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January 20, 2009

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Sigh ... it signed me back into Moe's account again, I see. But I changed its screen name, so never again will things I wrote end up with Moe's name on them. (I can't believe it took me this long to think of this fix.)

Within my own group, I think I saw a change around 1999 to 2004...

Up till then, it was extremely hard to get people in general to acknowledge that Asian Americans had problems, let alone try to attack those problems intelligently. People would try to equate the types and levels with those of blacks, gays, etc. (and of course would either treat them too seriously or dismiss them, since they were somewhat different problems, though related).

But shortly before the turn of the century, I noticed several changes in how society treated Asian Americans. One, I saw increasing numbers of Asian Americans climb the corporate ladder and become upper division managers. Two, I saw an increasing number of mainstream theatres, TV shows and movies cast Asian Americans in non-ethnic specific parts. Three, I saw an increasing number of interracial relationships--not just with Asian females/white males (which had always taken place), but with Asian males/white females (something that had heretofore been non-existent).

Not sure what to make of it. But there's been a sea change. And while things aren't perfect, there's been a qualitative change in the new Century.

Just, um, a simple point: why can't we add age demographics to the list? In 1980, there were a lot more people alive who had lived during a time when segregation was the law of the land. I imagine that attitudes towards race, for a substantial number of people, are harder to shake, if they grew up in an environment where segregation was the norm.

And, similarly, what Obama's presidency will do for race relations isn't going to be felt now as much as it will be felt twenty years from now, when a generation of kids comes of age who took for granted the fact that the country had elected a black President.

I saw a stunningly inane opinion piece in Time Magazine's inauguration issue, to the effect that Obama was easy to accept because of decades of James Earl Jones playing the "Voice of God" on countless commercials. Hilzoy is (as usual) much more to the point. We whites can accept Barack Obama, and blacks in general, because for decades more and more black men and women have been breaking down that wall, each one wedging the cracks apart a little more. Now it has reached some kind of critical mass, no more ceilings.

I am curious to see whether Obama's presidency will finally end a nasty positive feedback loop in which whites refuse to accept blacks, so young blacks refuse to act 'white' (as in, refuse to conform to the mainstream norms of dress, speech, and behavior that most people use to signal respect and reliability), so whites won't accept them, so...

For a very long time, blacks were quite right to believe that no matter how they acted, most whites would never accept them. Indeed, to act white would have invited lynching. And unlike my grandparents, they couldn't even hope that if they tried hard enough, at least their kids or grandkids could assimilate and succeed. But by 1990 in the urban north, most whites I knew seemed ready to accept blacks; it was the young black kids who were embracing black counterculture and shying away from potential friendships and networks in the larger community. Perfectly understandable, but unfortunate.

I hear that various groups keep trying to create 'role model' programs for urban youths (mostly black) to convince them that they, too, can succeed. I suspect that Barack Obama's election will have a much bigger effect than any of those programs ever could.

I think there's definitely something to your "shakier ground" point -- Terry and Ta-Nehisi were discussing something along those lines yesterday on Fresh Air (oh dear, I've outed myself as a consumer of middlebrow culture!).

gwangung,
one thing about Asian-Americans was that in places where there wasn't a tipping point, there wasn't a lot of prejudice, I think. One of the things that African-Americans have had to deal with is that there has been a large amount of sight-unseen prejudice, so that they have never much benefited from being below the tipping point.

A second aspect for Asian-Americans is that the existence of Hawaii sort of created a safe haven for many. I wonder what it is like for Asian-Americans that don't have some sort of Hawaiian antecedents and I wonder what sort of percentages have and don't have that kind of background.

A final point for Japanese-Americans in particular is that the out marriage rate is so high, approaching 50%. There's a lot of things one could propose that cause that and therefore have an impact on societal attitudes, but I'd have to think about it more before I would go with any particular theory.

one thing about Asian-Americans was that in places where there wasn't a tipping point, there wasn't a lot of prejudice, I think. One of the things that African-Americans have had to deal with is that there has been a large amount of sight-unseen prejudice, so that they have never much benefited from being below the tipping point.

East Coast and Midwest (Gulf of Mexico, too), I think, where there wasn't the long standing, festering anti-Asian sentiment from the 19th Century. More of the recent immigration went to those places, and bereft of the emotional baggage, a little easier to have that sea change.

