Pride and Preferences; Affirmative Action Keeps Racial Discrimination Alive

Article excerpt


The U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts is providing America with a teachable moment about affirmative action. Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown's campaign has accused Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren of promoting her academic career by unfairly claiming American Indian ethnicity based on a remote 19th-century family link. After some delay, the Warren campaign confirmed that she listed herself as a Native American while at Harvard University. Faculty directories published by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) also list Mrs. Warren as a minority faculty member at her previous academic posts. Universities where she worked all claim affirmative action played no role in her hiring, but the public can be justly skeptical. Higher education has long been the most committed bastion for the defense of race-based hiring preferences.

The debate over whether or how Mrs. Warren benefited from affirmative action highlights the contradictions of multiculturalism. Affirmative action forces people into racial and ethnic boxes, and some are more rewarding than others. Self-interest prompts people to find ways to associate themselves with protected classes, no matter how tenuous the connection may be. This is a zero-sum game where scarce academic posts are concerned. If a search committee is looking to increase faculty diversity, whites need not apply. While affirmative action pretends to be a remedy for victims of discrimination, the primary victims in this scenario are the applicants who might have gotten jobs based on merit had imposters or exaggerators such as Mrs. Warren not shown up. …