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On July 18, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat slammed affirmative action in an essay entitled, "The Roots of White Anxiety." Therein, he utterly misrepresented the findings of a scholarly study on the subject, twisting the study's findings to suggest not only that blacks and Latinos were receiving unfair and unearned preferences because of their race, but also that low-income, "red state" whites were the most oppressed group at elite colleges. Ross Douthat is a liar. Here is my response (lengthy but necessary) as to why

Memo to Ross Douthat: Sometimes, people fact-check.

One of the perks of being an op-ed columnist, as Douthat is--he being the resident conservative essayist at the New York Times--is that you can say pretty much anything you like. It's your opinion, after all, so the standards of accuracy to which a news writer might be held are often relaxed.

And so Douthat probably figured he could string together his weekly compliment of 650 words, as with his July 18 column attacking affirmative action, and even if he misrepresented the study he referenced so as to justify his broadside, few would know, and no one would actually go and read the study in question to see if he'd gotten it right. After all, reading a several-hundred page academic book takes longer and involves more effort than checking up on an Andrew Breitbart video.

Indeed it does. Unfortunately for Mr. Douthat, I had the time. And having now read the book, cover to cover, I can say without fear of contradiction, Ross Douthat is every bit as duplicitous as Brietbart. In fact, Douthat is more dangerous because he operates from atop a legitimate journalistic perch several steps above any place with which Brietbart--Matt Drudge's former ideological and professional paramour--is even familiar.

In the instant case, Douthat's column, entitled, "The Roots of White Anxiety," feigns academic backing for the longstanding conservative criticism of campus diversity efforts and affirmative action programs. Citing the 2009 book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, by Princeton professors Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford, Douthat's thesis is simple: white anxiety and resentment are understandable, given admissions policies at elite colleges and universities. Not only do these policies give unfair preferences to less qualified blacks and Latinos, they especially disadvantage whites from conservative states who engage in typical "red state" activities, like ROTC and Future Farmers of America. In other words, university admissions offices are not just biased towards the black and brown, they also exude a political and cultural bias against particular types of white people.

Douthat also claims, incredulously, that while coming from a lower-income family boosts the admissions odds for applicants of color, it lowers the odds for whites. In other words, working class whites from conservative cultural backgrounds are the truly downtrodden, or as Douthat puts it, "The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses." This mistreatment of "downscale" whites then "breeds paranoia" among them (unlike, say, 8-plus hours of coverage of the phony New Black Panther voter intimidation story on FOX News), and "fuels...racially-tinged conspiracy theories," like the one about President Obama being a "foreign-born Marxist." No, seriously, in Douthat's fevered imagination, even birtherism can at least partially be lain at the feet of the left-leaning, multi-culti Harvard admissions office.

In truth, it may not be fair to blame Douthat for the absurdity that is his column, since it appears he didn't actually read the Espenshade and Radford book, but rather, chose to rely on the interpretation of it offered up by someone else--in this case, Russ Nieli, a lecturer at Princeton, and longtime affirmative action foe. Unfortunately, when a fool depends on a liar for information, this is what happens. Not only is Russ Nieli's interpretation of the Espenshade and Radford study dishonest, it must be considered deliberately so. After all, Nieli works on the same campus as the authors. Indeed, in buildings that are right next door to one another: Corwin and Wallace Halls respectively. Had Nieli been remotely interested in honesty he could have walked the 50 yards or so from his office to Espenshade's and had a sit-down. Surely he could have spent at least as long talking with Espenshade as he did, say, engaging in respectful discussions with overt neo-Nazis for a book he co-edited several years ago on the white supremacist movement. But to Nieli it is apparently more important to find out what makes David Duke tick (hint: it's racism Russ, racism), than it is to fully explore the data compiled by one of his colleagues.  And now, the nation reaps the whirlwind of his own duplicity, via a nationally-syndicated column by an author no more concerned with truth than his source.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Conservatives: How the Right Distorts Data

Are Whites (and Especially Red State Whites) Being Oppressed by Affirmative Action?

Turning now to the claims put forth by Douthat, relying on Nieli: to suggest that affirmative action at the nation's most elite schools is at "the root" of white anxiety in America is preposterous. To begin, and as Espenshade and Radford clearly note, few college applicants of any color even apply to these schools, and as such, have no reason to be anxious about their possibilities for acceptance. Two-thirds of all first year college students attend schools where more than 75 percent of all applicants are accepted. Only a statistical handful apply to the most selective colleges--the ones where affirmative action really comes into play--and even there, when whites are rejected, diversity efforts are hardly to blame. Fact is, at such institutions there are far more qualified applicants than there are available slots, and even without any affirmative action programs, almost all the whites who didn't get in, still wouldn't get in. At Harvard, for instance, one-fourth of applicants with perfect SATs and 80 percent of all valedictorians are rejected, because there are simply too many of these folks applying at the school to let them all in, to say nothing of those with lower test scores and grades but whose applications suggest their abilities in spite of this fact.