A final point for Japanese-Americans in particular is that the out marriage rate is so high, approaching 50%. There's a lot of things one could propose that cause that and therefore have an impact on societal attitudes, but I'd have to think about it more before I would go with any particular theory.

There's all sorts of things that's been speculated on (some of it from the academic side, some of it from the artistic side---you try to get to grips on this in a lot of plays and movies....), but I think what was striking to me was that there was a relative dearth of Asian male/white female couples for so many years. It was very striking within the Asian American community (and it almost got pathological), and there was a talk about a cohort of aging Asian American males with no mates (almost like a second bachelor society).

But in the past few years, there seems to have been a noticeable uptick in those relationships, which was at the same time as that curious change in actor hiring (which translates into different images in the media). I can connect the dots in my hat, though I'm sure reality is much more complex and subtle. But there seems to be a change that's affecting not just Asian Americans, but blacks and other groups (and, as other folks have pointed out, may be related to a generational transfer).

Aw well...more notes on a sleepless night (colds are messing with my sinuses....)

Being in one of those areas with few Asian Americans, I'm more familiar with the particular example of Japanese-Americans than for Asian Americans, but the gender disparity is striking.

A small observation, and I have wondered how this translates into majority culture, but it is not particularly shocking to see a woman dressed in a kimono, but a man in a hakama/montsuki (there's some terminological funkiness, but for the purposes of general discussion, a montsuki is basically a male kimono) is rarely seen (most men would only wear one at their wedding, unless they are engaged in some traditional art). I take this to mean that men are, in many ways, locked into a narrower range of roles than women are, and consequently, women can range across. It's funny, my two younger aunts married white men, and my grandfather didn't say anything, but when my dad married a white woman, he got a long letter on how he had disappointed the family and such.

Anyway, o daijini on the cold.

Would blacks have closed the gap faster if more money was spent on raising the standards and quality of inner city schools, mentorship and role model programs earlier instead of affirmative action? Affirmative action, at the very least philosophically, does not seem to be a suitable remedy to past injustices and discrumination. Its practical efficacy is more controversial. Chaste based affirmative action in india has not been very effective and has contributed to the brain drain from India to places like US and England.

Coming from Maine (now the whitest state in the country, thanks to Latin American immigration into Nebraska) I don't have too much to add about American race relations but in Korea there's been a bit of a sea chance about how I get viewed here over the past few years I've been here. The amount of pointing, shouting of "hi," etc. has really decreased over this time and most of what I get is just a bit more politeness than others and maybe a few weird looks.

However, whenever there's a picture of a black person in one of my textbooks the first thing that my students say is that the person is "dirty" or something along those lines, especially with the younger kids. With whites you never get that and with Southern and South East Asians its, if anything, worse. Still a long ways to go, but Koreans who've had a lot of interaction with non-Koreans tend to be much better about this (the ones who've studied abroad for a year or two especially), I even have a some kids who don't hate Japan...

Murali: Would blacks have closed the gap faster if more money was spent on raising the standards and quality of inner city schools, mentorship and role model programs earlier instead of affirmative action?

Why "instead"? Why not as well as?

Affirmative action, at the very least philosophically, does not seem to be a suitable remedy to past injustices and discrumination. Its practical efficacy is more controversial.

Actually, it's pretty demonstrable that it works, it's suitable, it's practical. It's also pretty demonstrable that a lot of white people really, really don't like black people getting what they see as "their jobs".

I think you are missing what I will call the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods effect.

Something else that has happened the past few decades is the rise in the profile of the NBA and the NFL to the point that the Super Bowl is an unofficial national holiday. When millions of white kids have grown up their entire lives worshiping black sports heroes, it changes things.

I don't want to overstate the case, but I think it has had an impact.

Jesurgislac, lets get this over with: Affirmative action is unjust, pure and simple.

1. It violates principles of justice no matter who you ask; Rawls, Hayek or Nozick. Since we're all liberals here lets use Rawls. Rawls' principle of justice says that justice should be governed by basic institutions which apply equally to all. Affirmative action, on the other hand, is not procedurally fair. different procedures apply to different groups. It is not something that reasonable people would agree to from the original position. We do not have to look to Nozick and Hayek to look at even more stringent criteria.

