White America’s Toxic Ignorance: Abigail Fisher, Antonin Scalia and the Real Privilege That Goes Unspoken

Yves here. As a companion piece to this post, I encourage you to read an article I wrote in 2007, Fit v. Fitness, for the Conference Board Review. It discusses the issue of bias in elite organizations, and many of its observations apply here.

Most important, that article pointed out that meritocracy is unattainable. So the underlying assumption of the anti-affirmative action cases, that there is some sort of state of purely merit-based admissions or promotions that could be achieved, and institutions can and should meet that standard, is false. And you can see in plenty of organizations how less-accomplished-looking “favored types,” like children of rich alumni, athletes, or in the case of organization, went to the same schools and engaged in similar activities to “successful” members of those firms, have an advantage.

So the debate is not over whether or not to have social engineering. We have plenty. But most is by default. Affirmative action programs make social engineering explicit and put parameters around it to try to make better tradeoffs. But that is now depicted as worse than the state of nature of inevitable, often unconscious bias. I’m not saying that there aren’t types of social engineering that are poorly thought out and need to be overhauled. But the backlash against the very premise seems to rely on hidden assumptions that don’t hold up well to scrutiny.

Moreover, and this is missing in section that discusses of college performance, blacks have at least two things working against them. One is expectancy theory. Teachers and fellow students expecting them to do worse will hurt their performance. Second is bias in grading. For instance, one can easily imagine it affecting how classroom participation is scored. In my day at HBS, when women were seen as a disadvantaged minority, I’d regularly hear women complain how they would make a point early in the class discussion, and the professor would treat it in a cursory manner, but if a man made the same argument later, the teacher would often respond with more enthusiasm. Similarly, in most schools, papers are not submitted with the names obscured to assure bias-free grading. Studies have found that recruiters will reject resumes with black-sounding names. It is similarly not hard to imagine that black students face bias in how their work is scored. The author does point out how bias has been documented extensively in other settings.

By Chauncey DeVega, who writes on race, politics and popular culture at Chaunceydevega.com/. He is a regular guest on Ring of Fire Radio and TV, and hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Originally published at Salon; cross posted from Alternet

Is Justice Antonin Scalia auditioning for a job as Donald Trump’s ghostwriter?

His recent comments on Fisher v. the University of Texas, a landmark SCOTUS case about the future of affirmative action programs at America’s colleges and universities, would seem to suggest that he is.

During the oral arguments for Fisher v. the University of Texas, Scalia said that: 

Scalia’s suggestion that black college students need special remedial schools because they are not able to compete on an “advanced” level is deeply problematic in a number of ways.
There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them…I’m just not impressed by the fact the University of Texas may have fewer [blacks]. Maybe it ought to have fewer. I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible.

It is cringe-worthy because Scalia is channeling the ugly pseudo-scientific racism of influential right-wing texts such as Charles Murray’s “Bell Curve,” which claims that there is some causal connection between a person’s “race” and intelligence.

Scalia’s suggestion that blacks need “special schools” because they are in essence too dumb and lazy to compete with white students is ahistorical. From their arrival in the United States in chains and bondage in the 17th century through to the post-civil rights era and the 21st century, African-Americans have always placed a very high value on educational success and literacy.

Moreover, there were in fact “special” schools for black people in the United States. These schools were the product of Jim and Jane Crow white supremacy and American apartheid that the Supreme Court struck a blow against with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Likewise, historically black colleges and universities were first established in 1837 to ensure that African-Americans would have access to high-quality education because the vast majority of white schools would not admit them. Scalia, as an Italian-American, should know that until the middle of the 20th century, white “ethnics” (Eastern and Southern Europeans like himself; Jews; and other groups) were generally not allowed entry into elite American colleges and universities because they did not come from the right “racial stock” or “class” of white people.

Scalia’s belief that black students belong in special “slower schools” is based on a claim that there is a “mismatch” between the academic preparation of African-American students and their likelihood of success in rigorous post secondary and graduate/professional programs. Scalia speaks with certainty about this hypothesis. In reality, he is relying on a widely discredited and spurious theory. 