Even with affirmative action, whites continue to predominate at elite schools, comprising 78 percent of students in such institutions, and over two-thirds at elite private colleges and universities. Black and Latino students, whom we're to believe are taking all the choice slots from whites, make up between 12-14 percent of the combined total at these schools, hardly justifying white angst the likes of which Douthat and Nieli seek to legitimize. And since the 1980s, the shares of blacks and Latinos in these schools have only increased by two percentage points each, hardly sufficient to explain the white fear and loathing we've seen in recent years. Meanwhile, students whose own parents attended these schools--applicants known as "legacies"--continue to receive preferences larger than those claimed for African Americans, despite having lower than average qualifications. Yet the white working class folks who are angered by black and brown "advantages" in college acceptance say very little about legacy preferences, whose beneficiaries are almost all wealthy whites. Not surprisingly,  neither Douthat nor Nieli seem to mind them.

As for the claim that whites from "red states" are especially disadvantaged in the admissions process, and even more so when they engage in activities like ROTC and Future Farmers of America, here too Douthat and Nieli get it exactly wrong. According to Espenshade and Radford, applicants from Republican-leaning states like Utah, Alabama, West Virginia and Montana actually have an advantage in admissions due to the desire of elite colleges for geographic diversity. In fact, an applicant to an elite school from Utah, whose qualifications are equal to those of someone from California, is 45 times more likely than the California applicant to be admitted: an admissions advantage that is nine times larger than the boost for African American students who are academically equal to whites (a subject to which we'll return).

And although Espenshade and Radford do note the lower admissions odds of students with significant leadership roles in "career-oriented activities," this category includes more than simply ROTC and FFA. Indeed, among the career-oriented extra-curriculars that were associated with lower admissions odds, were several that predominate in urban and "blue state" schools, such as Model United Nations, mock trial teams and clubs for budding entrepreneurs. And to the extent there is any disadvantage specifically for rural applicants engaged in career-oriented activities, it is not because such involvement says something about the applicants' politics. Nor is it due to blue state cultural bias--as Douthat and Nieli both suggest--but rather, according to Espenshade, it's because heavy involvement in career activities like the military or farming might suggest "that students are somewhat undecided about their academic futures."

What's the Truth About "Racial Preferences" in Admissions?

As for the claim that elite schools are providing substantial preferences to black applicants, despite their having less impressive academic credentials (in terms of test scores and grades), the evidence is not nearly as clear cut as Douthat and Nieli suggest.

First, let's examine the data in the light most favorable to the conservative thesis, and let's do this, even as it is a courtesy no conservative would ever do for those of us on the left. On the one hand, the evidence presented by Espenshade and Radford appears to confirm the argument being forwarded by Nieli and Douthat. So, for instance, black applicants are five times more likely than whites with the same test scores and grades to be admitted to elite private colleges, and about 30 percent more likely to be admitted to these schools than whites overall, even with average SAT scores that are 138 points below the average for whites. For white applicants at elite schools to have the same odds of acceptance as black students with SAT scores of 1100 (on the old 1600 point scale) the white students would need SATs of 1410, a seemingly huge preference and evidence of a dramatic double standard.

The evidence seems even more convincing when black applicants are compared to Asian American applicants, the latter of whom make up a disproportionate share of those with high test scores and other academic credentials. Asian Americans who apply to elite schools have a 2/3 lower chance of admission than even white students with the same academic qualifications, and for an Asian American applicant to have the same odds of admission as a black applicant to an elite school who had scored 1100 on the SAT, the Asian American student would need a near-perfect SAT of 1550. Taken at face value, it appears the critics of affirmative action have a point: African American students are being held to a much lower standard of excellence, resulting not only in unfair and unearned preferences for blacks, but unfair and unjust discrimination against whites and Asians.

But if it were that simple, Espenshade and Radford could have written these facts up in an essay, or even a blog post and been done with it. Yet as competent scholars, with a commitment to fleshing out the full meaning of the research, they wrote several hundred pages more. And among the things they note, one paragraph in particular stands out, because therein they utterly reject the conclusions reached by Nieli and Douthat as to what their research means. As Espenshade and Radford explain:

"It would be a mistake to interpret the meaning that elite college admissions officers are necessarily giving extra weight to black and Hispanic candidates just because they belong to underrepresented minority our judgment it is more likely that a proper assessment of these data is that the labels 'black' and 'Hispanic' are proxies for a constellation of other factors in a candidate's application folder that we do not observe...perhaps having overcome disadvantage and limited opportunity or experiencing challenging family or schooling circumstances...If we were able to include these other considerations in our models we believe the effect of being black or Hispanic per se would be diminished."

Indeed, there is a significant amount of data uncovered by Espenshade and Radford that seem to confirm their suspicions, and suggest that black and Latino students are, in all likelihood, seen as impressive applicants by college admissions officers, and equal to their white and Asian counterparts--even when they have lower scores and grades--because of the background factors and disadvantages against which they were having to operate. This phenomenon could be called a proxy effect, meaning that racial identity is so highly correlated with other background factors, that what appears to be a blatant racial preference is really reflecting "overcomer" tendencies, found disproportionately in less advantaged black and Latino applicants.

