Genetics and Affirmative Action

The power of racism lies in its ability to “naturalize” social relationships. What I mean by this is that racism claims that whatever social inequities exist they are part of the natural order of things. Those people are simply inferior, there is not much anyone can do about it; it is in the nature of things. Speak out for racial equality? You might as well speak out against the tide coming in, nature doesn’t care what you say. Pass laws to encourage racial equality? You might as well pass laws demanding the moon fall out of the sky. Racial inequality is in our genes, nothing society can do to will change that so we should just stop trying. Over at the National Review Online (NRO), Michael Barone has written a piece on the terrible David Reich editorial about genetics and race that does exactly this.

Last time I wrote about Reich I explained how those who really, truly believe that black people are genetically inferior to white people really, truly loved Reich’s piece.  At the NRO, and keeping the organizations long-standing  commitment to social inequality, Barone wants you to know that in this race we call life, there are winners and losers and it is just nature’s way that there are more white winners than black ones.

Drawing of blocks racing and one declared

He makes his case by lying. I’ll explain how.

I charged Barone with lying. I don’t mean that I have special access to his soul and I know that he thinks one thing but is saying another. I mean that he can only say the things he does by carefully maintaining ignorance about the facts that anyone, certainly anyone getting paid to write on the subject, should know.

As an example of Barone’s technique: Barone argues that no one really would take group differences in intelligence to think that any particular black person is unintelligent. He writes:

To take a concrete and accurate example, they suspect that even if blacks might on average score lower than whites on average in intelligence tests, it does not change the fact that former president Barack Obama is a highly intelligent person. Indeed, you can read reams of anti-Obama commentary and look in vain for claims that he was not smart enough to be president.

Barone implies here that he has read “reams of anti-Obama commentary” and never found a claim that “he was not smart enough to be president.” No one who has paid any attention at all to politics for the past decade can possibly believe Barone’s claim here: not only should we not believe that no one ever claimed Obama wasn’t smart enough, we should reject Barone’s claim that he even tried to find out if they did. Are we to believe that Barone never heard the relentless conservative lie that Obama was not smart enough to speak without a teleprompter?  Hell, Barone himself slid an unnecessary snide remark about Obama’s use of teleprompter once or twice. How about the nonsense about Obama’s undergraduate and graduate transcripts? Remember when the right tried so hard to ferret out what Obama’s undergraduate grades really were? Remember when Ann Coulter was on TV saying he was a terrible student? No? How about when Donald Trump said the same thing?

Barone studiously ignored his steady drumbeat from the right about Obama not being smart while unbelievably claiming he made a good-faith effort to find it. The reason the right was pushing this narrative, however, informs how we should read Barone’s piece. The right wanted “to paint Obama as a dumb, affirmative-action fraud.” For anyone who wants to dismiss the accomplishments of a black person as the result of affirmative action, Barone gives them a template for how it is done. First, lie about the science, then lie about the politics.

Pinocchio with a very, very long nose.

Barone Lies about Genetics

Barone doesn’t understand the piece he’s commenting on. Reich argues that some decades ago, those arguing that race was a social concept wrongly severed genetics from the study of race. He argues that our socially constructed racial categories, like “black” and “white” actually are “populations” in a geneticists sense (he’s wrong about this). The problem is that ” well-meaning people” are mistaken, race is both a social construct and genetically “real.” Reich is quite clear about this: “It is true that race is a social construct.” Can’t get much more clear.

Barone writes,

The “well-meaning people” Reich references are those who argue that race is a “social construct,” that there are no significant genetic differences among people of different racial ancestry

Check out the scare quotes, a clear indication that Barone believes the notion of “social construct” is wrong-headed. Barone completely misses that Reich, himself, is a social constructionist about race. Barone thinks that because genetics proves race is “real” that the social factors that go into building our ideas about race are irrelevant. This is not Reich’s point since he writes:

We are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real.