Law professor Kimberly West-Falcon, who filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case, makes the point that:

The now decades-old “mismatch” theory that nonwhites from racial groups with lower, on average, SAT scores are harmed by their admission to selective universities is based on the unproven and unprovable assertion that blacks who graduate from selective colleges and universities but do so with relatively lower grades or class rank are harmed by attending such institutions. The research contending to support the mismatch theory rarely acknowledges the fact that such contentions focus almost exclusively on college grades (to the exclusion of college graduation rates).

The inference that Black and Latino high school students are harmed by attending elite educational institutions or would enjoy better life outcomes if they chose less selective institutions is unsupported by empirical research (emphasis added). Instead, social science research has consistently shown that the nonwhite, particularly African American, students supposedly harmed by being “mismatched” at more elite universities are more likely to successfully graduate from the selective universities to which they are admitted and benefit substantially from living life as graduates of more prominent and elite educational institutions (even if their GPAs are lower than either the average white GPA, the GPA predicted by their SAT scores, or their GPA had they attended a less elite institution).

Scalia’s concerns about black students who need “slower schools” because they are in essence stealing opportunities from more “deserving” and “qualified” white students is highly selective and extremely myopic. Scalia is apparently not offended by how colleges and universities across the United States frequently admit less qualified men in order to maintain gender parity in a given freshman cohort. And given his connections to the Republican Party and movement conservatism, Scalia is likely none too worried about how the children of legacies and donors (i.e., rich white people who have money) are able to secure preferential admission (and in many cases also graduation) at America’s colleges and universities—when many of whom, like George Bush, would not have been admitted based on test scores, intellectual acuity or merit.

Scalia’s claims that black students may need slower and less advanced schools parallel those of the plaintiff Abigail Fisher in her lawsuit against the University of Texas.

Fisher believes that the University of Texas denied her, a white person, admission by giving “her” spot to an “unqualified” black or brown person. Although Abigail Fisher was a subpar student who did not gain admission under the traditional program (students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class are automatically granted admission to the University of Texas) or the expanded, holistic criterion (the remaining 25 percent of the University of Texas’s class is composed of students whose whole life profile and range of experiences are considered in the review process), she feels that she is a “victim” of “anti-white” bias.

Justice Scalia believes that lazy and dumb black students are not qualified for admission to the University of Texas. As such, they are “taking” slots at the University of Texas and other schools that should be filled with more “qualified” and “deserving” students, i.e., whites (and perhaps Asians). Scalia, like many other conservatives, believes that affirmative action programs are a type of “racial spoils system” that give unfair opportunities and advantages to black and brown people at the expense of whites. Instead of a basic effort to combat past and present discrimination against non-whites (and women), American conservatives have twisted and distorted “affirmative action” into a caricature of “reverse racism” and “anti-white” prejudice.

But if one proceeds from Scalia’s and others’ understanding of affirmative action as a type of system that gives unearned and undeserved opportunities to one racial group at the exclusion of others, it is actually white Americans who have been the biggest—and almost exclusive–beneficiaries of such policies.

From the 17th century to the present, the United States is a society that is structured around the maintenance and protection of white privilege and white advantages across all areas of political, social and economic life. While racism has certainly evolved over time—from a system that was much more direct and personal to one that is institutional—the protection of unearned advantages for white people as a group relative to people of color has remained a constant.

As Philip Rubio documents in his expansive work “A History of Affirmative Action 1619-2000,” being “white” in America is the greatest “affirmative action” plan that a person can benefit from.

There are many examples of a “racial spoils system” for white people in America.

Chattel slavery stole black labor and wealth. Those resources subsidized the growth of white America’s wealth, income and power. Land that was taken from First Nations peoples in genocidal wars was systematically given to white people for free under the various homestead programs.

Historian and political scientist Ira Katznelson’s book “When Affirmative Action Was White” offers a devastating analysis of how white Americans were given the opportunity to accumulate tremendous wealth and other assets by federal programs such as the racially discriminatory post-World War II era FHA and VA home loan programs. President Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs, while extremely popular among black Americans, were also structured to satisfy the political demands of Southern segregationists—which meant that African-Americans were often excluded from programs such as Social Security. In practice, the New Deal and post-World War II federal policies that helped to create the white middle class denied the same opportunities to black and brown Americans.