So, for instance, two-thirds of all blacks in highly selective schools come from families with less than $50,000 in annual income (twice the rate for white students in those schools), and 60 percent come from families with less than $25,000 in net assets (whereas half of whites and Asians come from families with over $200,000 in net assets). Furthermore, white students' fathers are about 75 percent more likely than the fathers of black students to have a professional, managerial or executive level job. Nearly 40 percent of black applicants to elite institutions come from low-achieving high schools (twice the rate for similar whites and four times the rate for Asian Americans), the typical black applicant attended a school with twice as many classmates who received free or reduced price lunches as their white or Asian counterparts, and the typical black applicant lived in a community with far fewer college educated residents or residents with professional occupational positions. White and Asian parents are far more likely to have college degrees themselves, and both black and Latino applicants are 5-6 times more likely than white applicants (and more than 2.5 times as likely as Asian applicants) to be poor.

Given the substantial disadvantages faced by black and Latino students, relative to their white and Asian counterparts, it should not surprise us that they may be admitted at lower levels of presumed academic merit. After all, to score an 1150 on the SAT despite facing substantial obstacles may reasonably be considered more impressive than scoring 1400 having had a plethora of class and environmental advantages. So too, for a black student to score the same as a white or Asian applicant--given the radically different backgrounds from which that black applicant likely comes--suggests they are probably more qualified than the more privileged applicant. It would be the equivalent of starting a race three laps behind another runner and yet catching up by the end of the race and crossing the finish line at the same time. That alone could explain why African Americans are five times more likely than their equally qualified white counterparts to be admitted to elite schools.

But proxy effects are not the only considerations ignored by Nieli and Douthat. So too are what we might call cohort dissimilarity effects. Put simply, if admissions officers know--as they do--that Asian American applicants tend to rank among the top of all applicants in terms of test scores and grades, and that black applicants tend to cluster closer to the bottom, it will be easier for any given black applicant with an impressive file (even if less impressive than the average white or Asian applicant) to stand out in the eyes of admissions officers.

Think about it. According to Espenshade and Radford, half of all Asian applicants to the most selective schools have SATs on the old scale of 1400 or above. Nearly one-fourth score 1500 or better. Needless to say, this means that for most admissions officers, seeing yet another Asian applicant with high test scores and grades is not going to stand out as much. It will not be sufficiently dissimilar from the larger cohort of Asian applicants to make an impression. Perhaps if the Asian applicant had something in their file that differentiated them--say, a theatre or dance background, or having written a mystery novel--they would catch the eye of the admissions reader, even with lower scores and grades. But with such an "overqualified" cohort (in the narrowest academic sense), it becomes harder for any individual Asian applicant to stand out. On the other hand, a black applicant with test scores that are well above the black average (even if still below the average for others), might appear especially well-qualified and benefit from the very cohort dissimilarity that works against Asian Americans. Although Espenshade and Radford do not make this point, it seems eminently reasonable given the data and what is known about the admissions process and the importance of "standing out from the crowd."

The Trouble With Using "Admissions Odds" as Evidence of "Reverse Discrimination"

Finally, to use relative "admissions odds" for different racial groups as a way to demonstrate the existence of racial discrimination (in this case against whites and Asians) is an inherently flawed method of analysis. Several years ago, when those attacking the affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan School of Law made this argument in court--unsuccessfully it should be noted--I explained why admissions odds ratios (which were far higher for blacks than whites) said little if anything about whether any given applicant was receiving unfair preferential treatment. The reason then, and it holds now, is that when the pool of applicants in a given cohort is relatively small (as with very well-qualified blacks to elite schools), to admit even a small number of those students will skew the "odds ratio" upward, relative to other racial groups where the cohort of highly qualified applicants is higher.

So, in the instant case, consider a hypothetical where an elite college received, say, 50 applications from African Americans who had SAT scores of 1400 or better and who graduated in the top ten percent of their class, with an "A" average. And let's say the same school received similarly qualified applications from 1000 Asian Americans and 3000 whites. If the institution admitted even 25 of the black applicants--all of whom were clearly qualified for admission--in order to not be viewed as having engaged in discrimination against whites and Asians, the school would have to admit 500 of the Asian Americans and 1500 of the whites. But if, as is often the case at elite schools, there are only around 1500 slots in the entire first year class, this would be impossible. They would have to admit the whites and Asians at a lower rate, or else bust the class cap (and this is assuming they wouldn't want to admit any applicants with less than the above-mentioned scores and grades, no matter what else might be in their file to recommend them).

Or, alternately, they could bring the black admissions ratio down considerably to meet the white and Asian ratio, but in so doing they would have to admit almost none of the blacks in question. If they wanted to admit, say, 20 percent of applicants at this level, they would end up with 200 Asian Americans at this level of qualifications, 600 whites at that level, and only 10 African Americans. So Douthat and Nieli would have schools reject almost all of the clearly qualified black applicants just to make sure the admissions odds ratios remained the same.

In effect, relying on admissions odds ratios to indicate discrimination punishes blacks for being a small cohort of applicants at that level in the first place, since admitting virtually any applicants from a small cohort will produce a larger odds ratio than admitting even far larger numbers from a much larger cohort or base. So even though blacks admitted at a higher ratio would all be qualified, and even though their presence on campus, even with that higher ratio, would be miniscule, Nieli and Douthat would have colleges and universities chop even these small numbers just to satisfy some arbitrary and ultimately unfair mathematical computation.

