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Liberals, Conservatives, and the Use of Racial and Ethnic Classifications:

I have long been fascinated by the fact that most conservatives support racial and ethnic profiling for national security and law enforcement purposes, yet are categorically opposed to the use of racial or ethnic classifications for affirmative action. Most liberals, by contrast, take exactly the opposite view. Both ideologies oppose racial and ethnic classifications as a matter of principle in one area, yet defend them on pragmatic grounds in another. Consider, for example, this recent Weekly Standard article by Philip Terzian defending ethnic profiling in airport security:

[T]here is no harm in acknowledging that the sort of person who is likely to be a terrorist is not just any citizen who happens to walk into an airport, but someone with specific, comprehensible characteristics of age, national origin, sex, religion, and behavior. So far as we are aware, no jihadist plots have been perpetrated against Americans by little old ladies from Dubuque, but several terrorist attacks--in particular, 9/11--have been carried out by young Muslim men of Middle Eastern origin. No, not all young men, not all Muslims, not all people from the Middle East, are jihadists or potential terrorists. Of course not. But common sense, and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, should make it obvious to airport security personnel where to concentrate their energies.

Terzian is saying that ethnic profiling of airline passengers is justified because, on average, a young Middle Eastern Muslim male is more likely to be a terrorist than members of other groups. This, despite the fact that not all (or even most) Middle Eastern Muslims are terrorists, and there are of course some terrorists (Richard Reid, Tim McVeigh, etc.) who belong to other groups. The harm to innocent Middle Eastern Muslims affected by profiling is presumably outweighed by the benefits to national security.

Defenders of affirmative action, of course, make a very similar argument. On average, an African-American or Hispanic applicant to college is more likely to be a victim of racism and to suffer from the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery than a white applicant is. Thus, it makes sense to give preference to applicants from these groups, despite the fact that some of the beneficiaries will be people who haven't suffered much from racism, and some of the members of the non-preferred group may themselves be disadvantaged. Defenders of AA also claim that the average black or Hispanic applicant contributes more to campus diversity than the average white one, although there are of course many individual exceptions to this rule. Paraphrasing Terzian, an AA defender could say:

There is no harm in acknowledging that the sort of person who is likely to be a victim of prejudice is not just any citizen, but someone with specific, comprehensible characteristics of race, national origin, or ethnicity. So far as we are aware, few whites from Dubuque have been systematically victimized by racial prejudice. But numerous African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos have. No, not all African-Americans, not all Latinos, not all American Indians, are suffering from the effects of past and present discrimination. Not all will contribute more to diversity than the average white applicant. Of course not. But common sense, and the overwhelming preponderance of evidence, should make it obvious to college admissions officers where to concentrate their energies.

In both cases - terrorism profiling and affirmative action - race or ethicity is used as a proxy for other characteristics in order to help overcome the problem of imperfect information. If we knew who is a terrorist and who isn't, there would be no argument for security profiling. If we knew each college applicant's degree of victimization by racism or degree of contribution to diversity, the case for racially based affirmative action would be greatly weakened. Since we don't know these things and it would be difficult or impossible to find out, race or ethnicity are used as a crude proxy for them.

Some of the disagreement between liberals and conservatives may be due to a difference of opinion on the relative efficacy of the two policies. For example, liberals may think that racially based affirmative action is effective in achieving its goals, while terrorism profiling is not; conservatives may think the opposite. However, this does not account for the large number of conservatives who oppose affirmative action because they think it is intrinsically wrong, regardless of its effectiveness. And ditto for the large number of liberals who oppose ethnic profiling for national security purposes irrespective of how effective it might be. There are several possible ways to distinguish between security profiling and affirmative action. What is striking to me, however, is that most liberals and conservatives seem to completely ignore the potential contradiction between their thinking on these two issues.

UPDATE: I am embarrassed to say that I was unaware of my colleague Nelson Lund's paper on this subject until it was pointed out by Jonathan Adler in his post responding to mine. Nelson's article does precisely what I urge other conservatives to do in my post: it considers the implications of the conservative critique of affirmative action for the conservative defense of ethnic profiling for national security purposes. However, Nelson wrote the article in part precisely because most other conservatives have simply ignored the tension between their positions on these two issues. It's my impression that most continue to do so, despite Nelson's well-taken admonitions. The same, of course, is true of most liberals.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. A Conservative Case Against Racial Profiling:
  2. Liberals, Conservatives, and the Use of Racial and Ethnic Classifications:
zooba:
Are there really many liberals claiming to oppose racial profiling for terrorism on ineffectiveness grounds?
9.12.2006 12:57am
A.G. (mail):
Similar to death penalty advocates being opponents of abortion and assisted suicide. A more emotionally charged issue, sure, but similar nonetheless.
9.12.2006 1:02am
guestagain (mail) (www):
Why can' people just realize both are stupid. That's why i truly wish there was a libertarian type party which still had just a little bit of concern about social well being....
9.12.2006 1:15am
Dick King:
Actually, the analogy has a fatal flaw.

