For my (two) longtime readers it should come as no surprise that I find so-called ‘affirmative’ action as nonsensical as discrimination. Actually, for me it’s the same thing: to hold different people to different standards. It’s sexism and racism, and I don’t think there’s anything remotely positive or ‘affirmative’ about it. Having rules (whether it’s on college campus’ or embedded in the law) that treat individuals depending on biological traits is wrong and no good can come out of it.
I know many people will disagree (and you’re more than welcome to debate me on this issue, as long as you play by the rules of the blog), so I guess it’s a good thing Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim just published an op-ed piece on the Wall Street Journal providing the much needed evidence that the lower expectations racism called ‘affirmative’ action only worsens discrimination (curiously enough, in the same piece they say they strongly support these kind of discrimination… go figure!):
Although these gaps vary from college to college, studies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.
As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers. People notice useful social cues, and one of the strongest causes of stereotypes is exposure to real group differences. If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other schools are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.
And racial gaps in classroom performance create other problems. A 2013 study by the economist Peter Arcidiacono of Duke University found that students tend to befriend those who are similar to themselves in academic achievement. This is a big contributor to the patterns of racial and ethnic self-segregation visible on many campuses. If a school increases its affirmative-action efforts in ways that expand these gaps, it is likely to end up with more self-segregation and fewer cross-race friendships, and therefore with even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.
In a 2004 study designed to examine the effects of “ethnic enclaves,” a team of social psychologists led by Jim Sidanius (now at Harvard) tracked most of the incoming freshmen at the University of California, Los Angeles. They measured attitudes in the week before classes started and surveyed the same students each spring for the next four years. The study allowed the researchers to see how joining an organization based on ethnic identity changed students’ attitudes.
The results were mostly grim. For black, Asian and Latino students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.” The authors also examined the effect on white students of joining fraternities and sororities and found similar effects, including an increased sense of ethnic victimization and opposition to intergroup dating.
There may be academic reasons for creating these ethnic centers, but if the goal of expanding such programs is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire.
Might the negative effects of these policies be counteracted by diversity training? We don’t know. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that corporations and universities spend on them each year, such programs “have never been evaluated with experimental methods,” as a comprehensive 2009 study in the Annual Review of Psychology concluded.
The evaluations that have been done are not encouraging. A major 2007 review of diversity training in corporations concluded that “on average, programs designed to reduce bias among managers responsible for hiring and promotion have not worked.” A review of diversity interventions published in 2014 in the journal Science noted that these programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges.”
If like me, you’re concerned with racism, bigotry and discrimination, and you want it to end, don’t despair. This doesn’t mean discrimination can’t be fought, it just means we have to do it with means that actually achieve that end — the intellectually crippled, post-modernist way doesn’t work (go figure!) so why not try an Enlightened approach instead?
Look, Haidt and Jussim provide a glimpse of how that would look like:
Interracial contact can yield many benefits. In a review of more than 500 studies, published in 2006 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Thomas Pettigrew and Linda Tropp concluded that when people of different races and ethnicities mix together and get to know each other, the effect is generally to reduce prejudice on all sides. This is a good justification for increasing diversity.
But the researchers also found that these benefits depend in large measure on certain conditions, like having common goals, a sense of cooperation and equal status. The benefits disappear when there is anxiety about cross-group interactions. On a campus, this means that increasing the number of black students and professors could, in theory, improve race relations, but such benefits are unlikely when accompanied by microaggression training and other measures that magnify racial consciousness and conflict.
Yes, treating everyone the same way, because we’re all equals sounds like the right place to start fighting effectively against all kinds of discrimination.
I support all kinds of people demanding same rights as everyone else —no one should settle for less—, but pleading special treatment is asking for more. That’s how not to end discrimination.
(image: Lu Yu; OMG, did I just objectify everyone —but white people, because there are no white M&Ms—?)