Sins of Omission: What Douthat and Nieli Conveniently Forget to Mention

But even more telling than the way in which Nieli and Douthat distorted the work of Espenshade and Radford, is the way in which they blatantly ignored the several conclusions put forth by the latter that utterly eviscerate several of the most common conservative critiques of affirmative action. So, for instance, and although neither Douthat nor Nieli possess the intellectual veracity to mention it, Espenshade and Radford completely debunk several common conservative arguments against affirmative action

First, they discredit the argument that affirmative action only helps blacks who are affluent, and therefore are not truly "deserving." In fact, African Americans from the lower two income tiers receive a marked advantage in terms of admissions odds to elite colleges, relative to more affluent blacks. Indeed, the lowest-income black applicants are more than four times as likely as their affluent counterparts to be admitted to such schools.

Second, Espenshade and Radford completely obliterate the so-called "mismatch" argument, which holds that black students admitted with the help of affirmative action are in over their heads, and would have been better off going to a less selective school where their qualifications were more like the average, rather than significantly below it. As the study shows, although attending an elite school does depress a matriculant's class rank relative to what it would have been at a less selective school, this is true for all students, not merely black students or those with lower test scores. In all, blacks who attend more selective schools have higher graduation rates than their counterparts at less selective schools, and even if their class rank may suffer, this is not necessarily due to having less merit. In fact, even when black and white students are compared with the same pre-enrollment test scores and grades, black students get lower college grades on average and graduate at a significantly lower rate. This suggests that the cause of lower black performance is not less ability per se, but rather, feelings of isolation on mostly white and affluent campuses, and perhaps additional financial instability, thereby making it harder to finish college.

Third, they disprove the notion that affirmative action and diversity efforts lead to increased racial "balkanization" on campus, increasing racial tension and encouraging self-segregation by students of color. In fact, students of color are far more likely to interact across racial lines than whites, and if anything it is whites who tend to stick to themselves and show no interest in cross-racial interactions. But contrary to the conservative explanation for white insularity, it does not appear to be the result of experiences at the college level (such as increased resentment or backlash to diversity efforts). Rather, it is due to whites replicating the kind of filial networks that were common for them in high school. Since whites are so much more likely than students of color to have been in racially homogenous settings prior to college, they tend to maintain homogenous groupings upon arrival. But as the authors note, if colleges make deliberate efforts to encourage interaction and maintain a critical mass of students of color on campus, the benefits of diversity become substantial. This further debunks a common conservative criticism of affirmative action: namely, that there is no need to maintain a critical mass of students of color at elite schools in order to reap diversity benefits.

And finally, Espenshade and Radford discredit the argument that black underperformance in college is due to these students placing less emphasis on academic pursuits that their white or Asian counterparts. In fact, as the data shows, black students at selective schools are just as likely as others (and oftentimes more likely) to have engaged in academic enrichment programs in high school, to have participated in academic clubs, to have taken test prep classes or to have attended magnet or private schools for the purpose of improving their chances of admission to elite colleges. These are clearly not the behaviors of students or families with an inadequate attachment to learning and success.

In addition to debunking these common conservative criticisms of affirmative action, Espenshade and Radford make a number of suggestions that no conservative activist, author, commentator or elected official would likely support, including a massive public investment effort (on the lines of the Manhattan Project) to study and then eradicate academic achievement gaps between white and Asian students on the one hand and black students on the other. This kind of government effort to eliminate racial disparities would be solidly rejected by the Ross Douthats and Russ Nielis of the nation--folks who are much more comfortable telling black people to just "try harder" as the end-all, be-all solution to racial gaps in performance.

What About Working Class Whites? The One Thing Douthat and Nieli Get Right, Almost

With all this said, there is one point made by Douthat and Nieli that deserves legitimate consideration and concern. Namely, the point about lower income status working against whites in admissions, whereas it helps applicants who are black or Latino. Indeed, the Espenshade and Radford study does indicate this. But while the conservative take on this data appears to be a semi-conspiratorial one--replete with the aforementioned blue-state limousine liberal cultural biases against Joe Six pack types--the real explanation is quite a bit less exotic. Likewise, the solution to the problem is hardly the one hinted at by Douthat--to replace race-based with class-based affirmative action--or said explicitly by Nieli: to completely eliminate all but grade and test score considerations in elite college admissions.

In all likelihood, the reason low income whites find themselves at a disadvantage in terms of admissions odds is due to the exigencies of institutional finance. In other words, whereas schools can admit high percentages of low income blacks and Latinos without overwhelming their financial aid budgets (simply because the numbers of these applicants who will be able to qualify for admission will still be small), to provide the same "bump" for low-income whites, since they could potentially be a substantial chunk of applicants, would prove prohibitive in terms of cost. By focusing their low-income admissions on black and brown applicants, schools can meet legitimate racial diversity goals and economic diversity goals at once, saving money in the process. As unfortunate as this arrangement is, it is unfair to suggest that working class and poor whites are somehow being bumped because of naked racial preference, as the right often does, when the truth is clearly more complicated.