Reich fears that modern genetics will be misused by racists to stop egalitarian racial polices. Barone does that by ignoring the political implications that Reich wants to draw from genetics. Barone is misreading Reich just as any white supremacist does: Since biology is real, social factors, like racism, must not be. Hence, it is useless to try to ameliorate racism since there is no point in trying to change nature itself. This leads us to Barone’s second set of lies:

Barone Lies About the Politics

Barone uses the word “quota” six times in his article. What he is really talking about is affirmative action, but he doesn’t use those words; he uses “quota.” He does not tell his readers that “quotas” as he describes them were declared unconstitutional forty years ago. About fifteen years ago a pair Supreme Court cases, (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger) reaffirmed that a quota system was unconstitutional.

The federal regulations which govern these things, which Barone should know about since he’s getting paid to write about this, are quite clear:

Quotas are expressly forbidden…[i]n all employment decisions, the contractor must make selections in a nondiscriminatory manner. Placement goals do not provide the contractor with a justification to extend a preference to any individual, select an individual, or adversely affect an individual’s employment status, on the basis of that person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin

A 2014 Supreme Court case on the “disparate impact” doctrine Barone criticizes is also quite clear. A summary of the case explains:

The question before the Court was whether claims brought under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination “because of” race, can be based on an allegation that a law or practice has a “disparate impact” – that is, it has a discriminatory effect, even if it wasn’t motivated by an intent to discriminate….The Court… agreed[ed] with the federal government and civil rights groups that the Fair Housing Act does allow disparate-impact claims – subject, however, to some potentially important restrictions.

The Court made expressly clear that this ruling was in no way the imposition of a “quota.” There must be restrictions and safeguards in place and there were in the case before the court:

Without adequate safeguards at the prima facie stage, disparate-impact liability might cause race to be used and considered in a pervasive way and “would almost inexorably lead” governmental or private entities to use “numerical quotas,” and serious constitutional questions then could arise. (p, 20)

So, Barone must be willfully lying (by not researching his topic at all) when he claims that a quota system is used by “well-meaning” people. Perhaps Barone prefers “quota” because while the public supports affirmative action, they oppose quotas.

Trying to bring true equality to, for example, college admissions is a difficult task that we are working on and desperately need to continue to work on. Unless we listen to Barone who tells us, in no uncertain terms, that since black people are dumber than white people, on average, quotas affirmative action is useless.

But the continuing existence of racial gaps, even as the IQ scores of all groups rise (that’s the Flynn effect, identified and named by Herrnstein and Murray), does undercut the case for racial quotas and preferences and the “disparate impact” legal doctrine established by the Supreme Court 47 years ago.

The justification for quotas is the assumption that in a fair society, we would find the same racial mix in every school, every occupation, and every neighborhood. Any significant deviation from statistical equality, in this view, can be evidence of persistent racial discrimination.

This notion suffuses the behavior of leaders in colleges and universities, in large corporations, in government at all levels. Many such leaders regard enforcing quotas as a moral duty, even if they place people in positions for which they’re unprepared. For these “well-meaning people,” David Reich has a (probably unintentional) warning: Science is undermining the rationale for the work you’re doing.

White people, on average smarter than black ones and they will always out-compete black folks for the prime positions in life.  For example, that Trump mostly hires white guys is not evidence of racism: it is the natural order of things. We should expect the elite jobs to go to white guys since there are more white guys up there at the highest IQ end of the bell curve. Can’t fight it, folks, its science!

Barone discounts racism as a barrier to social advancement: it is just that those people are too dumb to succeed. He can only maintain this by ignoring well-known facts and not bothering to investigate beyond his immediate prejudices. In his defense of Trump’s “sometimes vile language” he notes how it brings clarity to issues that we normally dance around. For example Barone writes:

He was attacked as racist for saying that Mexico “does not send its best.” But Pew Research Center data confirms that immigrants from Mexico have on average the lowest education and skill levels as those from any country.

Barone, in championing Trump’s remarks somehow leaves out the well-known fact that Trump repeatedly called these immigrants “rapists.” He also leaves out that because Mexican immigrants have the lowest education and skill levels they are the most successful immigrant community in the United States. Mexican immigration is the very embodiment of the American dream of striving to make a better life for yourself and your children. Michael Barone turns that story into a lazy, racist slur.

“Euphemism has been the weapon of the liberals” on race and immigration, writes Barone. I have tried to eschew euphemism here which is why I can say that Barone is a liar.

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