2. None of the current victims of affirmative action, i.e. whites who score better than the affirmative action students, but are rejected due to quotas etc(in other words, denied a place in the university because it was given to another student with a lower test score) did anything to discriminate against minorities (presumably they didnt. There are always biased people around and these are no more likely to be bigots than the other white students who did get in or the other white people in the general public). It is possible that some of their ancestors may have descriminated against blacks (lets just assume for the sake of argument that it is very likely that some of their white ancestors somewhere were either segregationists or slave owners even) However, the the student in question did not do anything wrong and ought not to be punished for something he didnt do. The sins of the father ought not to be visited on the son.

3. It is dehumanising. It treats whole groups as monolithic entities. It subsumes their individuality. It treats people as means only and not as ends as well. This in itself constitutes an injustice.

Hence affirmative action is thriply unjust. The actual efficacy of affirmative action may actually be up to debate. However, it is irrelevant. Insofar as a concern for justice is categorical (as opposed to hypothetical) We ought not to implement affirmative action programs. There are other measures which can be implemented which can give african americans in inner city areas greater opportunities for upward mobility.

Murali, when 20 students apply for university, and there are 10 places (simplify): say 4 of those students are black, and 16 are white. 7 white students and 3 black students get in. Why is it you see only the 9 white students as "victims of affirmative action"? Aren't they equally the "victims" of the 7 white students who got in when they didn't? Why are the places the black students get regarded as justly belonging to at least 3 of the 9 white students who applied but didn't get in? Is the 1 black student who didn't get in a "victim" of the 3 black students, or of the 7 white students? Or doesn't the black student who didn't get in count at all, in your world?

When people apply for college, they do so on the understanding that they may not get in. For the white students to complain that they're being "victimised" or "punished" because black students got in, and they didn't, and they're convinced the only reason this happened was because of "affirmative action", is an odd conception of "justice".

Damn, I didn't realize how young everyone on this site is. I remember when my high school (just outside of Memphis, TN outside a major Navy base) was integrated (1969) with the all-Black high school some 10 or so miles away. We already had some black students, but only those in the neighborhood or whose parents were in the Navy. I was a Navy brat, so the skin thing wasn't that big of a deal for me or most of the other Navy kids at the school. Some, but not all, of the rural locals, OTOH, were right out of your worst nightmare about southern racists--violent, resentful, incredibly stupid and incredibly fixed in their ways.

In those days, no one liked "forced" busing or "forced" integration since people generally don't like to be forced to do anything, but integration itself went fairly smoothly, at least from my limited perspective and, of course, as a white kid, I wasn't walking in shoes that others had to wear at a school where the fight song was 'Dixie' (that didn't last, BTW).

I then transferred to an all white public school in rural SW Missouri--all white because there were no blacks and there were no blacks because, pre-WWII, the Klan had apparently encourage relocation. The "N" word was common among some groups of boys--the shop class, auto mechanics crowd--but not among jocks and the very small minority that thought about college.

Thereafter, I worked and went to college in Denton TX where, in construction, my boss was black and most of my fellow workers were from Mexico, and at North Texas we had plenty of black students, many of whom I knew and hung and/or worked student jobs with. It was pretty much the same in law school and it's been pretty much the same practicing law in Houston for 29 years.

You see some world class jerks about race, but since the mid-70's even those people seemed to have realized that vocalizing bigoted BS was socially unacceptable. Most people seem to be pretty much go along, get along. I routinely see and have seen since college multi-racial groups and couples in pretty much all settings.

All of this background is for two reasons. First, if you think the 80's and 90's had issues--I don't particularly--you should have been around way back when. And even then, you could see the change coming, which brings me to reason number two. Hilzoy identifies a number of reasons why she thinks progress has been made. I think her observations are valid, but secondary. What made the difference were the early arguments the civil rights movement made that just couldn't be ignored--at least they couldn't be ignored by educated, rational citizens: a thinking, patriotic person (patriotism was a much more open thing back then) couldn't square the American ideal with the jagged edges of denying legal and social equality to anyone on account of their race. The younger people who follow this site weren't there and didn't have the daily discussions and debates in homes that were then and are today economically and socially conservative on many, many issues, but also homes that really, really believed that to be an American meant to be fair to people, and that being fair meant giving everyone the same shot. Well, it only took 50 plus years and we still aren't there, but I can tell you that even in the bad old days, a majority of Americans made themselves change. Not overnight, but a lot faster than many today believe and they did so because there just isn't an argument against equality of opportunity that any fair-minded person can swallow.