If Douthat would like to see more low and moderate income whites admitted and enrolled at elite schools--as I and most all leftists would--he should join in our calls for a greater federal commitment to expanded Pell Grants and other government subsidies for higher education (which would relieve some of the financial fears on the part of the schools that admitting too many low income whites would swamp their aid budgets). Likewise, he should join the call for changing the formulas used in ranking schools (such as, with U.S. News and World Report), so as to consider socioeconomic diversity (in admissions and retention) as a plus factor, which would boost a school's "selectivity" index. That few if any conservatives wish to make higher education more affordable, or to tinker with elitist ranking schemes suggests that their expressed concern for working class college applicants is more about politics than fairness.

Though Douthat never comes right out and calls for a switch from race-based to class-based affirmative action (and Nieli wants to do away with any consideration other than traditional academic standards, even though this would also reduce the ranks of working class whites in elite schools), this position flows rather easily from his (mis)analysis of Espenshade and Radford. And because it is an argument often made by liberals and progressives as well, it is worth considering the many ways in which, despite its apparent fairness, such a shift would be anything but.

The fact is, substituting a class-based system of affirmative action for the current race-based system would, according to Espenshade and Radford, reduce the percentages of black and Latino students by one-third at elite schools, and especially among such students who were solidly middle class, and could no longer qualify for any affirmative action consideration. This, despite the fact that the black middle class (and even blacks with high incomes) are far worse off, in terms of assets and reserve wealth than whites who earn much less. So African American and Latino students who still faced substantial disadvantages, but whose parents made decent incomes, would be left out in the cold, while white students whose parents were far better off in terms of assets (possibly because of property handed down by a relative) but who earned less, would reap the lion's share of the preferences.

Ironically, such a shift would mean that an even larger share of black and Latino students on elite campuses would be low-income than is the case now. If anything, such a result would only harden racial stereotypes among whites, who would come into contact with very few affluent black or brown kids from professionally successful families. And it would also likely lead to even lower rates of college completion for African Americans and Latinos on these campuses, since the financial burdens that are highly correlated with a failure to finish college would now be even more common among these matriculants of color.

On the other hand (and especially if government financial aid were increased), schools could add class considerations to the admissions mix along with race, thereby recognizing the unique obstacles faced by people of color, irrespective of class status, while still providing additional opportunity to struggling whites. Such a supplemental approach would, according to Espenshade and Radford, substantially boost the numbers of low income white students on elite campuses, and would even provide a modest bump in the numbers of people of color on campus. In other words, the price for greater economic diversity would be paid not by black and Latino students, but mostly by affluent whites.

But don't expect either Douthat or Nieli to ever endorse such a plan as this. Though conservatives cannot be trusted to honestly and accurately present basic research, they can always be counted on to feign concern for the working class, even as they jealously guard their own elite privileges, and those of others like them. Their populism is purely rhetorical: a memetic device to divide struggling whites from people of color, and convince them that their interests are somehow at odds with those of the black and brown, rather than being intimately linked to them.

And as always they are hoping that no one will ever call them on their bluff.

Oh well, consider the bluff called.

Tim Wise is the author of five books on race, including his latest, Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Racial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity.

Originally posted to tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 07:52 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for calling a liar (13+ / 0-)

    a liar, and proving it.

    Pooties and Woozles unite; you have nothing to lose but your leashes!

    by TomP on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:03:50 AM PDT

  •  It is getting absurd. The wrapping of racism in (12+ / 0-)

    cotton candy and trumped up academics and calling it by another name.  That it is being printed in major publications with no challenge other than the readers, is just another example of the lack of critical thinking that permeates our society.

  •  Hell yes. (11+ / 0-)

    I love long fact-checking diaries. Especially when they regard misrepresentation of scholarly works.

    I can't read it now, but I've rec'd and I'll be back.

    --- Perma-ban or bust. - opendna

    by opendna on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:05:07 AM PDT

  •  When they eliminate preferences for (9+ / 0-)

    children of alumni, maybe I'll listen to what they have to say. The fact that these preferences are so deeply entrenched in our system makes a mockery of the whole concept of a meritocracy.

  •  Thank you for this. (9+ / 0-)

    The revolution will be blogged!

    by Robinswing on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:09:12 AM PDT

  •  Republicans are math-challenged. (6+ / 0-)

    At least it looks that way until you understand they're truth-challenged.

    Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all. - JM Keynes

    by goinsouth on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:09:31 AM PDT

  •  Thank you, Tim Wise (10+ / 0-)

    for continuing to post your excellent research and analysis on racism.  Your work is invaluable.  

  •  Quit fetishizing "facts"... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OIL GUY, allep10

    By the time we fact-check RW propaganda-pieces, they have already moved on to the next outrage du jour. We are constantly playing defense, and to what end? Their lies correspond to and reinforce their audience's entrenched belief-systems, and no amount of belatedly presented fact-checking can reach that audience.

    We already know that they lie, both directly and by omission. Their target-audience doesn't care, won't be swayed and will decry "facts" as being liberally biased.

