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Potemkin Equality

991 words

French translation here

In 1787 the Russian count Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin organized a tour for Catherine the Great of recently annexed territories in the Crimea. Everywhere Catherine went, she saw villages filled with happy, prosperous peasants and concluded that all was well. Potemkin’s enemies, however, accused him of fooling the Empress by constructing fake villages, islands of prosperity in a blighted landscape. Since then, the phrase “Potemkin village” has come to mean any false façade erected to hide an unseemly reality.

Affirmative Action is one such “Potemkin” program.

Advocates claim Affirmative Action remedies racial inequality: specifically, it addresses the fact that Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians are “under-represented” at the top of American society (in higher education, the professions, the upper classes, etc.) and “over-represented” at the bottom of society (in menial and manual jobs, slums, prisons, etc.)

They claim that all ethnic groups would be “represented” at all levels of society proportionate to their percentage of the population, were it not for insidious “discrimination” on the part of Whites. If Blacks comprise 12% of the population, then they should also comprise 12% of the doctors, lawyers, and university professors and no more than 12% of the murderers, rapists, and thieves. Any discrepancy is blamed on White racism. Whites exclude Blacks from colleges simply because they are Black, and they put Blacks in prison simply because they are Black. And the same goes for Hispanics and American Indians.

While I do not deny that some such discrimination is real, massive evidence suggests it does not explain all, or even most, of the problems of Blacks and other racial groups.

First of all, Congress banned overt discrimination in the sixties. But it soon became clear that Black achievement would not rise on its own. Thus Affirmative Action, i.e., overt discrimination in favor of Blacks, was adopted.

Second, racial discrimination never prevented Jews, Chinese, Japanese, and East Indians from being “over-represented” at the top of American society and “under-represented” at the bottom. (And conversely, no matter how much money and effort are poured into Affirmative Action, Head Start, and other programs, they are not sufficient to prevent Blacks and other racial groups from failing.)

Third, the discrimination theory simply ignores genetic explanations of inequality. A vast array of scientific evidence indicates that, on average, Blacks are genetically less intelligent and more prone to violence than Whites. So even if there were no anti-Black discrimination at all, Blacks would still be “under-represented” in colleges and “over-represented” in prisons.

Egalitarians ignore genetic explanations because genes can’t be changed (at least with present technology) but social institutions can—assuming we give the government enough money and power to meddle in our lives. If genetic inequality is recognized as the chief cause of social inequality, then the “equality industry”—and its legions of bureaucrats, mollycoddlers, excuse-makers, brainwashers, and bullies—would be out of business.

Thus egalitarians go to absurd lengths to avoid genetic explanations. They continually add new epicycles to the vast, creaking apparatus of social constructionism. One week we hear that low Black achievement results from low teacher expectations. (Teachers tend to expect high achievement from Asians—and some Asians claim this constitutes a form of oppression.) The next week they blame Black underachievement on the fact that Black parents talk to their children less than White parents. (In California, the state even has an advertising campaign to persuade Blacks to talk to their children.) The week after, they blame “micronutrient” deficiencies. (Your tax dollars are going to rectify that problem as well.)

But let’s just accept the egalitarian argument for a minute. Let’s forget notions of procedural and legal equality. Let’s forget the social costs of not training the best possible people to be doctors and lawyers. Let’s just accept that the races are by nature equal. Let’s accept that the causes of inequality are entirely social, and that these can be changed. Affirmative Action still does not follow, because Affirmative Action still does not change any of the alleged causes of inequality. Even by egalitarian standards, it is a failure.

When a Black with an SAT score of 900 is admitted to college instead of a White with an SAT score of 1,200, we have not created a world free of the White ill-will that allegedly keeps Blacks down. In fact, Affirmative Action creates more White ill- will. Affirmative Action does not create a world in which Black children get all the “micronutrients” and parental care and high expectations and quality education that White children get, so that Blacks and Whites can compete for college admissions on a level playing field. No, all Affirmative Action creates is a world that looks like the causes of inequality have been eliminated, a world of Potemkin equality.

Faced with the phoniness of Affirmative Action, egalitarians tell us that, by equalizing social outcomes, we will eventually equalize the factors that cause inequality. By changing the effect, we will change the cause. Nay, by faking the effect, we will change the cause. In short, they appeal to magic.

But wouldn’t the artificial prosperity of Affirmative Action beneficiaries help their children to close the achievement gap? There is no evidence to support this theory. Even in identical environments, Blacks and Hispanics consistently perform poorer on average than Whites and Asians. The children of wealthy Blacks still perform less well than White children of all social classes.

Affirmative Action can create only the illusion of equality. Thus the higher echelons of our society are becoming a Potemkin village increasingly populated by non-Whites who, regardless of their real merits, have been promoted a rung or two above those merits because of their race. Television and the movies portray a fantasy world filled with dumb blondes and Black doctors, lawyers, judges, inventors, and computer geniuses. But behind the façade hides a vast, squalid reality of false promises, false hopes, and outright falsehoods about race—all premised on the refusal to accept racial inequality as a natural fact.

October 14, 2003

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