Still Another “C’est Moi!” Defense Of Racial Preference

My last two posts (here and here) have discussed examples of what I’ve called the “C’est Moi!” defense of racial preference — the argument that the advocate’s own success justifies abandoning the principle that everyone should be judged “without regard” to race. Both those posts also cited earlier discussions of that phenomenon.

Now a reader who wishes to remain anonymous has pointed me to another example, in some ways even more striking, that is discussed in a particularly egregious column in the Detroit News by Laura Berman. She recounts a conversation, more a friendly debate, in the Detroit airport between Ward Connerly and Jon Barfield, a black Michigan business man who opposes MCRI and was scheduled to debate Connerly at a public function shortly thereafter.

Ms. Berman’s own views are nicely revealed by her observation that “[a]s an African-American, Connerly gives credence to a point of view that is otherwise widely associated with bigotry.” Perhaps Ms. Berman’s world is populated by bigots who believe, with Ward Connerly, that everyone should be treated without regard to race, religion, or ethnicity, but in the world I live in bigotry presents a quite different face.

But what is most striking about this column is not Ms. Berman’s peculiar opinions but rather the way she presents Mr. Barfield as a poster boy for preferences. (Of course, there no doubt is a connection between her opinions and her presentation.)

A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, the chairman of a $200 million a year company, Barfield is both successful and honest about how he got there: Some alchemy of family, brainpower, hard work, good manners — and yes, college affirmative action programs that opened the world for him.

“I think I can argue there’s been a return on that investment.” he says.

But a closer look at that “alchemy,” a look my anonymous correspondent took, reveals that Barfield can be described the same way Democrats often described both presidents Bush — as someone who was born on third base and brags about having hit a triple. As Ebony magazine pointed out in a July 2002 article.

In 1981, John W. [Barfield] turned the company over to the next generation: his eldest son, Jon E. Barfield, now President and CEO.

The company’s good (and large) fortune, moreover, has thrived on the “diversity” contracting of large corporations. As Ebony pointed out,

Through the Ford Minority Supplier Development Program, Bartech became one of Ford Motor Company’s top staffing suppliers. Jon E. states, “Ford Motor Company’s support of the Bartech Group is just one example of their commitment to diversity.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal made the same point:

For a great American success story, consider Bartech Group. The grandson of Alabama sharecroppers, Jon E. Barfield graduated from [Princeton and ] Harvard Law School and built his high-tech personnel service with a string of blue-chip clients. He counts Ford Motor Co. Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. among his closest friends. Bartech revenue is expected to exceed $100 million this year. An initial public offering is in the works.

Mr. Barfield is African-American. Does that make him a disadvantaged minority?

He emphatically says yes — and so do his big corporate clients, who want to continue to accrue credit for working with minority-owned firms no matter how large those suppliers grow and how diluted their minority ownership becomes.

Let us leave aside, at least for now, the potentially interesting question of whether Jon Barfield’s father, John Barfield, the company founder, needed affirmative action to launch his career, or whether affirmative action could be justified to help people in the position of founder Barfield at the beginning of his career. The more interesting question, to me, is whether that Barfield deserved affirmative action at the end of his career, after he had founded and launched a successful company. And should the core of present-day affirmative action, the right to preferential treatment based on race, be regarded as an asset to be passed down from father to son. Did Barfield jr. deserve preferential treatment when he applied to Princeton and later to Harvard? He obviously thinks so.

Does he believe his children deserve the same preferential treatment? If so, let him explain why to the citizens of Michigan before they vote on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Finally, let me add that Ms. Berman did say one true thing in her column, her concluding sentence:

Come Nov. 7, if Proposal 2 passes, Ward Connerly won’t only change Jon Barfield’s life, he’ll change yours.

Well, he won’t change mine, because I don’t live in Michigan. But the passage of Proposition 2 (MCRI) could indeed potentially change the lives of everyone who does or will live in Michigan. Never again could any state agency reward or punish any of them based on their race, sex, or ethnicity. Mr. Barfield’s children or grandchildren, if he has any, might appreciate that more than he does.

Say What? (1)

  1. Chetly Zarko October 9, 2006 at 1:32 am | | Reply


    This stuff about Barfield, in light of the attacks on Ward for being wealthy, and the general defense of AA by reference to GW Bush’s legacy preferences, is just so dang good that in an alternative universe the media would actually report it, and well-funded MCRI officials would actually have enough funds to run a small percentage of TV ads on Barfield’s hypocrisy.

    Indeed, one wonders if Barfield actually said that, given his history, or if the columnist is taking some liberties with the actual story about the airport conversation, etc.

    It’s priceless, and it proves a point about preferences. Why should the daughter of an asian immigrant living in an LA slum get preference over Colin Powell’s grandson, or, now, Jon Barfield the III?

    Barfield would make a GREAT posterboy for the MCRI to flagellate the opposition with, in exactly the same way they have hit Ward Connerly, which is why you haven’t heard more directly from him and why Berman’s story is surprising.

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