John Cole,
that's a good point, but I wonder how far it goes. We've had black superstars before, but the structure of organized sports has been to either keep them from 'command' positions. I was thinking of Doug Williams, who won the MVP in the 88 Super Bowl (checking his wikipedia page, I found this

On the day before Super Bowl XXII, Williams had a 6-hour root canal surgery performed (under full anaesthetic) to repair an abscess under a dental bridge. The pain of this condition caused him to having not slept for several days, as reported in the book "Hit and Tell:War Stories of the NFL"

Wow.

In fact, I fell like it was only with the Jordan's first return from retirement in 95 and the 2nd threepeat that he was put on that pedestal, so that first part of the 90's seems significant.

I'm also thinking that 1987 was when Al Campanis/Nightline controversy.

Murali,
I can't speak for anyone else, but I got your point that affirmative action was weak tea to begin with, not that you were making some sort of sly attack on AA.

I think something that has been talked about other places but also played a key role is Pop culture. Rachel Maddow had Bill Cosby on her show a few days ago talking about this. There have also been a number of films that talk about segregation for instance Hairspray(1988) and the musical version (2007), Remember the Titans (2000), Forrest Gump(1994). These movies are on TV all the freaking time.

I think these films have probably shaped the views of my generation in some small way. (Along with the increased racial diversity on TV and in politics.)

Sorry, that should have been

"the structure of organized sports has been to either keep them from 'command' positions or attribute their success in positions as due something other than intelligence"

and there should be a 'took place' after Campanis/Nightline controversy

Murali: I think you're wrong about Rawls. The operative principle would be equality of opportunity, and his version is explicit about the need not just to ensure nominal equality of opportunity (e.g., no legal barriers to blacks getting jobs), but to make it as true as possible that everyone does, in fact, have an equal shot at those jobs (where 'equal shot' doesn't mean something like 'randomized hiring process', but more like 'if two people are equally talented, try equally hard, etc., their chances should be as close to equal as possible. You can squander your equal shot by not trying, but it should be there to be squandered, so to speak.)

He is also quite explicit about designing a system of perfect justice (i.e., what's the ideal?), in which the question how to address existing injustice (i.e., how do we get from our existing unjust circumstances to that ideal?) does not arise. Affirmative action is obviously an attempt to deal with existing injustice, and thus something that he does not address. (And I think it's obvious that in a world of perfect justice, in which there were not and never had been any injustice, there would be no affirmative action.)

In cases like college admissions (the case I'm most familiar with): most colleges do not practice selective admission, and thus do not practice affirmative action. But restricting ourselves to selective colleges: no student has a right to acceptance at a selective college. Moreover, colleges do not admit people based on any single measure, like (say) test scores, so pointing at someone and saying 'but s/he had higher scores than some people who were admitted!' means nothing. Colleges bump people up for all sorts of reasons: athletic or musical talent, achievement in some non-academic area that makes the college think this would be an interesting person to have around, parents who went there (ugh), geographic diversity, etc.

If you think that all of this is unjust, then you'd be consistent in thinking that taking race into account is also unjust. But with all respect, I'd be glad you weren't running a college admissions office.

Murali, when 20 students apply for university, and there are 10 places (simplify): say 4 of those students are black, and 16 are white. 7 white students and 3 black students get in. Why is it you see only the 9 white students as "victims of affirmative action"? Aren't they equally the "victims" of the 7 white students who got in when they didn't? Why are the places the black students get regarded as justly belonging to at least 3 of the 9 white students who applied but didn't get in? Is the 1 black student who didn't get in a "victim" of the 3 black students, or of the 7 white students? Or doesn't the black student who didn't get in count at all, in your world?


Jesurgislac, phrase it the way you do and you are making a straw man of my argument. Let me put the situation another way.

20 students apply for the university with 10 places. Let us assume the 7:3 ratio is obtained from affirmative action. Presumably, using common criteria (standardised test scores) the ratio is 8:2 instead. Hence in the former situation 1 black student was admitted who did not deserve it, while 1 white student who deserved to enter did not. Follow so far? Good

Who was the person who actually did the discriminating? The university administration. Thats who! In so far as the rules are more stringent against a person just because he belongs to a paricular ethnic group, and he is systematically targeted because of his skin colour, racist discrimination is taking place

1 black student was admitted who did not deserve it, while 1 white student who deserved to enter did not. Follow so far?