When security screeners do racial profiling at airports, the profilee is searched more thoroughly than others, but if he bears no contraband he is sent to meet his plane.

When college admission departments do quotasXXX affirmative action, they don't apply special techniques that are designed to smoke out abilities that were unable to express themselves but that could provably be nurtured. They slap a few or a lot of points on his scores and admit him over those with better credentials who happen to be members of politically incorrect groups.


Furthermore, enough people try to catch a flight every day to make application of maximum caution to everyone into an unacceptable burden. The transaction of admitting a college applicant is sufficiently large that a thorough investigation is called for, especially in close cases, and no profiling is necessary. Although racial preferences may be a proxy for disadvantaged backgrounds, it would indeed be practical for colleges to check the background of their applicants. To take an extreme case, Harvard gets, say, twenty times as many applicants as they have slots [to be generous; I don't know the exact number] and each enrolee pays $100K tuition over hir four years, so a cost of a couple of hundred dollars to examine some financial statements and other evidence of disadvantage would not overly burden the process.


While I am not a proponent of the death penalty and not an opponent of abortion, I don't think those positions are morally incoherent. Nobody advocates the death penalty for randomly chosen individuals; only those found guilty of serious crimes. Few fetuses fit in that category.


-dk
9.12.2006 1:17am
HLSbertarian (mail):
The comparison only works if one accepts that redress of past prejudice is a proper goal for an admissions officer and/or that these particular admissions officers practice discrimination in the absence of affirmative action policies and/or that a student of lower academic merit but rarer race improves the educational experience of those around him.

If one accepts none of these, and I imagine many conservatives don't, the comparison fails, because in this case, in the eyes of conservatives, racial profiling accomplishes a proper goal and affirmative action does not.
9.12.2006 1:21am
Ilya Somin:
When college admission departments do quotasXXX affirmative action, they don't apply special techniques that are designed to smoke out abilities that were unable to express themselves but that could provably be nurtured. They slap a few or a lot of points on his scores and admit him over those with better credentials who happen to be members of politically incorrect groups.

A good point. But repeated singling out for profiling could impose a large cumulative cost on many Muslims, particularly those who travel a lot.

Furthermore, enough people try to catch a flight every day to make application of maximum caution to everyone into an unacceptable burden. The transaction of admitting a college applicant is sufficiently large that a thorough investigation is called for, especially in close cases, and no profiling is necessary.

In many cases, it is difficult or impossible for admissions officers to do a "thorough investigation" of every applicant, or even every minority applicant. At most big universities, there are thousands of applicants or even tens of thousands. That is one of the reasons why grades and standardized test scores play such a large role in admissions. They are a low-cost way to sift a large number of applicants quickly.
9.12.2006 1:23am
Truth Seeker:
HLSbertarian is right. Stopping terrorists is a worthy goal, which could be streamlined by profiling. Giving advantages to one group not based on their innate abilities or credentials is not a worthy goal, at least in the eyes of conservatives or libertarians. It is a goal of leftists to force equality on the unequal. If you want to make people equal, at least start at an early age and raise them right.
9.12.2006 1:31am
Steven Jens (mail) (www):
I think the connection between the death penalty and abortion is pretty superficial. I don't think it's hard to understand why someone would say that every individual human entity deserves a right to life from conception -- unless they do something to forfeit it. And I don't think it's hard to understand why someone would say that capital punishment is a power that the government should not assume, but that an embryo two months past conception doesn't yet have standing as a person.

A similar thought I've had, though, is with the words "conservative" and "conservationist". There certainly are Rich Lowrys and Russell Kirks, but most people who forward the precautionary principle when discussing the environment are quite ready to reorder society economically, or overturn cultural mores. And those who stand athwart history yelling "stop!" seem much less worried about humanity having an impact on nature that goes beyond the realm of human experience.
9.12.2006 1:37am
Eli Rabett (www):
Well, if you don't think affirmative action is a disireable policy, how bout putting cash on the table to redress past wrongs. Or do you insist on having it both ways. Of course, of course, silly ol me.

There are plenty of minority folk still alive who got it in the neck from Jim Crow, mortgage lenders and more. Their kids still suffer from the wrongs done to their parents. Step up or shut up.