There is persistent racial discrimination in the American labor market. Résumés with “black”-sounding names are 50 percent less likely to receive a positive response than those with “white”-sounding names. Moreover, blacks with “high quality” résumés are also called back less often than whites with similar credentials.

Social scientists have shown that a white job applicant with a felony has the same chance for an interview as a black applicant with no felony. In essence, being a black male with a college degree is the equivalent of being a white criminal. Black Americans and other people of color still encounter racist treatment in promotions and advancement. This is a de facto advantage to whites (especially men) in terms of their ability to reach management and other senior positions because they do not have to worry about competition from other groups.

America’s social networks have high levels of racial segregation. White Americans are much more likely to be employed, have access to resources and contacts for obtaining work, or to be in a position to offer employment to another person. Blacks and other people of color do not have the same resources. This system of racialized social capital and opportunity structures constitutes a type of “soft” affirmative action that whites can access without having to actively think about it.

Neighborhoods are a key part of the unearned advantages and other types of benefits that white people can access under “soft” affirmative action. African-Americans are discriminated against in the housing market. Even when they have the same credit, income and other resources as whites, blacks and Latinos are either steered away from “white” neighborhoods by real estate agents or shown houses and apartments in less desirable communities. Racially discriminatory lending practices by banks and other financial agencies are part of this process as well. The sum total of these practices is that blacks and Latinos tend to live in neighborhoods that have worse schools, are less safe and have fewer resources generally (such as easy access to mass transit) than whites even controlling for income. In many ways, neighborhoods are destiny because they have a profound impact on a person’s present and future life chances. Ultimately, housing segregation is a central component in America’s affirmative action program for white people.

The phrase “qualified white male” is uncommon in American discourse. Scalia and others on the white right who aim to destroy programs such as affirmative action—and the broader legacy of the civil rights movement in the United States—are unwilling to acknowledge how America’s so-called meritocracy is in fact racialized (as well as gendered) to the advantage of those who are considered “white” and to the disadvantage of those stigmatized as “non-white.”

Consequently, white men are almost always assumed–regardless of their backgrounds–to be “qualified” for any job.

This is the gross and ugly contradiction at the heart of the myth of meritocracy: Centuries of white male privilege in the United States from before the Founding through to the present is the exact opposite of reward based on merit, hard work or ability.

In America, black and brown people’s abilities are a priori judged to be in doubt unless they go to great extremes to prove otherwise. This is true of blue- and white-collar workers. It is also true of Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president. The folk wisdom and life advice that for centuries has been given to many young black people by their elders that “you have to be twice as good to get half as far” as compared to a given white person has largely been proven correct.

Women are also subjected to extra suspicion about their qualifications—especially in male-dominated career fields. Sexism marks women as “unqualified” when compared to men when the two groups are in competition (across most parts of the labor market, although there are exceptions) for the same jobs. There, the male gaze blinds men to asking basic questions about their own professional qualifications. As with whiteness and race, few men ever ask themselves “did I get this job, promotion, or opportunity because I am a man?”

Racism and sexism combine to set an amazingly high barrier and set of challenges for women of color in the American workplace. They are judged to be especially “unqualified” for leadership, management and other roles both because of their gender and “race.” If white men have to take a metaphorical stroll around the block in order to prove that they are “qualified” for a given job, then women of color have to complete a marathon—and finish first while doing so.

Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice, spoke to the enduring need for affirmative action programs in his dissent in the landmark Bakke (1978) case:

“For it must be remembered that, during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this Court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro. Now, when a state acts to remedy the effects of that legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that this same Constitution stands as a barrier.”

Affirmative action was originally designed to be a modest set of policies that would expand opportunities for people of color who have suffered discrimination and racism in a society built around protecting unearned white advantages.

It is pathetic and tragic that affirmative action, a program that has been under assault by the white right for decades, could finally be brought down by a white-privilege-fueled temper tantrum thrown by a mediocre and entitled white woman who did not get admission to the university of her choice.