No. As my previous comment should have made clear, and as Hilzoy's following comment should have further clarified for you: I do not follow you there.

I will join in what I expect to be a futile attempt to find evidence that Murali is hearing the message that college admissions isn't just about test scores. I could just say "What hilzoy said" -- but I'll go a little further than that.

After grad school I worked for a while in the admissions office of the university where I had been an undergraduate. That school had, from the time I was a freshman, been offering minority students the opportunity to be considered in a partially separate admissions pool, one of the goals of which was to identify bright students from weaker high schools. Standards were still incredibly high, and students admitted from that pool came to campus the summer before freshman year for a program designed to make up the difference between their high school background and that of students who had had better opportunities.

During this time, lots of alumni complained mightily about the "affirmative action" program. "Why aren't you just admitting the people with the best test scores?"

My favorite answer, offered by an African-American admissions counselor: "Well, we could do that, and then we'd fill every class from Hong Kong. Is that what you want?"

That gave them something to think about; funny thing, the world, and the problem in question, were more complicated than they had thought. (And also, for the record, the school has a huge percentage of Asians and Asian-Americans. My colleague's comment was said and meant wryly, to convey complexity, not to convey anti-Asian sentiment. Though I can't answer for what was in the hearts of the alumni who were already complaining about one non-white ethnic group.)

Admissions looked (and looks) not only at test scores, but at dozens of quanitifiable and unquantifiable things: grades, class rank, the excellence (or otherwise) of the high school in which you achieved that class rank (and yes, colleges at this level do keep track of high schools in that way); personal qualities, extra-curricular activities and achievements, writing ability, character (insofar as a clue can be had about it from recommendations and essays); and yes, as hilzoy says, for some schools alumni connections count.

And that's only the headlines.

To accuse other people of constructing straw men, while yourself repeating arguments against affirmative action that rely on the mistaken idea that college admissions is about nothing other than test scores, ignoring any assertions or evidence to the contrary, is to construct a super-straw-man, and to lead to the suspicion that no amount of debate will intrude on your resistance to the actual facts of the real world.

To say that "the rules are more stringent against a person just because he belongs to a particular ethnic group" is to flat out misunderstand, or at least to mischaracterize, the rules. It ain't that simple.

Equal test scores between advantaged and disadvantaged students (or whatever) do not equal equal levels of achievement or potential.

Equal test scores between advantaged and disadvantaged students (or whatever) do not equal equal levels of achievement or potential.

Well, true. Best evidence indicates that the disadvantaged student is a superior student in that case.

"Presumably, using common criteria (standardised test scores)"

As Hilzoy noted, no university accepts students purely on test scores, so, yes, this is a straw man.

I agree with McKinney that seeing the 80's and 90's as some sort of poisonous period from which we've recently greatly advanced shows a lack of historical perspective. Whatever the condition of race relations then, it was much better than in the 50's and 60's. Maybe the sense of great progress in the last twenty years or so is really just an indicator of how long the journey actually is.

I also dislike the use of the word "stupid"or "idiotic" to characterize the kinds of awkward behavior by whites that hilzoy describes. Changing one's ingrained attitudes is no easy task. An individual who realizes that such changes are morally required, and then takes concrete steps to make them, is intelligent and brave. If the effort creates some strange or uncomfortable social interactions, that is a small matter.

Now I understand that hilzoy was using these terms to describe socially inept behavior, rather than lack of intelligence, but I still think more polite language is called for.

Growing up in the south I knew people whose attitudes changed in precisely this way. I think that entitles them to some latitude for social blunders.

The Cosby Show.

You probably think I'm kidding, but any account of the change in racial attitudes during the 1980s which misses the Cosby Show is missing a big thing. It showed an aggressively normal black family doing normal things and muddling through normal problems.

Humanizing people makes it harder to hate them.

"Whatever the condition of race relations then, it was much better than in the 50's and 60's."

Hilzoy didn't say anything to indicate otherwise, and I think it's obvious she's entirely aware of that.

Her post is entitled "Race Since The 80s."

It is not entitled "Race Since The 50s."