Strange tho, I guess around here people don't want to do either.
9.12.2006 1:43am
triticale (mail) (www):
There are plenty of people whose parents suffered from Jim Crow and/or mortgage lenders (an interesting conflation) and manage to do just fine by the simple expedient of striving, just as I whose parents were denied access to the better colleges by the "gentleman's agreement" have done.
9.12.2006 1:50am
Conservative Activist (mail):
As a conservative who supports racial profiling and disapproves of race-based (or other) affirmative action in university admissions, I want to give you points for making me think very carefully about my position. I think there may be some truth in the idea that on this, at least, both sides are not being 100% intellectually honest.

I still think that profiling is necessary, that we must take into account the facts of most terror attacks and go forward. This is nothing less than common sense law enforcement - the FBI, for example, may "profile" a potential serial killer based on the historical truths of serial killers who have gone before. If 90% of serial killers have been white, aged 25-40, and have a history of bedwetting, it makes sense to look for someone in that profile when vetting suspects in a new case. So if 95% of plane hijackers or suicide bombers have been male, aged 18-35, of Muslim faith, of Middle Eastern origin, and taking flying lessons in Florida or buying one-way tickets on airplanes, it makes complete sense to more carefully examine people of similar circumstance.

The reason most conservatives oppose affirmative action is because we do not believe in forced diversity. The goal of affirmative action, to promote the well-being of the historically disadvantaged, is something we largely disagree with in the first place. Affirmative action is also racist in it's own right, mostly for assuming that one group needs a leg up instead of encouragement to meet the standards everyone else meets without race as a factor.
9.12.2006 1:55am
Steve:
Prof. Somin's analogy suggests an additional aspect. Some liberals oppose racial profiling because, they argue, the benefits are questionable but the practice is sure to radicalize the profiled group and cause them to resent our government. They would argue that al-Qaeda's extremist ideology has largely failed to take hold amongst American Muslims because they largely identify as Americans and feel assimilated, yet we could change all that by adopting official policies that make them all feel like terrorist suspects.

By the same token, some conservatives oppose affirmative action because, they argue, the benefits are questionable but the practice is sure to engender resentment of the favored class. They would argue that, as long as we provide racial preferences, qualified minorities will always be regarded as "affirmative action babies" and will face significant difficulties in getting employers and others to judge them fairly based on their abilities.

Both sides, then, often adopt an argument of the type "even if it works, the unavoidable side effects make the policy undesirable on the whole."
9.12.2006 2:05am
unhyphenatedconservative (mail):
"Well, if you don't think affirmative action is a disireable policy, how bout putting cash on the table to redress past wrongs."

Eli, we did. It was called the War on Poverty. It cost a lot of money. It failed.
9.12.2006 2:06am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
"Giving advantages to one group not based on their innate abilities or credentials is not a worthy goal, at least in the eyes of conservatives or libertarians."

I can't buy this statement. I think most conservatives have no objection to all sorts of privileges that are afforded to the wealthy, including (pertinently) a shorter security line at the airport for first-class passengers and users of private jets AND admissions privileges given to the children of big-ticket donors to colleges and university.

I actually don't know what the real motivations of most liberals and conservatives are on these two issues. (Interestingly, I am generally "consistent" by Prof. Somyn's rubric-- generally opposed to both racial profiling and affirmative action, though I must say, I DON'T find affirmative action to be wrong per se; I just don't think that the proxy works properly, because admissions preferences are going to tend to benefit middle-class minorities and not those who are really victimized by our primary education system.)
9.12.2006 2:12am
jdd6y:
Is it necessary to "racially profile" to screen people at airports? Is Pakistani or Palestinian a "race?"

I would think that non-racial characteristics should be used - country of origin, age, destinations and any other data that we might have on people - i.e., criminal convictions, on watch lists, affiliations with sketchy groups.

Given the huge loss of GDP for delays in travel, a pretty-solid utilitarian justification can be made for streamlining the process - or offering frequent travelers from specific countries an opportunity to pre-register and go through background checks to avoid the process happening more than once.

The huge problem with the analogy is that airport screeners have limited time and a very large downside. A proxy is all they have.

Universities have unlimited time, can ask any questions they want and have no need for a proxy for economic or social disadvantage. They can hire more readers if they need and increase application fees, which are no deterrent for applicants to the top schools.

They can simply ask people questions about their background. They can ask for tax information, what high school was attended and the social classes of the students attending, how that applicant did relative to peers and so on and so forth.