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  1. PQS

    This case is much, much worse than a “white-privilege-fueled temper tantrum…by a mediocre and entitled white woman.” This is a case of a temper tantrum thrown by an entitled white activist with enough money (thanks, Wall Street) to bring this case:


    “Like many plaintiffs in landmark cases, Fisher was sought out by an activist who wanted to bring a case like hers all the way to the Supreme Court. In her case, it was Edward Blum, whose legal defense fund, the Project on Fair Representation, has challenged multiple race-related policies.
    Blum, a former stockbroker, has forged a second career steering cases like Fisher’s to the courtroom. As Reuters reported in 2012, Blum had sought a plaintiff to challenge the University of Texas’ use of affirmative action after the makeup of the Supreme Court shifted to the right under former President George W. Bush. He spent years searching for the right student, even setting up a website to recruit potential plaintiffs. However, Blum struggled to find a student he felt could stand up to the scrutiny the case would bring.
    Eventually, Blum received a call from an old acquaintance — Abigail Fisher’s father, Richard. After hearing about her story and deciding she had the right temperament for being in the public eye, Blum persuaded the Fishers to file suit, and recruited lawyers to represent them. The Fishers’ legal fees, according to Reuters, have been paid by Blum’s conservative backers.”

    So not only is this an attempt by a lone activist, but there is an entire machinery of a foundation, money, and of course, our old friends the Supremes) behind the case that is determined, it would appear, to uphold and protect the very kind of affirmative active (which upholds white privilege) that Yves indicates is already in existence. And is willing to use the justice system to get what it wants.

    Fisher has also stated publicly that the only thing she wants is a refund of her $100 application fee from UT.

  2. Left in Wisconsin

    This is a very nice review and I don’t disagree with any of the major points it makes. But to me it misses the elephant in the room. Without going all Marx, we live under an economic system in which a disproportionate percentage of the spoils go to a small minority, we know (reinforced above) that luck plays a big role in who gets to become part of that minority, and we know (also kind of reinforced above) that there is no measurable difference in talent/skill/achievement between many of those in that small minority and many of those not in that minority.

    Yes, meritocracy doesn’t work because of implicit bias. But even if there were no implicit bias, meritocracy doesn’t work because under current socioeconomic conditions, there is not enough space in “have-land” for everyone who deserves to be there (without even getting into the argument that many who are there do not deserve to be).

    One can see this clearly in any “merit pay” system. EVERY merit pay system gives tiny bonuses to a tiny percentage of those who deserve them, whereas any rational employer should want ALL employees to be outstanding and, if it had merit-based pay, would offer it to all who deserved it. If the employer were any good, the vast majority of employees would qualify and the intent would be for a system in which all employees were outstanding and deserved and received merit pay.

    1. jrs

      maybe everyone deserves to be there, everyone in, noone out (have the basics of life that is).

      When my father was involved in his union, he fought going to merit pay, rather than COLAs, union negotiated increases etc.. Said it was a scam. And a scam it probably is.

      1. John Zelnicker

        Perhaps he felt that way because “merit pay” is so readily perverted by the supervisor’s conscious and unconscious biases. COLA’s and contracted increases generally apply to all.

  3. washunate

    Fascinating read. Ensuring a diverse student body (and workforce) is of course valuable, and the arguments from the right made against AA, EOE, and other notions are quite revealing. That leftists do allow a kernel of truth in them to persist (namely, that the best scholarships and other support tends to go to more comfortable minorities than those most in need of affirmative action) speaks to the fundamental credibility problem that leftists support many of the public policies which create inequality in the first place.

    Just to give one example of the hypocrisy, it’s easy to deride the racism of employers choosing white sounding names more often than black sounding names. Yet Democrats have enabled the two-tiered justice system which makes employment more difficult for blacks to obtain in the first place. The drug war prosecuted by our nation’s liberal cities and national politicians is far more racist in its consequences than corporate America’s HR practices.

    The fundamental problem in higher education is that it has come to possess an effective monopoly on the entrance into adulthood. The underlying socioeconomic barriers play out in childhood, long before college. That’s why universities have to use AA in the first place, both for skin color and genitalia. The subset of the population that are college-ready high school graduates is not representative of the overall population at birth.

  4. James Levy

    A great deal of what we take for intelligence is actually cultural capital. If we sound, act, and dress a certain way, we are perceived to be intelligent. If we don’t we aren’t. It seems to me that Blacks suffer from a dearth of this kind of cultural capital. You see this when an otherwise intelligent writer like James Howard Kunstler consistently implies (and sometimes outright says) that if young black men talk and dress “like thugs”, they must be thugs.