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:25:02 AM PDT

    •  Understood, but... (15+ / 0-)

      please note, I am not rebutting with facts so as to persuade those who are bought in to the right wing view. I agree, there is no point in that. However, facts matter for others, for two reasons:

      for non-committed folks they can provide enough inoculation against the right wing argument so as to blunt its impact and keep them from slouching to the other side, and secondly, they are good for US to know about. Psychologically, there is value in leftists/progressives/liberals/whatever KNOWING why the other side is wrong, not merely knowing that they are. If we're being honest we know this. To "know" that the other guy is wrong but not know why is not a secure place to be. I can recall the feeling back when The Bell Curve was released. I knew it was bullshit but had signifiant anxiety about it until I read it and developed a critique, and saw other published critiques. Then, even though I knew those critiques would never persuade the folks inclined to believe it, their existence bolstered my own work and made me more confident in pushing an antiracist argument.

      That is the importance of facts. Don't get so sucked in to simplistic Lakoffian "framing" and emotional discussions (especially with regard to race, where frankly they do not apply at all--something Lakoff doesn't understand) that you miss this piece

      Guilt is what you feel because of the kinds of things you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are...

      by tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:00:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Should have been more explicit... (7+ / 0-)

        with a snark tag.

        I absolutely, 100% agree that the work done here and elsewhere to educate Dems / Libs /Progressives about the specific structures and metanarratives of RW propaganda is of critical importance, to us. I like to think that most of us live in a "fact-rich" reality.

        That said, there are those depressing days when I think we should simply become more effective liars... sigh...

        Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

        by angry marmot on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:09:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I completely agree (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        that facts are crucial to persuade non-committed folks, and that debunking is a real necessity. It's the job of a public intellectual to do that work.  But we also need to be concerned about making the facts work for us. It drives me nuts to hear right wing sound-bites unconsciously adopted by progressives, but it happens all the time and facts are not a sufficient weapon for combating the kind of "common sense" explanations that Republicans (and racists) provide.

        So the question for me is always -- what can we do beyond fact checking? Racism has, at root, an irrational, emotional appeal to people who can't bear to accept responsibility for their own actions, and who desperately want to rationalize promoting their interests above those of outsiders -- "others." You can debunk until the cows come home, but until we come up with an anti-racist communication strategy as powerful as the right wing messages conservatives are purveying, we'll always be limited to either preaching to the choir, or converting a few non-committed souls while the right wing recruits hundreds to our one.

        Again, this isn't a put-down of debunking, or of rational argument. I spend a lot of time engaged in that activity.  But what's the long term plan? I ask seriously, because I'm having a hard time envisioning it.

        •  the approach i took... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blindyone, Larsstephens

          in my speech at netroots nation, and in a previous essay posted here has been the thing that I've found works best: making the case that racism, racial bias (and especially the form of bias we might call "indifference to the suffering of the 'other'") ultimately comes back to haunt everyone, including the very whites who thought it never would. I explain several reasons why this is true in the video, which I think can be found on here somewhere...

          Guilt is what you feel because of the kinds of things you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are...

          by tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 01:02:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Again, I agree (0+ / 0-)

            and I make this case all the time.  It's not arguments I'm lacking: it's a vehicle to carry them. I'm a lifelong anti-racist activist, and I'm pretty sure I know all the same arguments you do, especially since I've been reading your work for years. I also know which audiences those arguments work for, and for which ones they don't, and they don't tend to work on people in power -- the people who have the most to lose by giving up their privilege. Nor does the effect of such education tend to be lasting on a white public who goes back to its white communities and is surrounded by white privilege propaganda. This may be unpopular to say, but it's my experience of over 35 years of explaining to white people the damage caused by racism.

            My question is still: how does the left go about building an anti-racist campaign that's as effective as the right wing's racist campaign? How do we take advantage of the technology and of what we know about advertising and PR to promote our message as powerfully as the opposition promotes theirs?  

            How do we do this when racism -- and the denial of racism -- is still entrenched in the Democratic party? How, for example, can we bring it home to Democrats, that the Black voting population of the South is their very best friend in the world, and a hugely powerful ally that should be treated with the respect it is due? How can we make it clear to Democrats that working against felon disfranchisement is crucial for preserving votes that the right wing racist War on Drugs campaign has deprived us of? How can we make it clear that right wing racist stereotypes about welfare have been unconsciously absorbed by Democrats to the detriment of the party?

            I admire the educational work that you do, and your courage and willingness to go out there and do it.  I agree with you on just about all your positions. But I wish you'd be more specific about the steps we can take as a movement and a party to get past the educating part of anti-racist work and move into the making-lasting-changes part of the work. You have the ear of many, many progressives -- in fact you've become the voice of the white anti-racist movement, whether or not you intended that.  And I can only speak for myself, but I'd wager that many of us who have been doing similar work for decades -- and who know that everything we can say about race is old news for black and brown people -- are interested in the question of how to get beyond education and consciousness-raising to effective action.

            Rucker's Color of Change has been a new and amazing force in the technology of anti-racism.  Can we use that as a model for making anti-racism part of the Democratic strategy for change? Is there a way to build an anti-racist wing of the Democratic party with some clout?

  •  Fortunately, I don't think many people actually (5+ / 0-)

    read Douthat. His prose is even weaker than his arguments.

    So many of his arguments are ridiculous on their face. The idea that a poor white kid from Mississippi would be disadvantaged in Ivy League admissions is ludicrous. They are seeking diversity! They don't get many applications from places like Mississippi and they tend to look for every type of diversity - geographic and economic as well as racial.

