Monday, October 16, 2006

Why racial preferences are a product of white guilt

From "An open letter to my collegues and students at the University of Michigan," by Professor Carl Cohen, published in the Michigan Daily (student newspaper at the University of Michgian):

The preferences we give to minorities in admission (and in other contexts) were initiated as a form of compensation for injuries earlier inflicted; they were efforts to make retributive payment. In reality those preferences impose great burdens on minorities, burdens that outweigh any benefits they appear to offer; nevertheless the preferences are commonly viewed as instruments of redress. This compensatory intention was for many years explicit. But equal treatment under the law is plainly inconsistent with compensation by ethnicity; one is entitled to redress for injury without regard to skin color. So the compensatory justification of preference was thrown out by the courts, even though it remains for most ordinary folks the only ground on which preferences might make any sense at all. Our University, defending preferences in the courts, renounced that compensatory justification explicitly, resorting instead to the one justification that had some hope of winning the legal battle: diversity.

As a defense of race preference, the alleged compelling need for racial diversity is entirely without merit. That defense has been advanced and accepted only because there is no other way, under the U. S. Constitution, to rescue the drive to expiate white guilt. We are told repeatedly, by people who seem not to fear embarrassing themselves, that diversity is the very heart of educational excellence. The compensatory payments by race that cannot otherwise be defended are saved by a dreadful argument.

That the diversity defense is no more than a stratagem is made manifest by the history of this controversy. Diversity was hardly ever mentioned until the compensatory justification was thrown out by the courts.

The race card always works in our country because, where the atmosphere is one of pervasive racial guilt, the accusation of racism leveled at a person or an institution sticks like glue, and needs no proof to do its damage. Universities, like corporations, do not pay to the measure of any actual racism; they pay to the measure of racism's bloated reputation in the age of white guilt.


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