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However, I also offered a critique of your contention that AA alleviates racial inequity, or racial stratification to use your term, without significant costs. There are indeed significant and deleterious costs associated with AA as it is currently practiced in the US. I noted: (1) It stigmatizes URMs and reinforces the negative stereotypes that our society has perpetuated about certain groups lacking the innate ability to compete; (2) It actually serves to reduce the number of blacks who graduate (and graduate with above median grades) because the attrition rates at elite school for less qualified minority candidates far exceed those of their white and Asian peers; thus an URM student who may have performed admirably and graduated in a timely fashion at a less selective institution fails to obtain a degree at all; and (3) Affirmative Action fails to help those who most need it—truly disadvantaged (i.e. poor) blacks (who actually constitute a minority of the black population despite what some of you seem to think). If our goal is to limit racial inequity (which is inextricably linked to economic inequity), how does it profit society to lavish all the rewards of AA on middle and upper-class black students who should be able to compete on their own merits, rather than genuinely disadvantaged black students, who actually rarely perform well enough to qualify for even an AA admit.

Now this is a good argument.  I'm not convinced by it, but at least its clear, reasonable, and on topic.

You make 3 points, so I'll respond to each.  But, let me first say that, at this point, as soon as the debate is about the empirical question of whether AA works at an acceptable cost or not, most of my work is done.  I'm not an expert on AA, nor am I familiar with all the relevant data as to who it affects and what its costs are, so on these points I am easily persuadable if compelling arguments\data are presented.  The best I can do is see whether such arguments may be compelling if there is data to back it up one way or another, and hope others can supplement my understanding.  To take your points in reverse order.

3) Whether or not AA overlooks economically disadvantaged is irrelevant as that is not AA's purpose.  By arguing that AA fails to consider economics, you're suggesting that only an economic AA is justified because that alone would be "fair" (or "meritocratic," or whatever).  This is the the type of argument i don't care for.  AA's purpose is not to help out the underprivileged (other policies can tend to that) but to lessen racial stratification.

2) This is interesting, and I would like to see the figures on it.  However, as you present it, your point is ambiguous: higher dropout rates for black students (what about other underrepresented races???) in comparison to white and asian students when they are "less qualified" raises many questions of how much greater the attrition rate is and whether or not the greater attrition rate is balanced by the greater opportunities available to those who do graduate.  We can at least speculate on the counterfactual: if the students who drop out would, in a non-AA world, have been admitted to lesser law schools, would they have dropped out there as well?  Perhaps they would not have dropped out at lower law schools, but the students who drop out would, I imagine, not have made great contributions to society had they gone to a different law school, whereas, those who do graduate from a better law school have a greater opportunity to make important differences owing to the increased prestige of their J.D. institutions.  Thus it seems to me that a higher attrition rate, although unfortunate, may be a necessary cost for increasing social fluidity for all races.

1) Certainly this stigmatization occurs, as numerous leaders have discussed it (e.g. Clarence Thomas, as i mentioned in a previous post).  And this is a problem.  My inclination, though, is that so long as AA increases the number of leaders who would not otherwise be there, this is an acceptable cost since without AA, there would be fewer such leaders (I do not think that stigmatization has held many people back from achieving great with Clarence Thomas).  It might hurt people's self-esteem, which is undesirable, but it must be borne until there is less stratification.

And, in general, to 1) and 2): certainly these are costs.  Nobody says AA doesn't have costs.  But do you truly believe that these costs outweigh AA's benefits?

Earlier in this thread I addressed some of the issues that people claim adversely affect the qualifications of URMs in the undergraduate and graduate admissions process, namely stereotype threat and socio-economic status. I still have yet to receive a response that addresses the misrepresentation of stereotype threat as the reason URMs tend to underperfrom on standardized tests. I also cited the statistic that black students from families that earn $100,000 or more earn lower SAT scores than white students from families who earn $10, 0000 or less. Again, why on earth should we assume that a middle or upper middle class black kid overcame more obstacles than a poor white or Asian kid? There is also some statistical evidence that suggests Asian students are held to a higher standard for admission than white students; that, in effect, if a white and Asian student are equally qualified, the preference is given to the white candidate. Is this fair? Or, do you think there should be one standard for all applicants?