Unless the motivation is AA as "reparations" (which is not the majority view), AA is just a pathetically lazy way to go about equalizing opportunity and access. Given the quasi-governmental nature of Universities, I'm not surprised that they choose the lazy path (and end up with a lot of middle and upper class minorities).
9.12.2006 2:31am
HLSbertarian (mail):

I think most conservatives have no objection to all sorts of privileges that are afforded to the wealthy, including (pertinently) a shorter security line at the airport for first-class passengers and users of private jets AND admissions privileges given to the children of big-ticket donors to colleges and university.


To a conservative, there is a quite a distance between "afforded to the wealthy" and "afforded BY the wealthy."
9.12.2006 2:35am
HLSbertarian (mail):

Is it necessary to "racially profile" to screen people at airports? Is Pakistani or Palestinian a "race?"

I would think that non-racial characteristics should be used - country of origin, age, destinations and any other data that we might have on people - i.e., criminal convictions, on watch lists, affiliations with sketchy groups.


These are all a bit easier to forge than race. And why would either age or country or origin be any more acceptable if the goal is avoiding discrimination based on uncontrollable traits.
9.12.2006 2:38am
DCP:
From a practical standpoint (fairness aside), you have to ask two questions:

1. Who is burdened and to what extent?
2. Who benefits as a result of that burden?

In the case of racial profiling for law enforcement purposes the public at large benefits, while a select group that meets whatever profile is at issue will experience the inconvienience of a little more police attention.

In the case of affirmative action only a small preferred class benefits (slightly underqualified minority applicants), while the rest suffer the potentially devestating burden of denial to college, etc...

And the biggest joke about affirmative action is that it really discriminates against asian applicants. Somebody please tell me why some poor girl whose parents fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 30 years ago without a penny to their name and without speaking a lick of english deserves to be penalized because she belongs to a race that far outperforms their demographic percentages in terms of academic achievement. But a far less qualified black girl deserves a handout because 200 years ago one of her ancestors might have been a slave.
9.12.2006 3:40am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think the problem with AA is that neither justification is compelling. Many preferred minorities would not be owed reparations, regardless of justification, because their ancestors were not here to be discriminated against. Plus, how long do we have to provide these reparations? One generation? Two? Ten? On the other hand, using race or ethnic origin as a proxy for economic disadvantage also doesn't work, since there are plenty of preferred minorities from advantaged backgrounds who get AA benefit, while there are also plenty of people from non-preferred groups who are economically disadvantaged and don't. I know of a number of preferred minorities living in million dollar houses, paying full tuitition at private schools, who will get AA preference when they go to college.

Indeed, that is part of the problem with the elite universities - they can and do recruit precisely these preferred minorities from advantaged backgrounds because they can, these students are more competitive with the rest of the student body, and they don't adversely affect the overall student body profile as much.

Which leaves us with diversity as the real reason for AA, and that is why you aren't going to get conservative buy in, esp. since the type of diversity being procured here is diversity by skin color and not by any real measure of how different the students actually are.
9.12.2006 3:43am
MJSgl (mail):
The comments posted thus far have been incisive, and I agree with most of the moral and practical premises asserted. Still, I believe we are nibbling at the edge of the real issue at hand: legally analyzing the compelling governmental interests involved and how narrowly tailored both affirmative action and racial profiling are to achieving those interests.

By discarding (or attempting to do so) political and ideological biases, and limiting considerations to empirical evidence examined under the appropriate burden of proof, opposing affirmative action and supporting racial profiling becomes the cogent, coherent, and correct stance. When one focuses mainly on the legal arguments involved, Prof. Somin's supposed conflict is demonstrated (with all due respect, Professor) to be illusory: the unjustness of racial profiling need not be denied by conservatives in order to disparage affirmative action. The question is how the governmental discrimination is implemented, and to what ends is the discrimination geared. Racial discrimination is unjust by its very nature. But lack of fairness is not the sole basis for considering the legitimacy of a law.

Using AA as a means to remedy past discrimination has been substantially downgraded as a legitimate compelling interest in recent years, notably in the context of federal contracts. Legitimately so, I say, as even assuming that remedying past discrimination is still an important interest in contemporary America, the invidious (reverse) discrimination involved in AA does not seem narrowly tailored. However, the Supreme Court, in Grutter, for the first time relied on diversity as a compelling interest in the academic environment. Empirically, there is scant evidence that diversity is or should be an effective means to promoting an effective educational environment (though there is some evidence to the contrary). Furthermore, notwithstanding Justice O'Connor's opinion, I fail to see how the "race as a factor" element to admissions is narrowly tailored. Finally, considering the efficacy and implementation of AA, does it seem like anything higher than a rational basis burden was applied in this EPC case? I think not.