She wrote: "Matt Cooper has a really interesting post at TPMDC, on the difficulty of explaining to people who weren't around (or old enough) at the time just how different, and more troubled, race relations were like in the 80s and early 90s."

That the 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, 20s, 10s, and so on, weren't the topic means they weren't the topic.

Matt Cooper: "It's a cliche that people who came of age after the civil rights movement, can't imagine the world of Jim Crow and segregation that preceded them. To a lesser extent, at 45--I turn 46 on Wednesday--I find it slightly hard to explain what America's racial environment was like in the late 80s and early nineties when I was the same age as some of my new colleagues at TPM. While in some ways the country had advanced from the 60s and 70s--some indicia were encouraging such as more black elected officials--there was a deep well of despair about race relations in ways that now seem puzzling if not quaint."

"I agree with McKinney that seeing the 80's and 90's as some sort of poisonous period from which we've recently greatly advanced shows a lack of historical perspective."

Who, specifically, has been showing this lack of historical perspective here?

Humanizing people makes it harder to hate them.

100% agree.

I was discussing with my mother anticipating the wonderful effect of watching - as the weeks, months and years elapse - an African American family in the White House. Every time the POTUS does something (be it State of the Union, Rose Garden addresses, Easter Egg rolls, meeting with foreign dignataries, etc.), it will be an African American doing it - with his African American family in tow.

I believe that will do a significant amount to further race relations. Just by being who they are, and going through the motions, it will accustom people to the notion of seeing African Americans in positions of responsibility, honor and respect.

Actually, the hope is that soon people won't really be paying attention to race at all. That is, after the narrative of the watershed subsides, it will be wonderful when monotony works its own magic.

Chaste based affirmative action in india...

Chaste-based?

That isn't the latest Republican proposal is it?

GF--the beginning of H's post uses 'troubled' and 'poisonous' to describe race relations in the 80's and even the 90's. With respect, the piece does lack historical perspective if these are the adjectives used to describe conditions that are so dramatically superior to past times.

Also, i never heard from you on that other deal. Hope all is well.

I emailed scans of those bills months ago, if that's what you mean, MiT.

"GF--the beginning of H's post uses 'troubled' and 'poisonous' to describe race relations in the 80's and even the 90's."

With respect, did you read Matt Cooper's piece, or not bother?

McTX: I was hoping people would read, or at least guess at the topic of, the post I was commenting on. Yes, the 50s were much worse. The last several decades of the nineteenth century were even worse than that.

Eric and Seb: amen. I recall reading at various points quotes from (white) voters saying things like: yes, he seems nice enough, but if we elect him, he'll only look out for the blacks. That seemed to me to be just the kind of view that would not survive contact with the actual reality of an Obama presidency (or that of almost any African-American who might possibly get elected.) It's the kind of fear you have precisely when you have no experience of what you're afraid of.

I look forward to watching those kinds of fears vanish.

Guys, a small clarification. I may have come across as saying that test scores are the only legitimate criterion for admission. I do not believe this and apologise if I gave the impression. Test scores are just one of various measures that universities can legitmately employ in selection criteria. In fact there are healthy debates about the exact weightage any one component must play as a determining criterion as well as debates on how to properly implement such policies. However, all these are orthogonal to the issue at hand: Factors like the colour of one's skin, whether one's parents are alumni, whether one's father practically paid for the new laboratory, and even nationality, do not constitute legitimate criteria which schools may use to decide admissions.

There are ways in which we can use a variety of legitimate criteria and still preserve procedural justice.

It may very well have been the case that the Hong Kong students who applied for the university should have been given the spot if they satisfied the relevant criteria better than the locals.

Regarding test bias. It is entirely possible, nay even probable that there is a testing bias against minorities. That would mean however that the test should be analysed for cultural bias and modified to make it as culture neutral as possible. The key is changing the test, not tweaking your requirments in order that the student body reflect the demographic. (How do you really know how much you should compensate for anyway?)

It is even more probable that inner city schools fail to prepare their students adequately for standardised tests and university. AA is then just a bandaid over a fracture. The inadiquacies of inner city schools are merely being covered up. The solution here is to focus on early schooling.

Regarding Rawls, Hilzoy, Rawls asserted that what must be decided was not the particular policies, but the deep institutions that govern policy making. Of course Rawls argued for substantive equality of opportunity instead of just nominal equality. However, this had to be achieved through the use of institutions like progressive taxation and additional school funding: policies which can be implemented generally and procedurally, not ad hoc exceptions and special priveleges.