This is a question of fairness. People keep asking, “Why do you care if some kid gets admitted with a lower LSAT score.” I ask, “Why would anyone care that one group is given preferential treatment over another group on the basis of race?” The answer to that question seems obvious to me.

None of what you're arguing matters.  Even if what you are saying is true (and I claim no proficiency in the matter and am not seeking to argue about it one way or another), all your argument proves is that one theoretical justification for AA is torpedoed.  In its place, you provide theoretical reasoning for why AA is not justified, which is just as easily combated.  Pursuing such a course to attempt to justify or unhinge AA results in inane debates about largely incorrect and irrelevant abstractions for implementing a concrete policy.  My point in starting this thread is that debating such justifications is a waste of time.  We should look at what AA professes to do, see whether we like what it professes to do, and whether it actually does what it professes to do, not why it is theoretically necessary.

If you're so worried about fairness, worry about large-scale racial stratification (and fairness is not the only reason to worry about it, in fact, i don't care why you worry about the empirical fact of racial stratification, there are lots of good reasons to do so, and fairness may or may not be one of them).  For whatever reason, in our society, citizens of certain races are disproportionately represented in (and have a harder time of joining) the middle and upper-middle classes, and, perhaps more crucially, almost all areas of leadership, whether government, media, business, law, medicine, academia, etc.  If you think that such stratification is undesirable, than any policies that help alleviate it are desirable.  To my mind, AA in law schools, particularly elite law schools, increases the number of students from under-represented races likely to achieve prominent positions in society.  You can argue that it does not succeed in this mission, or argue that it does so at too high a price, but questions about stereotype threat and theoretical qualms about "fairness" are irrelevant.

Do any of you guys even read what you write before you post it?  You certainly don't read what anyone else has written.  You guys all talk around each other.  It would be better to try to respond to each other and not just snarl at shadows.


First, by acknowledging the stratification of racial groups, we cannot help but prolong the stratification.

How on earth did you find this to be "on the mark"?

I meant that I thought it was the only one relevant to the topic of the thread, though I'm with you Leo in disagreeing with it.

Although I'm glad that discussion picked up again on this thread, most of the posts focus on providing or disproving theoretical justifications of AA.  Getting bogged down in questions of which ethnic groups have been wronged or most wronged in US history (a fairness\historical justification) or questions about how "diversity" does or does not improve society or improve education in classrooms (a diversity justification) or questions on whether or not the LSATs are an apt measure of "merit" and whether or not stereotype threat or test-bias or other factors mean that certain groups deserve boosts to their admissions chances (a meritocratic justification) is unhelpful.  Moreover, the heated debates, name-calling, and general lack of civility found in the largely superficial posts of the past few days reveal a disinclination to attempt to persuade others reasonably.

I found only one post particularly on the mark:

I am going to jump into this debate somewhat late and I'm not going to read through 6 or 7 page of replies. Rather, I will attempt to answer the question posed by the original post.

I agree that racial stratification is a negative aspect of our society and that most people oppose the stratification of groups according to race. The "significant cost" you speak of, I think, manifests itself in several ways. First, by acknowledging the stratification of racial groups, we cannot help but prolong the stratification. This is a type of self-fulfilliing tell someone they need help over and over and sooner or later they begin to believe it. I ask you, is AA a motivating factor or a demotivating factor? And yes I realize that minority groups have had so much taken from them that in some ways it makes sense to give things back. But why does that involve taking something from the privileged? We don't live in a truly zero sum society. 