Contrast that compelling interest with the one involved in racial profiling, national security, and you begin to see why legal conservatives need not at all be conflicted. Important? You betcha. Narrowly tailored? At the least, it's much more plausible to argue than the tailoring involved in academic AA. (I need to go to bed, so forgive me for not discussing racial profiling in more depth. Still, I doubt anyone needs to have the logic behind my premises and conclusions here spelled out.)

My personal beliefs regarding the equity (or lack thereof) involved in racial profiling and AA, and on the empirical evidence of the efficacy (or lack thereof) of racial profiling and AA, do not at all leave me conflicted in arguing the legal merits (or lack thereof) involved in the above types of government sanctioned discrimination. In fact, my views on the topic and the legal analysis dovetails nicely.

In a nutshell, AA is unjust, does not achieve the intended results, and is based on a weak legal foundation; profiling is also unjust, but it arguably does further its intended results, and is based on a much more solid legal foundation. So, in considering affirmative action v. racial profiling, policy, politics, and law complement each other nicely to bolster the conservative point of view.
9.12.2006 5:12am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Another difference between profiling and Affirmative Action is that even with profiling the qualifications for getting on the plane are the same for everybody - one group is simply checked more closely for rules compliance. AA automatically kicks people off the "plane" for simply belonging the "wrong" demographic.
9.12.2006 5:40am
AppSocRes (mail):
Israel has developed behavioral profiling techniques that do not utilize race/ethnicity/religion for screening airline passengers. That country has also implemented a variety of other technologies, e.g., sealed cockpits, to deter terrorist attacks. These procedures and technologies appear to have been succesful in eliminating terrorists acts that target El Al. Why the US does not adopt these methods is a question that should be asked more frequently.
9.12.2006 9:33am
MDJD2B (mail):
The two procedures are distinguishable in that affrirmative action for educational selection allocates desirable goods (places in schools or jobs) so that members of the non-advantaged group are disadvantated.

Racial profiling, on the other hand, odes not deny desirable goods to anyone. Rather, it allogates a disproportionate share of an undesirable state to the profiled group. People outside this group suffer no direct ill effects.

Ms. Gretz and Ms. Grutter id not sue the U of M because they were concerned aobut the effect of affirmative action on Blacks and Hispanics. The sued because this practice disadvantaged those who were not members of these groups who were denied admission as a result of the AA policies.
9.12.2006 10:03am
tefta2 (mail):
AA has been around long enough to draw some conclusions about the results. It's not a secret that AA students admitted to schools above their abilities fail in large numbers. Why continue with a program that seems to designed only to enhance admission office statistics while handing students already low in self esteem another defeat.

To raise the number of AA students admitted to the schools of their choice, the brightest students need to identified in the earliest grades and then encouraged to work very hard to make themselves competitive on their own abilities, not on the backs of their forbearers' suffering or the amount of melanin in their skin.

While identifying the brightest students, why not offer the same deal to all the students? Work hard and make of yourselves all that you can be, instead of buying the "loser" label put on them by the ed biz establishment aka the teachers unions and their allies among liberal politicians and the media in order to coerce more funds from the long-suffering tax payers.

Racial profiling at airports is a function of public safety. As an earlier commenter points out, people who look like those statistically more likely to be terrorists, endure a more thorough search. Merely a precaution that may be annoying, but not to do so, might cause us do endure a lot more than a bit of irritating delay.

I, a 72 year old geezerette, have been singled out for extra scrutiny and while it's embarrassing for the world to see what a sloppy packer I am, I gladly participated.

We should all be grateful that we're still able to travel at will and stop our whining and grousing.
9.12.2006 10:31am
Aultimer:

DCP wrote:

In the case of racial profiling for law enforcement purposes the public at large benefits, while a select group that meets whatever profile is at issue will experience the inconvienience of a little more police attention.

Any evidence that the public benefits, or just an assumption? Any evidence that "inconvenience" is the description for forfeit of individual liberty that innocent people subject to such intrusion would apply?


DCP wrote:

Somebody please tell me why some poor girl whose parents fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 30 years ago without a penny to their name and without speaking a lick of english deserves to be penalized because she belongs to a race that far outperforms their demographic percentages in terms of academic achievement. But a far less qualified black girl deserves a handout because 200 years ago one of her ancestors might have been a slave.