The Obama civil rights agenda.

Hil and GF--I thought the question was: how have we gotten to where we are today and both the Cooper (which I did read) and Hil's post start their analyses in the 80's. Further, both posts see the 80's and 90's as a time of racial polarity. Then, both posts reason that the sea change came in 90's (ignoring for the most part the last 8 years) and that it came about for various reasons--welfare reform, affirmative action, etc. Does anyone who believes that something recent has happened to change attitudes remember than many Republicans, in the late 90's, hoped Colin Powell, who began service in the late 80's as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would seek the Republican nomination in 2000?

If what you know is from a history book rather than what you lived, then the tendency is perhaps to elevate what you've lived over what you've read.

I was in the 8th grad when Martin Luther King was shot and moved to a Memphis suburb in August of '68. I attended a somewhat integrated high school that was then combined with a segregate all-black high school. I went on to attend college, work various jobs, attend law school and practice law with African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Asians etc. Everyday, I lived and saw what my children studied in school. Their take and what I saw--and what many Americans saw--are different in so many ways, ways that I've never been able to describe. The punch line is that the hard work of racial reconciliation started back then and it was carried out by millions of individuals, mostly white, across the country who were forced, less by the government than by the hard congruence of the American mythos crashing into the reality of a dual society, to recognize the inherent unfairness and cruelty of what they had previously thought was a normal state of affairs.

The racial incidents in the 60's make the stuff in the 80's and 90's look like patty cake. Someone made a disturbing movie or wrote a controversial book? Holy Cow!!

Riots, assassinations, murder and all kinds of ugliness attended the 60's, but by the early 70's most of the extreme stuff had died out (most, not all). Moreover, the idea that America was an integrated society and that everyone gets, in theory, the same opportunity in life was the majority view by the early 70's--not an overwhelming majority, but enough that, over time, it has well and truly become the consensus. THAT was the major sea change in racial attitudes. Without THAT, none of the stuff that Hil or Cooper write about would have ever happened.

The disagreements after the early 70's were not whether skin color should determine what rights or opportunities a person should have. Rather, they were policy matters. White people who opposed welfare opposed it for anyone, not just African-Americans. For many, it is just wrong to pay people who are not working regardless of skin color. Many white people who opposed affirmative action opposed it because using race as a basis for a hiring or admission decision smacks of preferential treatment based on race. Many people of many colors and backgrounds have a problem with this. I happen to agree with Hil that affirmative action played a significant role in the downstream process of integrating the upper social and economic strata. As a parenthetical note, Hil and Cooper completely overlooked one of the true unifying factors which was the DOD's insistence that every branch of service be aggressively integrated and that promotion opportunities by opened to all races.

But, the larger point is that the genesis of reconciliation was Martin Luther King's and the other civil rights leaders' challenge to white Americans to just be fair, to just allow blacks the same legal and economic opportunities as everyone else. It's a challenge that could not be answered fairly in any way other than to concede the point: blacks were not being treated fairly and that was wrong. Until that epiphany took place and became a part of the social fabric, all of the follow-on details--and that is what Hil and Cooper look at, details, some major others, not so much--would never have happened.

As a white person who spent most of the 90s working on issues of racial justice in a Black-run thinktank and much more directly in community organizations, I want to say "amen" to your point about the "certain amount of idiocy" most of us participated in at various times. That simply was necessary flailing; creating contexts in which people could meet each other, work together, and get over it was actually pretty inspiring. (Remember, here in California we spent the 90s battling white anxiety about demographic change in the form of a series of racist initiative measures.)

But what I really wanted to comment on was your point about welfare reform. I'll probably never forgive Bill Clinton for signing on to that. It did mark the effective end of efforts to reduce poverty in this country and I don't think, having allowed the plutocrats to run away with all the swag for a decade, the country is ever likely to be prosperous enough to take up the pain of the bottom fifth again. Welfare as it was was horrible -- but the meaning of "reform" was a loud "go drown; you smell up our world" to poor folks.

"The racial incidents in the 60's make the stuff in the 80's and 90's look like patty cake."

I have no idea whom you are arguing about this with.

(Fwiw, I'm not as old as you, but I'm 50 years old, and was in fourth grade when MLK was shot, and I was also a news junkie by 1967, reading the NY Times daily, cover to cover, and watching network news fanatically every day, as well as news magazines.)

