"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reductio ad absurdum on Affirmative Action

You may have heard the story of the Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren, pictured above, who claimed to be a "minority" -- she claims, without proof, to be 1/32nd Cherokee -- as a "plus factor" in gaining her position as a Harvard Law Professor.   Victor Davis Hanson weighs in today:

Senate candidate, Harvard law professor, and 1-percenter Elizabeth Warren, apparently at an earlier, less established point in her cursus honorum, claimed a Native American pedigree — based not on the proverbial Jim Crow 1/16th drop, but perhaps either a 1/32nd mist, or an even vaguer and unprovable claim of some family lore about Native American relatives. Warren’s is the sort of comical “Cherokee con” that every professor at some time hears from white males yearning to find some edge in admissions or hiring; in that regard, I once had a student from North Africa check “African-American” on a PhD application form, despite my warning that as an Arab American he was not eligible for affirmative-action. More recently, my Punjabi American neighbor farmer still does not understand why his family’s quite dark complexions and exotic names don’t qualify his children for the special consideration in university admissions that much lighter teenaged foreign nationals that recently cross the border from Mexico enjoy. He finds that strange. 

A cynical professor, Warren apparently realized that affirmative action/diversity had long become a bankrupt concept, 50 years after the civil-rights movement in an increasingly multiracial, intermarried society with millions of first-generation immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The blonde, pale Warren, of course, looks Anglo; she had no ties to any perceived Indian tribe, and apparently had never complained about ill-treatment due to the supposed race of one of her great-great-great-grandparents.

For my part, one of my friends in graduate school was an African-American -- that is, she was a white South African who had emigrated to America and married an American.   Yet she got a good job at a tony college on the strength, I'm certain of her combination of the African-American credential and her exoticism as a Third World-born scholar.  

It all sheds some light on how Barack Obama made it from middling performance at Occidental to Columbia and then to Harvard Law, doesn't it?

As Hanson notes, the complex machinery of affirmative action is bankrupt as policy and, worse, it's immoral, and always has been.   The only moral way to treat other individual human beings is as individuals worthy of full human dignity and respect, including affording them the right to succeed (and fail) on their own merits.

The Constitution is simple on the question:  every citizen is entitled to equal protection regardless of race.   It doesn't say, "but if you're 1/32nd Cherokee, you get preferential treatment."  

Simpler is better.

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