Not that I agree with AA, but the answer is because the less qualified black girl is far more likely to have been discriminated against yesterday than the Cambodian girl in a way that impairs her education. It makes more sense if you compare girls of the background you describe with identical qualification, though.
9.12.2006 10:44am
Not (mail):
Actually using racial profiling for affirmative action in a consistent manner is ok so long the signal corresponds to the unobserved "true" quality of the applicant. That is, if underrepresented groups tend to do better than their scores would suggest, this should be used as a positive signal proportionality to the overperformance. [This may be true for women in the sciences where female applicants tend to slightly outperform equivalent men when they have the SAME scores at the top tech schools.]

But there's a BIG problem. Blacks and hispanics do WORSE than is predicted by their scores. Logically speaking we should tend to discount them even further giving Blacks/Hispanics less weight even with equal scores than White applicants.

That is obviously a no-go politically. So ignoring race would already be giving a boost to Blacks/Hispanics beyond their observable productivity.

So, if you want to hear the conservative (efficiency-based) case for profiling in both security and schools, there it is.
9.12.2006 10:46am
Taeyoung (mail):
Eli Rabett:
There are plenty of minority folk still alive who got it in the neck from Jim Crow, mortgage lenders and more. Their kids still suffer from the wrongs done to their parents. Step up or shut up.
Segregation applied to Asian Americans too (see Gong Lum v. Rice). In California, there's a particularly long and virulent history of anti-Asian prejudice, particularly in education. The outcome of Tape v. Hurley (finding that Asians could not be excluded from public education) was the implementation of a segregated school for Asians in San Francisco. And this leaves aside the anti-naturalisation laws, the perennial anti-Chinese/anti-Japanese riots, and so on. And the internment camps.

What conclusion does that long history of anti-Asian sentiment drive? That we should be giving an "Affirmative Action" boost to Asian-Americans to atone for anti-Asian prejudice 50 or 100 years ago?

Why?

We're doing just fine without. Is there some discernable subpopulation of Asian-Americans whose grandparents and parents attended segregated schools, suffered the name-calling, the interment, the expropriation, etc. who aren't doing fine now, 50 years later?
9.12.2006 11:04am
sbron:
As a white male, I would gladly accept extra
security screening at airports for my demographic
only, if in return all current affirmative action programs and racial preferences were eliminated.
9.12.2006 12:07pm
sierra (mail):
Sorry for the repetition. AA's benefits are dubious, leading to the
perverse shifting effect and disproportionate failure rate described
by Sowell and others, while the benefits of profiling seem obvious,
though I'm glad no obvious counterexamples spring to mind. Not a
"principled" argument, I grant you. But profiling would further a core
gov't goal: protecting us from being murdered. AA is based on the far
murkier ideas that one group should benefit from the wrongs done to
another, or that the current group's poor performance is largely due
to these past wrongs. To illustrate this last point, note the great
success of Chinese-Americans, despite the fact that so many of their
ancestors were treated like dogs.
9.12.2006 12:25pm
SG:
There's no contradiction here. Conservatives oppose AA becuase they believe the goal is to find the "best" applicant and if that results in a disprotionate representation of a particular ethnicity, that's acceptable. When it comes to identifying security risks, if that results in a disproptionate representation of some ethnicity it's also acceptable.

Alternatively, liberals view disproprtionate representation as de facto evidence of unjust discrimination, either past or present and deserving of rectification. The extension to security screening is obvious.

Both positions are self-consistent.
9.12.2006 1:00pm
godfodder (mail):
Call me stupid, but I just don't see the contradiction. I agree with the previous poster SG.

Look at the underlying purpose of the two policies, and you will see that the arguments for/against them differ. In the case, of airport security, race seems to be a reasonable way to make a "first cut" at trying to separate potential terrorists from the mass of innocent passengers. This is true only currently, and for this current crop of Islamic terrorists. Things may change.

Conservatives object to using race in affirmative action, because race does not seem a sufficiently fine or specific way of identifying those in need of special help. Even more importantly, race does not specifically identify those could be justly "punished" for the crime of racism. This last point is the one that really gets to the core of conservative objections to affirmative action. If this was 1866, you might have a point, and affirmative action would be a lot more justified. I very much dislike being "punished" for sins I never committed... nor did my parents, nor did their parents.

Instead of "race," I think "economic class" is a perfectly fine way to dole out special help in college admissions, etc. The children of the poor really are a disadvantaged group.
9.12.2006 1:52pm
DCP:

Aultimer wrote:

Any evidence that the public benefits, or just an assumption? Any evidence that "inconvenience" is the description for forfeit of individual liberty that innocent people subject to such intrusion would apply?


Well, I should say the objective of such programs is to maximize the public safety benefits while minimizing the hardships of those targeted. If the benefits strongly outweigh the burdens then they should be employed, particularly in situations where the stakes are high and other preventative measures are lacking.