As Hilzoy mentioned, racial relations were far worse in the forties, and thirties, and twenties, and 1890s, and so forth. One could easily deliver you a long lecture on these obvious facts, but I do you the favor of assuming you're not ignorant and have no need of such a point-missing lecture.

"which was the DOD's insistence that every branch of service be aggressively integrated and that promotion opportunities by opened to all races."

YM "Harry Truman's insistence."

Regarding test bias. It is entirely possible, nay even probable that there is a testing bias against minorities.

Look up the term "stereotype threat."

Now these factors are not enough to alter, say, test scores by significant levels. But it does argue that taking scores are hard, fast immutable things is not a god idea. You can be justified to using them only as guidelines....

GF--Truman integrated, but it was the DOD, under either Johnson or Nixon which implemented an aggressive Equal Opportunity program in which officers were rated in part by their efforts to encourage retention and advancement of minorities. Minorities at senior and flag rank before and after 1969 were and are a much larger percentage of senior NCO's and commissioned officers.

I think you see my larger point--there was nothing particularly significant in the race relations department in the 80's and 90's that brought us where we are today--rather, it happened in the 60's and early 70's. The rest, the good and the bad, are the product of adjustment and expansion of what happened in the 60's. I never said a word about earlier history. The question was, i thought, 'what brought these changes about?'. No one in recent history, post 1980 can do more than take credit for continuing what started in the 60's.

"I think you see my larger point--there was nothing particularly significant in the race relations department in the 80's and 90's that brought us where we are today--rather, it happened in the 60's and early 70's."

I see your point, and think you're missing Hilzoy and Matt Cooper's point entirely. Specifically, that "there was nothing particularly significant in the race relations department in the 80's and 90's that brought us where we are today" simply isn't true, and the fact that race relations were epically worse in the Sixties, the Fifties, and so on doesn't contradict their points, and has nothing to do with them.

There's as little connection to their point, and yours, as is there is in my pointing out how much worse the post-Reconstruction era was to the Fifties and Sixties. It's perfectly true, but irrelevant.

"I think you see my larger point--there was nothing particularly significant in the race relations department in the 80's and 90's that brought us where we are today--rather, it happened in the 60's and early 70's."

There was little significant in the relations department *done by the government* in the 80's and 90's that brought us where we are today.

Again, the Cosby Show. I think the government is non-awful at getting rid of the worst of racist conduct. But it isn't so great at getting rid of racist attitudes. That takes an internal social change. Things like the Cosby Show did THAT part. Much of that part took place in the 1980s and 1990s and had little or nothing to do with the government.

Again, the Cosby Show. I think the government is non-awful at getting rid of the worst of racist conduct. But it isn't so great at getting rid of racist attitudes. That takes an internal social change. Things like the Cosby Show did THAT part.

Ah. Something we can blame on the leftist, liberal Hollywood establishment....

gwangung: ...with Asian males/white females (something that had heretofore been non-existent).

My girlfriend was just remarking last week -- in the context of a conversation about "yellow fever" -- that she'd never actually seen an Asian male/white female couple, which absolutely floored me (see below).

JanieM: My favorite answer, offered by an African-American admissions counselor: "Well, we could do that, and then we'd fill every class from Hong Kong. Is that what you want?"

Speaking as someone who grew up in Hong Kong: yes.

Murali: Hence in the former situation 1 black student was admitted who did not deserve it, while 1 white student who deserved to enter did not. Follow so far?

Speaking as another former academic: no. There's nothing to follow there; as hilzoy said, no-one "deserves" to go to a selective university. That's what "selective" means.

Incidentally, one important criterion that I haven't seen mentioned above is "leadership potential", however that's defined. The selection committees of which I'm aware seek students that will, after graduation, be a credit to their institution. To that end, yes, they'll let students in who have lower raw scores if they think those students have compensating factors elsewhere.

...and speaking as a former TA, while that can be occasionally frustrating, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sebastian: Humanizing people makes it harder to hate them.

Which is why I think gay marriage, and minority rights in general, are inevitable.

And yes, I totally agree about the Cosby show. I'm far too young to remember the really bad times, but even as a child of the 80s and 90s, I remember there being something deeply... disconcerting about America's favorite family being black.

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