    God has no religion. - Gandhi

    by OIL GUY on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:35:56 AM PDT

  •  The growing anxiety over "the white man's burden" (9+ / 0-)
    - which apparently now also includes "reverse dscrimiination" - is beyonf tired

    thanks as always tim wise for calling this out

    "....while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." Eugene V. Debs

    by soothsayer99 on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:38:58 AM PDT

  •  This is a lot to take in. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    opendna, fizziks, allep10

    I appreciate the work you put into this.  I really don't have time to give a detailed response, so I'll just pick one nugget that jumped out:

    And although Espenshade and Radford do note the lower admissions odds of students with significant leadership roles in "career-oriented activities," this category includes more than simply ROTC and FFA. Indeed, among the career-oriented extra-curriculars that were associated with lower admissions odds, were several that predominate in urban and "blue state" schools, such as Model United Nations, mock trial teams and clubs for budding entrepreneurs.

    While I admit that I haven't read their book, that claim simply lacks all face validity, as those are highly desirable activities from an admissions perspective.  If their numbers really do suggest a negative effect, then it's highly likely that they failed to account for one or more confounding factors.  Otherwise, it just doesn't make sense.

    Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Wer nicht fragt, bleibt dumm!

    by cardinal on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:44:11 AM PDT

    •  actually, they are right... (6+ / 0-)

      but note, their study was only with regard to highly selective schools. And the reason these activities have a slightly negative impact on admissions odds in those places is probably because there are so many applicants with those kinds of things on their application resumes, it no longer has the kind of "stand out" effect it once did (and still does at less selective colleges). They controlled for everything. It is a very sophisticated regression actually

      Guilt is what you feel because of the kinds of things you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are...

      by tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:03:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It does make sense that (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        opendna, fizziks, Larsstephens

        they might not have the "stand out" effect at elite schools (especially because it's often the mid-ranked schools that put the most effort into recruiting college-level Model UN or Mock Trial competitors).  But I still don't see why that would make it a negative, as opposed to simply a wash.  But there's no point in two scholars arguing over a point when only one has the regression table in front of him -- so I'll take your word for it until I can engage the book directly.

        Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Wer nicht fragt, bleibt dumm!

        by cardinal on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:19:35 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  This is only one example, and it's from 2000 (0+ / 0-)

        but the Harvard alum who interviewed my daughter here in Ventura County, Ca told her that it was nice, for a change, to talk to someone who didn't have mock trial as one of her extra-curriculars.

        They bonded over cross country and track instead.

        Why can't they say that hate is 10 zillion light years away- Stevie Wonder

        by blindyone on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:56:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Time mag interviewed Espenshade (5+ / 0-)

      Now, what are these career-oriented activities? Douthat mentions as possibilities, and I don't deny it, that it could be participating in a 4-H club or Future Farmers of America, but those aren't the only types of activities that might fall into that broader category. It could include Junior ROTC. It could include co-op work programs. It could include a host of things. And these aren't necessarily rural types of activities. My interpretation is that [having leadership positions or winning awards in career-oriented activities] suggests to admission deans that these folks are somewhat ambivalent about their academic futures.

      He seems to suggest that career oriented activities are seen as less desirable than a more academic focus.

      "I want to apologize for that misconstrued misconstruction." Rep Joe Barton

      by Catte Nappe on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:19:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  he is saying that too (5+ / 0-)

        ...and I hyperlinked that article in my another piece (in Newsweek) he also mentions things like mock trial teams. Ultimately, the thing about FFA and ROTC appears to be the sense that people who engage heavily in these activities are less clear as to their academic commitment. That's why, interestingly, simply being involved in the activities does not have a negative effect, where being a leader in the activities does...

        Guilt is what you feel because of the kinds of things you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are...

        by tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:24:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  But again, that's why I'm (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          opendna, Larsstephens

          so confused.  I can understand the argument for FFA or ROTC -- but Mock Trial is exactly the opposite.  It says that you have significant interest in a high-end career that requires stellar undergraduate achievement and an advanced degree.

          Wieso? Weshalb? Warum? Wer nicht fragt, bleibt dumm!

          by cardinal on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 09:34:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I don't support affirmative action (0+ / 0-)

    but I do support myth busting and fact checking, so good job.

    However, there are a few things I take issue with.  You kind of glaze over it, but there seems to me to be an admission here that working class black and 'Latino*' students can be and are admitted with lower test scores and other metrics than working class whites.  Even though it doesn't rise to the level claimed by Douthat, this could still be the source for some legitimate consternation, no?

    Also, there may be a typo in your ethnic breakdown for elite colleges.  From your percentages, only 8-10% of the student body is Asian.  Presumably this includes East and South Asian, so I don't think it can be correct, unless there is a relatively narrow or selective definition of what is an elite school.  

    * Let us not forget that "Latino" can include the fully Caucasian children of well off people from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, etc...

    •  What in the heck is "fully Caucasian" (7+ / 0-)

      an anthropologist wants to know?
      From the Caucasus mountains would be the only place that makes any sense.

      FYI - scientists have thrown out the use of those outdated "race" categories.

