Sunday, July 25, 2010

White Anxiety - Everything Old is New Again?

Ross Douthat's concern about "white anxiety" has been thoroughly addressed by others, both for its analytical and factual errors. But there are a couple of aspects to the editorial I have not yet seen addressed.

But first, an andecdote. When I was in law school - a law school at which, strangely enough, law students did discuss controversial issues - one of my classmates lamented, "If it weren't for affirmative action I would be at a better school." Another classmate shot back, "You're at the University of Michigan Law School. Exactly how much better can you do?"

One of the themes of people sympathetic to Douthat's apparent position that affirmative action programs are unfair to white students is that it's in many ways a favor to minorities to keep them out of top law school programs. If they go to less elite schools, it is argued, they will do better, be more likely to graduate, have better job prospects, and incur less debt. Should I be puzzled that I never hear those arguments raised by people who speak of "white anxiety" and the unfairness of affirmative action to white students? Programs that favor alumni over better qualified students? Again, it seems that there's no mention unless it's horror at the idea of their ending.

So, which is it? Is it a favor to keep incoming students in schools and programs that aren't above their on-paper GPA's and test scores? Or is it a horror that will lead to race resentment? Surely I'm not to accept that it's the former when we're speaking of minorities and the latter when we're speaking of white students. Further, as the anecdote above illustrates, if you're talking about somebody who is qualified for a top school they're likely to get into a top school, even if one of those schools utilizes non-academic criteria to favor the child of an alumnus, or racial or geographic diversity.

Also, Douthat notes,
In March of 2000, Pat Buchanan came to speak at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. Harvard being Harvard, the audience hissed and sneered and made wisecracks. Buchanan being Buchanan, he gave as good as he got. While the assembled Ivy Leaguers accused him of homophobia and racism and anti-Semitism, he accused Harvard — and by extension, the entire American elite — of discriminating against white Christians.
Buchanan's been playing the "white anxiety" card for as long as I can remember. So why is it that when Buchanan writes about the issue today, he writes as if it's a new, post-election issue that's somehow attributable to President Obama, and not an issue he's been hammering since his time in the Nixon White House?

And why, if the issue is to shed light as opposed to heat, are we focusing on a situation that is alien to most Americans - getting into, say, Harvard or Yale - as opposed to something within their own probable experience?

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