“Diversity” Is As Diversity Does(n’t)

Prof. James Blumstein, a health law expert at the Vanderbilt law school, has an interesting OpEd in the Wall Street Journal today (link probably requires subscription) attempting to rescue “diversity” from its friends. If he succeeds (you be the judge) — by excising racial preferences — it may result in one of those situations where the operation was a success but the patient died. The only thing the surviving non-discriminatory “diversity” programs would have in common with the current variety is the stated rationale for them.

Self-congratulatory vanity also forces me to say that Prof. Blumstein makes so many points in his piece that I’ve argued here that I almost wish I could believe that he plagiarized. (Just to be clear: I don’t believe that.)

For example, perhaps his central argument is that nothing about Michigan’s race-based “diversity” preferences is designed to — or defended as though it did — benefit minorities.

Michigan’s legal position does not turn on the status of the minorities who receive admissions preferences. It rests on the benefits to non-minority students who receive a better education because there are more minority students in the milieu.


… [D]escribing the objective of diversity in racial terms commodifies students who receive racial preferences. It justifies their preferred status not on the basis of remedying a racial wrong to that student as a victim but on the basis of the educational benefit to other — white — students. Under the university’s theory, the education of black and Hispanic students is not an end in itself but instrumental to enhance educational experiences for white students.

… In essence, the university excludes entirely some white students on racial grounds in order to provide other (matriculated) white students with the incrementally better education that derives from sitting in class with more black and Hispanic students.

Readers of this blog (at least ones with good memories) will find this argument familiar. “Diversity uses blacks for the benefit of whites,” I pointed out here. And here (“… diversity at selective institutions like Michigan amounts to using blacks for the benefit of whites”). And here (“… racial preferences are primarily for the benefit of whites, who, so the argument goes, need to be exposed to minorities”). And, most recently, here:

I have argued here too many times to count [post here cites the above posts and several others] that even the rhetoric of the defenders of “diversity” reveals that its primary intended beneficiaries are whites, not minorities.

A substantial number of white and Asian students (a number equal to the number of minorities whose admission depended upon the racial preference they received) are denied admission to selective universities so that the whites and Asians who are admitted may have the benefit of being exposed to the “difference” exuded by the preferentially admitted minorities.

Once again, in short, blacks are being used for the benefit of whites….

Blumstein then argues that “‘diversity,'” properly understood, “is racially neutral.”

Diversity embraces non-racial objectives. Universities seek students interested in broad curricular and extra-curricular fields. Students should be exposed to different perspectives, backgrounds and life experiences. Such a view of diversity in a university may be strong enough to be “compelling.”

But not compelling enough to justify racial preferences.

If “diversity” were “compelling,” it would not follow that racial preferences would be required or permitted to achieve that non-racial goal. Since race cannot be used as a proxy for diversity, failure to achieve a “critical mass” of black or Hispanic students does not necessarily compromise diversity. The Michigan case can implement that principle in higher education, in line with previous non-higher-education cases.

At this point, I must confess, I’ve lost sight of Blumstein’s point. I don’t know of a critic of racial preferences who opposes diversity in the abstract. Nor do I understand what would be left of the Michigan preference programs if the Supremes held that the programs can continue so long as they stop awarding any preference based on race.

Blumstein wants the Court to avoid “an overly hard line” on “whether affirmative justifications for the use of race can ever be deployed. He implies that race can legitimately be taken into account when police are called upon to assign an undercover officer to a black or white gang (something I discussed here, here, and here).

But as Blumstein surely knows, even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Mother of all color-blind commandments, made an exception for the tiny number of situations — such as assigning undercover police officers — where race was a “bona fide occupational qualification.” I’m sure the Supremes are adept enough to do the same thing.

Say What? (2)

  1. TJ Jackson June 6, 2003 at 3:18 am | | Reply

    The double speak or NEWSPEAK employed by the affirmative action crowd is beyond the pale. I would like to understand how Chinese and Japanese, those blue eyed Ayran types, are discriminated against by affirmative action? I’d like them to explain to me exactly how priviledged these immigrants were?

  2. nobody important June 6, 2003 at 8:22 am | | Reply

    The benefit to minorities would seem to be indirect. That is, by exposing whites (and Asian Americans) to minorities, they become more sensitized to issues of concern to minorities. They lose their learned prejudices and shed their complacency about racial injustice. In short, they become something like Howell Raines.

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