Affirmative Action: Another Side to the Story
note: this was submitted to The State newspaper of Columbia,
South Carolina, on Dec. 18, 2003. This should explain its unusual
brevity. The manuscript was never acknowledged, much less published;
and so I offer it here unchanged.]
a white man expresses objections to affirmative action programs,
must his motives be racist?
take up this question in light of a single sentence in Warren Boltonís
column (Dec. 13): "Just as whites need to hear blacksí
reasons for supporting affirmative action, whites who oppose it
need to be able to express themselves."
have written this for two reasons. One is to express this other
side of the affirmative action story. Letís try an analogy.
a basketball season in which certain teams play by all the familiar
rules and others are compelled to play with each player having one
arm tied behind his back.
one, of course, would consider such games fair.
suppose someone proposed that for the next several seasons those
teams whose players had been untied, were now to play all their
games with an arm tied behind their backs, while those who had been
tied up, now had both arms free.
turnabout be fair play?
answering, letís improve the analogy. Letís observe that there has
been a complete turnover of players. All those who played in the
first set of games have retired. The current players, therefore,
are newcomers none of whom were involved with the original practice.
letís ask again: would turnabout be fair?
answer yes is to embrace affirmative action. To answer no
is to reject it, on the grounds that the original perpetrators and
beneficiaries of discrimination against blacks are gone (as are
their victims), while those forced to sacrifice job opportunities,
college admissions, etc., were unborn and so hardly responsible
for the wrongs.
analogy contains a crucial premise, and it is important to identify
it. It focuses on the players as individuals, not as members of
collectives. Is it fair or just to penalize the children of a given
race for wrongs perpetrated by their remote ancestors?
say no is to take up for an individualist model of
society, as opposed to a collectivist one. The former takes
the individual as the most basic unit for analysis; the latter,
of human history has been dominated by various sorts of collectivism.
It is the easy point of view, the one that divides the human race
into tribes. Its logic: you are either part of the tribe or an outcast probably
an enemy. This is why so much of our history is a history of wars
began its slow rise only in the West, through the gradual convergence
of Protestant Christianity, natural-rights political philosophy,
and constitutional-republicanism, which saw a written Constitution
as encoding the rights of individuals (not groups) that pre-exist
government. Individualism is the hard point of view. Escaping tribalism
have never been fully consistent individualists. Otherwise the Framers
would have gotten rid of slavery at the countryís founding. Their
not doing so was a blunder of major proportions.
is nevertheless the superior account of the human condition. There
is no collective brain or nervous system. Individuals, not groups,
take actions. To the extent that rights are acknowledged as belonging
to individuals, societies have prospered. To the extent that human
beings have been categorized as groups and moved about by force,
societies have stagnated or declined. Marxism, the 20th
centuryís dominant form of collectivism, enslaved and impoverished
a third of the human race. The final truth of collectivism is that
it doesnít work. Period.
therefore behooves us to look at such things as institutional, systemic
discrimination to see who is responsible. We see not a collective
entity, the "white race," but specific acts of government.
These include Supreme Court decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson
and also legislation such as 1931ís Davis-Bacon Act that made systemic
discrimination convenient (it protected unionized workers, and most
blacks were not unionized).
also behooves us to look for proximate causes of black disadvantage.
Here one sees teen pregnancies, single-parent homes, broken families,
substance abuse, and the violent nihilism of the "gangsta rap"
culture. Men and women of good conscience of whatever ethnicity who
would see the plight of black citizens of this country improve must
address these real issues, not appeal to that bogey of political
correctness, the "legacy of slavery," an institution that
hasnít existed for almost 140 years. Once we have done this, I believe
we will find that affirmative action uses unjust methods to address
the wrong problems, and this is why it encounters resentment and
mentioned two reasons for writing this article. Everything up till
now was the first. The second: I am curious to see whether an ordinary
white guy who knows good and well he hasnít reaped some mysterious
benefit from being born white can write an article like this and
not be demonized (by associates, other commentators, readers) as
a covert racist. I have held out for individualism. But with the
meteoric rise of political correctness, the complacent acceptance
of unlimited immigration, and the dominance of academic ideologies
of "diversity" and the "politics of identity,"
we are now moving backwards towards a society more and more divided
into mutually distrustful collectives.
January 12, 2004
Yates [send him mail]
Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action
is an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and next
January will be joining the adjunct faculty of Limestone College.
He lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
© 2004 LewRockwell.com