Another “C’est Moi!” Justification Of Affirmative Action

I have written before of the “c’est moi!” justification for affirmative action (such as here and here). Here’s another example of this all-too-common justification for preferences for oneself, this one from Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.:

When he transferred to Yale in 1969 [after a freshman year at Potomac State College in West Virginia] he was one of only 96 black students on campus. Only six black men had been in the class of 1966, all of them from wealthy backgrounds, Gates said.

He talked about how he supports affirmative action because he benefited from it so much. Without it, he wouldn’t have been admitted to Yale because his father was not rich, he said.

Opposing affirmative action now “would make me a hypocrite as big as Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas, and I am not that kind of person,” Gates said to applause.

No, indeed he is not. Of course, the affirmative action that Gates said explains his admission to Yale was not based on his father’s income but his color. The fact that the six black men in the class of 1966 were all rich also tends to confirm another longstanding criticism of how affirmative action is practiced at elite institutions (exposing the sons and daughters of white rich people to the “diversity” allegedly provided by the sons and daughters of black rich people).

What I said about the identical c’est moi! justification for racial preference offered by Theodore Shaw, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, applies equally well here.

One can readily understand why [Prof. Gates] regards his own success as compelling justification for the racial discrimination against someone else required to achieve it, but there may be some benefit in those of us without his interest examining the argument. Let us begin by assuming, with him, that he would not have been accepted at [Yale] without the racial preference he received, although in fact that may not be true. (In the absence of preferences, after all, some minorites are still admitted into even the most selective schools.) Still, there is no reason to assume that it was [Yale] or nowhere. Since [Yale] found him [qualified], he presumably would have been accepted elsewhere, and since it sounds as though he was poor he would have qualifed for financial aid. Indeed, he might have wound up exactly where he is…. Nor is there any reason to assume that the white’s, Asian’s, or other non-preferred minority’s place [Prof. Gates] took would have led a life of sloth and indulgence, contributing nothing comparable to [his] contribution to the national well-being. I mean no disrespect to [Prof. Gates] when I say that, placing his success and contributions on one side of the scale and the principle of non-discrimination on the other, there seems to be no compelling national interest in sacrificing the latter for the former.

Say What? (1)

  1. mj February 10, 2007 at 7:39 pm | | Reply

    So being greedy and self-centered is better than being a hypocrite?

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