    And the idea that intelligence really counts for a great deal in how the pie is cut in this society is laughable. I’m a member of MENSA and have some pretensions to being intelligent. My membership in that organization and my former profession as a university professor brought me in touch with a great many people who are by any measure intelligent. That does not make the vast majority of them successful in the American sense. The keys to financial success are wanting to be successful more than anything else, having access to a career path that allows for financial gain, doing what your superiors want done so they advance you up the ladder, and finding a way to fit in at every rung while leaving space open to find new ways to perform/conform so as to make advancement smooth and easy. It’s a question of skill, ambition, ruthlessness, energy, and determination–deep intelligence, insight, and creativity are in no way essential, and might even be detrimental, as can be seen in the crop of “leaders” who dominate the world today.

    1. weinerdog43

      Darn tootin’ James.

      As an old white guy, it was sort of distressing to me that the young, African American woman I mentored eventually received the promotion that I had desired for myself. But I did in fact realize the shoe was on the other foot.

      Life is not always fair, and life in Corporate America is definitely not fair. But if she succeeds, I’ll be glad for her because she is both a nice person and because I’m good enough; I’m smart enough; and doggone it, people like me.

      1. LifelongLib

        Yes, I’ve helped (as best I could) a number of people who ended up passing me career-wise. And I don’t regret it for a moment. It’s one of the few good things I’ve done in this life.

    2. ekstase

      Well said. Our society really doesn’t like the boat rocked. And anyone who is really creative, really allows themselves to think for themselves is dangerous.

    3. Ulysses

      Well said! I would go further and argue that many supposedly objective “measures of intelligence,” like SATs, etc. often measure subjective markers of cultural capital– valued by bourgeois elites. I can recall, at a fairly young age, taking a standardized I.Q. test that included this question: “Which of these four doesn’t belong? a) Guernsey, b) Jersey, c) Siamese, d)Holstein.” How could even a super-brilliant kid, raised in the inner city, possibly know this? Perhaps if they read a lot of fiction written by white, suburban authors?!!?

      Elites judge as “meritorious” those who are most like them. Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man exposed forever the absurdity of I.Q. scores, etc, as having any major significance. When Binet invented I.Q. testing, he cautioned against making too much of score differences. He felt that it was only useful at the extremes, helping to identify those who wouldn’t be sufficiently challenged by “age appropriate” schoolwork, or those who would need considerable support to function in a literate and numerate world.

  5. 40yrs in the University System

    Are there no laws against this type of racist hooey? I suspect there are. Is there no process for impeaching this clearly incompetent legal mind and removing him from the bench? I suspect there is.So?

    1. hunkerdown

      Sorry, that’s the “peaceable petition for redress of grievances” that makes the Constitution so allegedly valuable. Citizens need to be able to challenge the laws that oppress them in any non-authoritarian system. That doesn’t just mean the bourgeoisie, either, whose values you seem to believe are normal.

  6. Stephen Clark

    What’s quite obvious is that Mr. Scalia has been moved up too fast. Perhaps there could be some sort of slow track Supreme Court where those who are challenged can catch up. He might even learn more about original intent of which he is so fond. The only reason he is on the court is that the founding fathers didn’t think they needed to ban Catholics, it was just understood. And his buddy Clarence Thomas would have to be content with 3/5 of a vote which John Roberts would cast for him. I thin kwe could all use a breather. Universal affirmative action and trillion dollar coins for everybody. There I feel better.

  7. gonzomarx

    I have much love for Chauncey and recommend this blog.
    I enjoy serendipitous moments like this when two blogs I like meet. Thanks

  8. craazyman

    If They Were Really Smart, This is What They’d Think

    This is a provocative post and it gets the mind working. No laying around in a vegetating state. This is mental action! It occurred to me, while in a state of mental action, that if you’re really smart, you can use math to model social relations. If you’re a white guy you can probably do this almost as well as a Chinese guy. That, right there, should tell anybody something about skin color

    it’s not being white, it’s being sort of “beige” that’s really where the intelligence is. If you’re a beige black guy, you could be smarter than a white guy. If you’re a really black black guy — stand in the sun and that will light you up. If you’re sweaty, that reflects light and you’ll shine. If a beige guy stands in the sun, he’ll shine too. It’s true equality

    The if all three of you go get a pizza and start talking about modeling social relations with math, at least you’ll sound smart. If you want a job doing that, good luck. When it comes to making money, it doesn’t matter if you’re smart or not, you have to be lucky

  9. JIm

    Can the contemporary highly centralized American State coexist with a powerful multiculturalism?

