By Michael C. Moynihan
Via the Atlantic Wire, Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez offers, much to my surprise, a perfectly sensible suggestion: it’s time to find “less divisive ways to fight inequality” by eliminating racial preferences.
Yeah, let’s! But why now, Gregory? It is time to end affirmative action, Rodriguez writes, not because the practice is unfair or discriminatory, but because if it continues much longer we can expect a “destructive white backlash” against minorities, an explosion of racial resentment from those angry Tea Party types.
Between the usual platitudes (“policy, like politics, is the art of the possible”), Rodriguez argues that “we're routinely hearing the cries of white minority victimhood. And it's not just coming from white nationalists.” More mainstream Americans, in other words, are adopting the resentful racial attitudes of white nationalists. But are claims of “white minority victimhood” greater in 2011 than, say, 1995? Rodriguez provides no evidence. And is it “victimhood” (an obviously pejorative term) to complain that your construction company, which offered the lowest bid, was passed over for a federal contract in favor of a minority-owned company?
Is there data to support the argument that white America is on the brink of a “backlash,” or is Rodriguez’s column more informed by the “racist Tea Party” meme than any hard evidence? Opinion polling on racial preferences is difficult; depending on how the questions are phrased, support varies in statistically significant ways. But most poll data suggests that support for affirmative has actually increased in the past decade. If there is evidence to suggest that Rodriguez is on to something (he writes that he “believes” and is “convinced” that he is right, something his editor might want to second guess in the future), I haven’t found it.
One final quibble. Rodriguez asks, “Is there hard evidence that whites are hurt by affirmative action? No. Over the course of four decades of the program, white educational attainment has increased. And whites still make up the vast majority of federal employees.” So if the “educational attainment” (whatever that means) of whites has increased, as more people are going to college—but perhaps not the college they wanted—and seeking advanced degrees, this means there is “no hard evidence” that whites are hurt by affirmative action? Perhaps, Gregory, it means preference programs aren't the correct answer to the problems of minorities. Either way, I've reread the sentence a dozen times and it still makes no sense. And note the slight of hand employed when he claims that "whites still make up the vast majority of federal employees.” Well, yes. Because they constitute a vast majority of the population. But according to the latest figures, available here, blacks represent 18 percent of the federal workforce and 13 percent of the United States population. Alas, the numbers aren’t exactly right here—a 5 percentage point differential—and, therefore, someone, somewhere is getting a raw deal.