I think AA is a neanderthal approach to the problem. I personally don't have the perfect answer, but I think we can do better than AA. I think those racial groups who have been wronged want something better as well. They don't want preferential treatment. Just my .02

So I would like to respond to Intuition.  I think you're right that there are some individuals who object to AA because, as minority students, it leads them to question whether their own accomplishments are deserved (as in scooby's example of the hispanic girl at his school) or makes them worry that others will undervalue them (Clarence Thomas, for instance, has said much to this effect).  And when you suggest that AA involves "taking something from the privileged," you correctly indicate that some majority students are enraged by AA and focus their displeasure on minority students whom they see as unfairly taking what is rightfully theirs.  So you're right that AA contributes to racial stratification, which is a cost.

My response is that although AA is not perfect (nobody is saying it is) and it certainly has costs, as long as it helps reduce racial stratification, then we should continue it.  That is, even though it may somewhat contribute to racial stratification by engendering hostility in some majority students or undermining the self-confidence of some minority students, that does not mean that it is, on balance (so to speak), increasing racial stratification.  You've pointed out one cost of AA, certainly a grave cost, but I still think that AA reduces racial stratification when all the costs and benefits are tallied (mostly by increasing the quality of education available to minority students, which, in turn, leads to minority groups being better represented in society, and so forth).  Hopefully, some day, we may reach a point closer to MLK's fabled vision of a color-blind society (or, perhaps better, a color-indifferent society), and when we're closer to that point, when AA's contribution to maintaining racial stratification exceeds its contribution to reducing it, then we should get rid of AA and figure out something else.  But so long as it is working now, we should continue to do it.  So you're right, Intuition, to point out that AA does somewhat maintain or increase racial stratification, but without evidence that AA increases racial stratification more than it decreases it, your argument does not undermine my empirical support of AA.

The OP's question appears confused.

a) an apparent "justification" is embedded in the question as to why AA needs justification
b) it assumes that race is a significant variable, rather than explaining why it is so
c) it flatly states that AA reduces racial stratification "without significant cost"
d) it decries "abstract" justifications (and there any other kind?) in favor of vague justifications.

It seems well-intentioned, but does nothing to advance the discussion - or to clarify the questions - around affirmative action.

I'm sorry you found my post confusing; I'll try to explain it better.

To respond to each of your points:
a) True, by asking "why affirmative action needs justification," and then denying that it does, you could argue that my post provides a latent theoretical "null-justification" for AA (as we might call it), but I doubt that any reasonable person would call that "justification."  As soon as someone discusses any issue, it is impossible to show why the questions motivating the discussion are unprofitable without employing those questions and thereby giving them some sort of validity; in this case, by trying to suggest that asking for a theoretical justification is unimportant, I suggest that it is important to consider the question.  Nevertheless, considerate readers will not take my question as implying that I think AA actually needs one.

b) This is another question we can safely avoid.  The causes of racial stratification are irrelevent (as are questions about whether or not race or SES or biology or anything of the sort are "significant variables" in causing racial stratification).  If we agree that there is racial stratification in society (for whatever reasons) and that we would like to get rid of it (for whatever reasons), then if AA helps alleviate the problem at an acceptable cost, that is enough for us to support AA.

c) This is a blatant misreading.  I frankly state:

This "empirical fact" is certainly debateable (maybe it doesn't reduce racial stratification or maybe the cost is too high)

(I even put "empirical fact" in scare quotes!).  I certainly make no claims to be well versed in the matter and am open to hearing why or why not AA does or does not work.  My current understanding is that it does work at an acceptable cost, but I am open to arguments showing otherwise. 

d) Yes there are other kinds of justifications: empirical justifications.  Many people would say that these are not actual "justifications," which is fine by me; in which case, let's do away with worrying about justifications.  Many things we do and many things that are useful have either no justification or faulty justification; we do them because they work, not because they are theoretically justified, so i see no need to provide any justification for AA beyond the fact that it works (which, as I state in (c), I am open to debate about).  Why do we X (sleep, find an aria in the Marriage of Figaro beautiful (I'm thinking of Shawshank Redemption), choose the cherry lollipop over the apple-flavored one)?  Should we all cease doing it until we figure out why?  If by "vague justifications" you mean a lack of theoretical certainty, then yes, I propose vague justifications, but I dare you to find any human conduct that has a certain justification.  Once you escape that nice cozy clean world of theory for the contingencies of practice, such certainty evaporates.