    Can anything short of nationhood–predicated on a plethora of conflicting criteria of race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation or language–result in anything else other than a multiplicity of pressure groups advocating different types of particularity as career advancement strategies?

    Is it true that this type of artificial multiculturalization tends to affect only a small proportion of minorities, leaving the rest as disempowered and alienated as ever?

    Does the emerging populism on both the left and right finally have to assume that cultural specificity will have to be defined first in territorial terms rather than ethnic, racial, religious, linguistic or other criteria?

    Would a real federalism–a type of anti-bureaucratic populism– be on a more solid theoretical ground as a basis for multiculturalism than our modern nation-state?

    Can the originality of populism be found in its vindication of people’s really existing cultures, traditions and customs?

    Can their be genuine value heterogeneity in a centralized nation-state?

    Could there ever be such a thing as a new populism which would substitute for the nation-state a multiplicity of small communities federalized with a broader framework guaranteeing both cultural particularity and unimpeded economic interaction?

  10. Lune

    The irony that is lost on Fisher is that affirmative action helps white people! Otherwise, they’d be forced out by Asians. For example, in California, after affirmative action was banned by Proposition 209, the share of white students in the UC system initially went up slightly, then began a drastic decline; most of the spots lost by the various ethnic groups were taken over by Asians, not whites.

    These days, Asian students far outnumber white students, especially in the more prestigious UC schools like Berkeley. So be careful what you wish for, Ms. Fisher: a complete reliance on test scores / grades without any consideration of ethnic or socioeconomic background might make it even harder for her ethnic group in the college admissions race.

    If she were an English literature major, she might even recognize the phrase for that: it’s called “hoist on one’s own petard”.

  11. TheCatSaid

    Yves, I’m grateful for this post, and also for your excellent article which I came across before I was a regular NC reader. (Your article impressed me so much I printed it out and still have it. I didn’t know at the time that Susan Webber = Yves at NC.)

    Regarding addressing prejudices & biases in hiring (or selection in other contexts), I have come across something that I suspect could help: Lou Adler’s “performance-based hiring”. On an e-group someone had recommended an article, “The Most Important Interview Question of All Time”. (I was intrigued because of spectacularly bad hiring decisions I’d made in the past, leading to an interest in “best practice” interviewing/HR strategies.)

    I tested this approach by interviewing my unsuspecting spouse, using Adler’s question and follow-up strategy. I taped the conversation/interview.

    The result was astounding. I learned things about my long-time spouse’s past work experience, abilities and potential I had never recognized, despite our long business & personal partnership, and despite my familiarity with skills-based conventional details (education, qualifications, experience).

    This “performance-based” interviewing approach results in a more accurate appreciation of what someone does/doesn’t have to offer, with greater likelihood to choose the best person for the actual job challenges & situation, despite the interviewer’s conscious & unconscious biases.. While the biases wouldn’t disappear, it’s my belief that this approach reduces their strength and influence–particularly the tendency to hire someone who is like ourself. It also has a better chance to avoid hiring a person who gives a good interview but disappoints when hired. (There’s a good real-life example in this post.)

  12. Paul Tioxon

    I’m old enough to have heard these arguments, which have compounded like interest, to create a rich vein of studies, critical analysis and necessary policy stands that go back to Benjamin Banneker’s letters to Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Banneker was an African American who by any standards was a genius. He composed an almanac and sold them, including many scientific based farming advice. My favorite aspect about him was that he was the first human being, according to one bio, to propose that there were sentient beings out in the universe living on other planets.