      "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

      by Denise Oliver Velez on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 10:00:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  no, the first number... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blindyone, conlakappa, Larsstephens

      the 78% number for whites is all selective schools, including many public ones, where Asian numbers are much lower...thus, when you add the 12-14 that are black and Latino, you end up with the rest being Asian, and that 8-10 number is about right. At private elites, whites are about 67 percent, blacks and latinos are 14 (max), and Asians are about 19 or so...that's the source of the confusion: I was presenting two different numbers as did the authors

      As for the different standards, I spent several paragraphs explaining why the black and Latino admission s rates are higher than those for lower income whites: whites who are low income are not facing the same obstacles: they are not going to mostly poor school, their families are far better off in terms of assets and reserve wealth, even when they are not making much income, black and brown poverty is far more severe, etc. Some of this I didn't discuss here, but it is pretty well known. For instance, most black poor folks live in majority poor communities, but only about 1 in 6 poor whites do: most live in communities that are not places of concentrated hardship, and this makes a difference in terms of quality of schooling, etc.

      Also, again, refer to the part of the essay where I note that schools are likely being easier on black and brown poor and working class folks than white folks in the same class, because of the worry that being as generous to the white working class would bust their aid budgets. There is a solution to this of course: namely, expand Pell Grants, re-work elite college rankings to consider things like socioeconomic diversity, etc. But ending AA is no way to solve the problem

      Guilt is what you feel because of the kinds of things you've done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are...

      by tim wise on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 01:08:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are many competing definitions of elite (0+ / 0-)


        One designation would include just the Ivies, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, Caltech, and maybe that's it.  But a bigger grouping might include some of the major good state schools (Michigan, Texas, UNC), and some more of the top tier privates (Carnagie Mellon, NYU, RIT, Johns Hopkins, Geogetown, etc...).  The ethnic breakdown will be a big function of which schools are included, since including some of the big state schools increases the number of students dramatically.

  •  Legacy preferences tend to (11+ / 0-)

    favor upper class, wealthy whites whose parents (mostly dads) attended the Ivies. There is very little chance that George W. Bush would have been accepted to Yale if he were not a legacy.

    There are other issues in Ivy League admissions beyond legacy preference. My two older sons went to the University of Pennsylvania. Even though about 90% of American kids attend public high schools (as did my kids) only about 55% of the students admitted to Penn come from public schools.

    •  I've told you about my husband's nieces, (0+ / 0-)

      whose parents met at Yale as part of the largest black group there.  Despite this, her private school classmates claimed that it was mostly because she was black that she was accepted at Yale.  Mind you, her sister followed her there.

      No, it's never just been in the South.

      by conlakappa on Wed Aug 04, 2010 at 09:23:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Douthat - talking through his hat (8+ / 0-)

    or perhaps from elsewhere.

    Thanks Tim for this excellent rebuttal of the Mad-hattery.

    "If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition" Bernice Johnson Reagon

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 10:02:26 AM PDT

  •  Thank you!! (4+ / 0-)

    OMG this is a masterpiece.  Thank you SO much.

    Two other datapoints which I discovered when I studied the history of the "reverse discrimination" cases, especially the two involving University of Michigan.  First, in both cases, the aggrieved white plaintiffs (Barbara Grutter at the law school and Jennifer Gratz at the undergraduate level) CONCEDED that there were more whites with "lesser qualifications" (i.e. lower test scores and GPA's) who were granted admission than the handful of minority students whose admission they were attacking as unfair reverse discrimination.   Neither of these bastions of aggrieved whitehood ever raised ANY objection with the University to the admission of those "lesser qualified" white students.  The second point was that each plaintiff never actually claimed that the Black and Latino students who were admitted were unqualified.  Quite the opposite - both CONCEDED for the purposes of trial that these students were fully qualified to be offered admission.  In other words, they conceded up front the very point that drives so many racists hiding behind opposition to affirmative action - that the differences in the numbers (SAT and GPA) don't mean anything after a certain level of achievement when it comes to higher education and who is, or is not, qualified to access it.  So much for all those folks desperately pretending despite NO evidence that a student with a 3.3 high school GPA is going to do any better than one with a 3.4 in undergraduate.  (Or, even less important, the difference between a 3.9 and a 4.0, which is really what we're talking about at elite schools.)

    To me, that's some of the best evidence that this entire business of reverse racism/anti-affirmative action has nothing to do with wanting imposition of so-called "objective merit" and everything to do with "subjective merit" - i.e. the proponent's inability to emotionally accept the possibility that someone of color could POSSIBLY be just as good (or God help us, BETTER) than they are in a true competition.  All of your datapoints reinforce that conclusion.

    Thank you for this diary.

    If you don't stand for something, you will go for anything. Visit Maat's Feather

    by shanikka on Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 01:41:13 PM PDT

  •  Thanks For Another Excellent Essay (0+ / 0-)

    To call it a diary would be to diminish it somehow because, like I said before, I NEVER post a comment to diaries or front-page articles on this site, not in the four, five years (I forget) I've been a member.  

    In fact it was so excellent, I emailed it to everyone I knew, yet another thing I've done for the first time. You fight the good fight, sir, I afraid I am not well equipped to tell you how valuable you and your services are to the progress of this country.

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