In my mind, theories provide ex post facto justification for practices, they do not justify practices prior to their performance.  Theoretical justifications are sought by those of the philosophical mindset, and they can be fun to discuss and debate--fascinating insights can be made into why certain practices worked while others did not--but such justifications are tangential to the practice, in this case, AA. 

As long as AA accomplishes our goal at an acceptable cost, we should continue to do it.  This does not mean we cannot seek ways to improve AA or attempt to find other policies that are more efficient at achieving our goal at a lower cost (which would then make the cost of AA too high, the way that increases in the precision of military bombs throughout the past 70 years have made civilian casualities from bombings more and more unacceptable in warfare).  But neither of these other courses is an argument against using AA now.

While I think that Towlie and others who oppose AA because it doesn't address the larger problem are making a good point, at the same time I think they are asking a question AA was never meant to answer.  Restructuring society and the educational system to be free of racial bias is a wonderful idea; AA is one solution to what you do in the meantime, especially since on some level I think that simply time and incremental steps forward are going to accomplish the larger goal.  Seeing minority students in the classroom at all levels of education, including grad school, are one way to reduce racism.  It is not the only way.  It probably isn't the best way.  But it is a step forward, however flawed that step is.

If there is something better, propose it.  But advocating that the American educational system should be free of racial bias is more of a wish than a plan.

I think this is spot on.

I wanted to start it off with some slippery slope arguements... I figured I might as well be the first. 

It doesnt need to be justified to those that believe that racial stratification is unfair, but then again, those people usually arent the ones that oppose AA to begin with.

I am one of the people that believe that racism has in many ways been replaced by classism. Although I feel racial stratification is unjustified, I find absolutely nothing appaling about classism. I think that AA targets poor blacks while ignoring poor whites. 

I'm sure people are opposed to classism too, but what does that have to do with AA?  To argue against AA because it does not take into account class is like saying that since I oppose in baseball both steroids and corked bats, any rules that ban corked bats but not steroids are flawed.  If people think classism is a major problem in law school admissions, then other policies can be implemented to compensate, but that need not necessarily concern AA.  Though there might be some overlap between AA and SES, just the way there may be between baseball hitters who use corked bats and steroids (see: Sammy Sosa), you can have separate policies.

I also don't really think this is a slippery slope argument (just because we have AA for race it does imply that we need some policy for class).  And, by the way, I HATE slippery slope arguments--i think they're intellectually lazy.

I don't think red is actually showing why AA is justified by why AA is necessitated in order to restore some semblance of merit that is masked by stereotype threat.

I'm assuming that the bolded "by" is supposed to be a "but."  If that is the case, what is the difference between "justified" and "necessitated"?  Although something justified is not necessitated, I would think that something necessitated is justified (justifed seems to imply that something is good to do whereas necessitated seems to imply that something is good to do and should be done).  So I'm kind of confused as to what distinction you're making.

Red's thread has recently gone offroad from its attempt to provide a justification for AA based purely on merit.  Plus I have a bigger question for Red et al: why does AA need theoretical justification at all?

In other words, for all those attempting to provide various justifications for AA based on diversity, merit, fairness, and other abstract or semi-abstract principles: why does AA need a justification beyond the empirical fact that it lessens the racial stratification of our society without imposing a significant cost? 

This "empirical fact" is certainly debateable (maybe it doesn't reduce racial stratification or maybe the cost is too high), and I'd be open to hearing arguments about it, but otherwise, justifications from fairness, merit, diversity, etc. all seem largely irrelevant.

Certainly these abstract principles are employed in my implicit assumption that lessening racial stratification is a good thing, but that is irrelevant; few people, i think, support racial stratification, though their particular reasons for opposing racial stratification differ, so we should ignore why and instead focus on the fact that most people do oppose racial stratification.  As long as we all agree that racial stratification should be reduced, if it is empirically true that AA helps reduce it, and the cost of AA is not too great, then AA is justified, end of story.

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