    He is the other Benjamin of early American history. Back to his letters. You can google the man and be floored about his stature in American history which of course, had he been a white guy, would have probably eclipsed Philly’s own Benjamin.
    I give you one link, and an excerpt of his famous among American Historians at least, letters to Jefferson.

    On August 19, 1791, Benjamin Banneker wrote a lengthy letter to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, in which “having taken up my pen in order to direct to you as a present, a copy of an Almanack… I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led” to develop a discourse on race and rights.

    Banneker made it a point to “freely and Cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race.” Though not himself a slave, Banneker encouraged Jefferson to accept “the indispensable duty of those who maintain for themselves the rights of human nature,” by ending the “State of tyrannical thraldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed.”

    Appealing to Jefferson’s “measurably friendly and well-disposed” attitude toward blacks, Banneker presumed that he would “readily embrace every opportunity to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions which so generally prevail with respect to us.”

    After acknowledging that by writing to Jefferson he was taking “a liberty which Seemed to me scarcely allowable,” considering “the almost general prejudice and prepossession which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion,” Banneker launched into a critical response to Jefferson’s published ideas about the inferiority of blacks.

    With restrained passion, Banneker chided Jefferson and other framers of the Declaration of Independence for the hypocrisy “in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the Same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.”

    Citing Jefferson’s own words from the Declaration — the “Self-Evident” truth “that all men are created equal” — Banneker challenged Jefferson and his fellows “to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with respect to” African Americans.”




    1. TheCatSaid

      Wow! Thanks for that synopsis & links.

      One of my favorites from that period: Joseph Boulogne Chavalier de Saint Georges, Guadeloupe-born violin virtuoso, conductor, composer, champion fencer and swordsman (1745-1799). He conducted the leading orchestra in Paris, and was Colonel of the first French all-black regiment, fighting for the Republic. He’s supposedly the first composer of classical music of African ancestry.

    1. TheCatSaid

      Screens = blind auditions, more equitable results. In theory, at least. Some places do find ways around it.

      You’re perhaps already familiar with Abbie Conant’s unbelievable 16-year fight to carry out her position as principal trombonist of the Munich Philmarmonic (after being selected in audition whose first round was held behind a screen). This article tells the remarkable story. You can’t make this stuff up; truth exceeds fiction once again. The article won a “Best of the Web” award.

  13. Jim in SC

    I have always thought of affimative action in higher education to be best considered in two parts: law school and everything else. African-Americans have long suffered from a lack of African-American lawyers. In the early part of the 20th century, black farmers and non-farmers owned between 16 and 19 million acres. This figure is now down to 7.7 million acres. There are many causes of this loss–see below–but most boil down to a lack of legal counsel and the lack of a predisposition to seek it.


    Upping the African-American bar passage rate is a laudable goal. Would the average African-American law student have a better chance of passing the bar if they attended what used to be called a ‘black letter’ law school? I don’t know. There are conflicting analyses, and the bar exam itself is a moving target. The test is getting harder, for one thing, and bar passage rates are dropping across the board.

  14. Steve

    Scalia asks a question. A question aimed at a lawyer who should have been well prepared to answer.
    A question if answered well (as in the above commentary) could have the effect of winning the lawyers case swaying the rest of the judges listening.
    He is branded a racist. For asking a question. And this is done by those who claim to be educated and enlightened.

    FWIW college is overpriced and over-rated.

  15. Steve

    I see my post was deleted. Censorship I did not expect.
    Thank you …. Yves… I really appreciate your work. But..
    This years will have been my last donation.


  16. Italian Irish in NJ

    When were Irish, Italian and Eastern European Catholics welcomed as members into the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASPs) establishment and given the institutional benefits of White Privelege?

    Why has there been no affirmative action for these historically discriminated groups? The irony of affirmative action policies is the very racist ideology that White Privelege benefits All White People. Equally flawed is racist ideology that all black and brown people are disadvantaged without differentiating between civil rights era Black Americans , and recent Black or Brown immigrants from the rest of the world. Moreover, affirmative action policies don’t even differentiate between Asian Americans and Asian Nationals, the later of which are allowed to carpet bag the only country in the world with a diversity policy.

    Tragically, the simplicity of White Privelege vs non white’s creates a gaming of the system by Asian Privelege which mostly hurts the American Blacks the system is trying to help.

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