50 AM