That, obviously, requires a different sort of analysis - one that focuses on whether these methods work effectively and are justifiable based on the circumstances, and I'm not qualified to comment on that.

I do know that profiling has worked in cases involving serial killers and that many law enforcement experts strongly recommend profiling for terrorists at airport security checkpoints.




Aultimer wrote:

Not that I agree with AA, but the answer is because the less qualified black girl is far more likely to have been discriminated against yesterday than the Cambodian girl in a way that impairs her education.


Any evidence that the black girl was far more likely to have been discriminated against yesterday or is this just an assumption on YOUR part?

A poster above this documented numerous examples of the discriminatory hardship Asian Americans have suffered and any casual conversation with someone of Asian dissent will verify that they too are victims of racism.

But the Asian students far outperform their black, white and hispanic counterparts, regardless of the school or socioeconomic background or any other social variables. Always have, always will. And we should punish the overacheivers and reward the underacheivers to strike a balance, right?
9.12.2006 2:00pm
Dave Sheldon (mail):
Speaking of racial profiling to stop terrorism, I think it's great. Out of the two most deadly terrorist attacks on US soil, it would have clearly helped us to stop both of them before they happened.

Oh, wait. Timothy McVeigh was a white Catholic from upstate New York.

Well, at least we're safe from people like McVeigh, because white people could never join a group like al-Qaida.

Oh, wait. John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," grew up a white Catholic in Marin County.

Aside from being unfair, racial profiling can serve to blind us to entire categories of threatening individuals. In a world where our security schemes only need to fail once for an immense tragedy to occur, leaving those kinds of vulnerabilities seems incredibly unwise.
9.12.2006 2:22pm
JerryM (mail):
Plus, how long do we have to provide these reparations? One generation? Two? Ten?

The great(sic) and honorable Sandra Day O'Connor declared 25 years, correct??
9.12.2006 2:52pm
Dan Simon (www):
I can't speak for anyone else, but I simply don't consider extra scrutiny from law enforcement authorities to be a significant burden. As a bearded, usually scruffily-dressed male, I was in my youth occasionally (and particularly while traveling abroad) subject to attention from police, border guards and the like that obviously had no rationale other than my physical appearance. I took it all in stride, and would tolerate it without complaint today, if events were to cause me to "fit the profile" once again.

My experience brings up another telling difference between "affirmative action" and "racial profiling": while "affirmative action" is understood by both proponents and opponents to cover both the race-based and the sex-based variety, I've heard very little outrage from even the most vehement opponents of "racial profiling" about the fact that law enforcement routinely engages in "sexual profiling", overwhelmingly targeting men, rather than women, for investigation and scrutiny. This difference suggests to me that opponents of "racial profiling" are motivated by something other than general concern about disparate distribution of the "burden" of more frequent police suspicion.
9.12.2006 3:20pm
Not (mail):
I also think that there's something important going on with AA that is peculiar to universities. The Elites use AA to insulate themselves from criticism of legacy, developmental and athletic admits. As Golden points out in his new book, when it looked like Michigan's AA was going to be struck down, the Civil Rights coalition seemed set to attack pro-rich Elite school preferences.

The defense of AA has less to do with consistency than the feeling that business as usual is best served by buying social brownie points to protect from the Leftie Brigade.
9.12.2006 3:26pm
Justin (mail):
I personally think Affirmative Action is uneffective, so as a liberal I tend to not support it's implementation in many circumstances. That being said, I do not think that liberals are being inconsistent - certainly if (and when) I thought Affirmative Action was effective, I would (and do) support the policy.

I do not think we live in a racially blind society nor think that is a possible thing any time soon to so live - but this has nothing to do with my opposition to racial profiling. If racial profiling was effective and could be done in a way that only in the most limited way intruded on the decency and well being of minority groups, I would so support - but could, in reality, never so support.

It may be superficially inconsistent amongst some line that is not the determiner of liberal policy - liberals believe that governments do a terrible job of protecting the rights of political minorities. Thus, giving the government the power to discriminate AGAINST minorities is problematic, but affirmative action that discriminates in FAVOR of minorities is fine - the most the political institutions can do is end the policy.

Of course, unless conservatives claim that they oppose the rights of minorities as a general matter (and while I believe very few conservatives will admit to this, and indeed only a (substantial) minority of conservatives actually so oppose, this doesn't provide any defense for conservatives - so they're on their own).
9.12.2006 4:31pm
Aultimer:

DCP:
Any evidence that the black girl was far more likely to have been discriminated against yesterday [in a way that impairs her education] or is this just an assumption on YOUR part?
[...]
A poster above this documented numerous examples of the discriminatory hardship Asian Americans have suffered and any casual conversation with someone of Asian dissent will verify that they too are victims of racism.

