An “Equal Playing Field“?

Most defenders of racial preference insist, against all available current evidence, that they believe in the ideal of colorblind equality, in the principle that everyone should be treated “without regard” to race, ethnicity, etc., but they immediately set their professed dedication to that principle aside by maintaining that it is impractical to implement that principle because “the playing field is not level.”

To the best of my knowledge none of these defenders of race preferences, of treating everyone with regard to their race, etc., has defined what he or she means by “level playing field” and how we will know when it has become level. It would be useful if every now and then — say, one out of a hundred or so times a journalist quotes one or another preferentialist defending his or her privilege using that well-worn phrase — the preferee were asked to give a definition.

For example, on Thursday Ward Connerly spoke to a “largely hostile audience” at Truman State University in Missouri. (Since the audience was identified as being at a university, the “largely hostile” adjective was largely redundant.) Afterwards,

Jasmine Pampkin, a sophomore accounting major from St. Louis, said Connerly’s vision of a race-blind society is an ideal that doesn’t match her own reality. Pampkin, who is black, receives a $500 scholarship each semester from a campus multicultural affairs office, as well as an academic scholarship to help defray the estimated $11,000 annual costs of tuition, room and board at the liberal arts school.

“I would love to be able to be looked at just for my academic achievements,” she said after Connerly’s speech. “But I don’t feel it’s an equal playing field.”

Well, of course the ideal of race blindness “doesn’t match her current reality.” How could it, since Ms. Pampkin implies that she receives her two scholarships only because she’s black.

It would, or at least might, have been enlightening if the Associated Press reporter who wrote the article quoting her, Alan Scher Zagier, had asked one or two follow-up questions. For example, in what ways, I wonder, does Ms. Pampkin believe her current “playing field” is not “equal”? Does she believe that if the state of Missouri is barred from awarding benefits based on race, the same administrators who gave her two scholarships totaling $11,500 would immediately then discriminate against her because of her race? (That discrimination, by the way, would also clearly violate the pending Missouri Civil Rights Initiative.)

Another follow-up question might ask Ms. Pampkin why she is afraid that she would not receive the scholarships if her race were not “taken into account,” as the euphemism goes. Is she less poor than the recipient who would otherwise receive the funds? Are her grades less good? If either of those, why does she think she deserves the scholarships? What would she say about the tilt of the playing field to the would-be recipient who, but for his or her race, would have received the scholarship?

In practice (or to stick with my metaphor, real games), it seems to me that the beneficiaries of racial preferences and their defenders don’t want “a level playing field.” They want a set us rules that rewards them and penalizes the other players — they should be required, say, to gain only 7 yards for a first down, not 10; their touchdowns should count 9 points, not 6; they should not be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct because they come from a group that has been subjected to so much of it; etc.

Rev. Wright is right at home playing this game.

UPDATE [30 March]

From Al Sharpton at one of the 2004 Democratic candidate debates:

“We’ve been told we had three minutes,” he said at a candidates’ forum as a 2004 presidential candidate.

“My good friend Senator Edwards spoke for five. So Joe Lieberman told me that, in the spirit of affirmative action, I get seven.”

Was Lieberman poking fun at affirmative action? Was Sharpton attempting to be funny or using humor to make a serious point? Were the resulting chuckles (if any) produced by the humor or by nervous discomfort? If one believes (as many Democrats and all Democratic leaders do) in racial double standards, i.e., treating some people better and others worse because of their race when they apply to college or for a job or for a government contract, why exactly is Sharpton’s comment funny?

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  1. […] up with something better (or until “the playing field is level,” an argument I’ve considered many, many times) does beg a question — because it assumes its premise: that preferential treatment […]

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