But the Asian students far outperform their black, white and hispanic counterparts, regardless of the school or socioeconomic background or any other social variables. Always have, always will. And we should punish the overacheivers and reward the underacheivers to strike a balance, right?


Again, not my argument, but your facts on outperformance are the basis of the AA viewpoint that the black student suffers discrimination that impairs education to a greater extent than discrimination suffered by the Asian student.

I'm well aware this presumes equal capability (which has be ably pointed out above as a cornerstone of the pro-AA side) or disparate impact of discrimination.
9.12.2006 6:04pm
Bly1000 (mail):
I don't mean to substantively defend the "liberal" view with the following comment, but I do think that such a view is internally consistent.

Usually the way I've heard AA defended is by means of the so-called antisubordination principle, i.e., a principle that states that the Equal Protection Clause's purpose is not to prevent classification but rather to prevent a racial caste system. AA is defensible on these terms if one accepts that racial subordination exists and that AA is a means of remedying it (for example, by allowing members of subordinated groups to gain positions of prestige and power).

Profiling is criticized on antisubordination grounds by arguing that racial profiling is way of reinforcing racial subordination, since (1) generally, disadvantaged groups are the ones profiled and (2) racial profiling puts a good deal of discretionary power in the hands of law enforcement officers who are subject to conscious or unconscious prejudice.
9.12.2006 7:01pm
dweeb:
However, this does not account for the large number of conservatives who oppose affirmative action because they think it is intrinsically wrong, regardless of its effectiveness

That is because they question the value of the goal it may be effective at achieving.

There are two questions here - whether a goal should be sought, and if the criteria of race is a effective in seeking it.

In the case of terrorism, no sane person questions the goal of preventing terrorist hijackings. The question is whether ethnic profiling is an effective means of doing so, and whether its effectiveness outweighs our distaste for singling people out. It's effectiveness versus distastefulness.

In the case of affirmative action, the debate is not over whether race is an effective criteria for achieving the goal; since it was the basis for the prejudice the program seeks to make up for. It is whether the goal, increasing opportunities for those who have been victims of prejudice and increasing diversity on campus, are worthy goals. It's generally accepted that no two people have the same set of advantages and disadvantages in getting accepted to college, and the value of campus diversity is hard to pin down.

Most people, liberal or conservative, while they may think campus diversity and opportunities for victims of prejudice are nice, tend to have a somewhat stronger position on their desire not to be blown up. Self preservation trumps what essentially boils down to cultural esthetics. Rest assured, even people who make Howard Dean look like Pat Buchanan would want a sky marshall on their own flight to practice ethnic profiling in his scrutiny if they were certain it was the only way to avoid personally being flown into a building.
9.12.2006 7:01pm
SG:
I won't speak for conservatives (because I'm not one), but the reason I oppose AA is that it conflicts with the innate goals of an organization. If it's a univeristy, the goal is to find the best student. If it's a company, it's to find the best employeee. If it's security, it's to identify the threat. If identifying the best student, employee or threat disproprtionately selects a particular race, ethnicity, or religion, well, so be it. The facts don't change just because we would like them to be something different.
9.12.2006 8:00pm
LAS (mail):
Eli,
I'm positive that most of the replies to your post are from people who have not been enslaved in this country; who cannot distinguish that there is a great amount of emotional baggage between blacks and whites in this country; who see themselves as losing their rights of passage due to affirmative action; who do not distinguish the difference between goals and quotas; who think that the war on poverty was a good deal; who see desegregation and urban renewal as answers instead of destroyers of neighborhoods; who will say to themselves: It wasn't me who enslaved your people so why should I have to do anything; who will see discrimination unfolding before their eyes and do nothing to stop it in its' tracks unless it was an Affirmative Action effort; who have said, 'My best friend is…;' who will say to black folk, 'Stop viewing yourselves as victims; 'who have said "Heroes are those who live their lives diligently, they accept life on its own terms with all its attendant difficulties and challenges. My heroes (Grandmother and Grandfather) refused to complain, and being a victim of circumstances was not among their options."

Yes, Affirmative Action is not legally defensible. It's an emotionally charged ideology doomed to fail because we're willingly and unconsciously reluctant to implementing an effective AA program.
9.13.2006 4:23pm
dweeb:
<i>I'm positive that most of the replies to your post are from people who have not been enslaved in this country</i>

Safe bet that ALL of them are, since there's no record of anyone living 142 years.
9.15.2006 10:26am