Apr 24, 2023·edited Apr 24, 2023Liked by Steve QJ

People get into a stink about affirmative action in university admission when they think it favors black people. What they don’t realize ó the extent to which it protects white people too.

If admissions were based on academic achievement alone, universities would be mostly Asian. Not because Asians are smarter, but because of the strong cultural emphasis on achievement.

Expand full comment

"Not because Asians are smarter, but because of strong cultural emphasis on achievement."

I wonder what would happen if university admission were purely merit based. Financial aid could be given to students who were capable but couldn't afford to go, but no legacy admissions, no extra-curricular weighting (this also disadvantages poor people), just a "how accomplished are you academically" standard.

There are a bazillion things I don't know about education, so I know there are countless problems I'm not thinking of here. But it's always seemed odd to me that university admission is anything but merit based. University feels like far too late to be giving kids a leg-up if they need extra help academically.

Surely it would be better to focus extra resources on kids when they're younger, so that they don't arrive at university with achievement gaps and only 3-4 years to fix them.

Expand full comment

I think merit-only would be a bad idea. A kid who has managed to achieve above-average in a poor home where the TV is never off, parents offer no help, constant racket and stress, may have in college the first opportunity to take off and grow.

I will never forget going to the home of one of my partner's Vietnamese friends, Saturday night and the kids are all at the dining table studying. Dad is just there letting them work, encouraging by presence alone.

I will also never forget the kid who came in 2nd in his whole school of over a thousand on the aptitudes, expecting congratulations. Instead the parents turned away. "why were you not 1st?"

Expand full comment

"I think merit-only would be a bad idea. A kid who has managed to achieve above-average in a poor home where the TV is never off, parents offer no help, constant racket and stress, may have in college the first opportunity to take off and grow."

Yeah, I do agree. Like I said, what bothers me is that this first opportunity is pretty late in the day for that kid. I can't believe there aren't good ways to offer that support earlier in life.

"why were you not 1st."

Yikes. that's heartbreaking.

Expand full comment
Apr 24, 2023·edited Apr 24, 2023Liked by Steve QJ

There are so many influences.

My youngest (adopted) daughter arrived in America with no English and a different alphabet. One thing that Arizona does right is Enough immersion.

At school she was in total language isolation. Her incentive to learn English was high. 1st year, I did her homework with her helping. 2nd year, she did it with me helping. 3rd year, I inspected.

The Spanish speaking kids took much longer because there are so many Spanish speakers here. No social isolation.

Then there is parental help in other ways. One of my daughters was having difficulty learning multiplication tables. Note from teacher. The days of the Commodore 64. I wrote a program that quizzed her and gave a happy/neutral/sad face result. Made it fun. In a few days, note from teacher, she has advanced beyond the rest of the class, what did you do? Does the child have a parent who can and will help with the learning process.

For my youngest daughter's science fair project she had asked me about the seasonal sunlight hours difference in Arizona and Thailand. I had her do, with guidance from me, a lat/lon calculation using a home made sextant to shoot the North Star for true North elevation angle and the shortest shadow length for true noon vs WWV time for distance into the time zone. The novelty may have been a factor, but she got first place. What I noticed was that the kids with good projects had dads standing with them checking out the dads of the other kids with good projects. Engineers from Honeywell, Intel, Motorola most likely it seemed. Again, parents capable and who will take the time to help.

How does a kid with a Spanish speaking single mom with two jobs compete with that?

None of that is about tooting my own horn. It's about the advantage of having educated parents with time and inclination to provide help and guidance.

As an aside, by the time my multiplication table daughter made it to HS she was a paid tutor. In business school she had her own accounting/tax prep business so when she earned her degree in Accountancy, she already had the required experience to test and obtain her CPA. Now a partner in an accounting firm. She did it, I'm not taking credit. But ask, how much difference in what she came home to made.

Expand full comment

Very cool. Well done.

My first partner was a Tejano and taught ESL to a mixture of Latino and Asian kids from several language groups. He spoke Spanish with the Latino kids a lot.

One day he told me that the Asian kids were learning both English and Spanish. They didn't know that they were supposed to be learning only English. "Colors." ¡Si! ¡Colores!

My second was Malaysian Chinese. He spoke Cantonese at home. In kindergarten (!) the kids began learning

* Mandarin

* Malay

* English

at the same time. And they thought nothing of it. Kindergarten.

When we went to Malaysia, whose language he had not spoken in many years, he talked to the taxi driver in Malay like a native speaker. He spoke six languages, four of them Chinese dialects (Hakka and Hokkien were the others; his mother was Hakka) and thought nothing of it.

Expand full comment

We have a number of Vietnamese friends. Their children it to the 3rd generation the children all speak accented English because they learn Vietnamese first.

My wife was at a friend's house a couple of days ago. She remarked that's their dog understood Vietnamese but not English. "What language did you speak at home?"

Thai is a tonal language, and my damaged ears have difficulty with that. I once had "market That" ability and knew enough of the alphabet to make menu decisions and navigate. I always had the "that's what I said" "no you didn't" problem. If you can't hear the nuisance, you can't speak it. Mispronunciations in Thai can be beyond embarrassing, they could get you in a fight.

Expand full comment

Can we explore some ideas here? I don't have pre-formed solutions to propose.

If a college cannot accept everybody who applies, then they have to filter the applicants somehow (even if it was by first come first served or by lottery). Instead there's usually filtering by some other criteria, but to what purpose? To select the applicants who are most likely to succeed academically? Or those who have somehow "earned" admission? Or what?

"Merit" is sometimes an unfortunate word in this context, as it has a degree of connotation of moral judgement, like that anybody who was not admitted didn't "deserve" admission.

But what if the concept was to pick those who are most likely to (1) be able to succeed and benefit from the kind and level of education a given college is good at providing, and (2) be able to contribute to the intellectual environment of the college, other students, and eventually the world (through intellectual creations that benefit the world). In other words, to find the most productive matches, rather than to reward the deserving? This puts it on more of a pragmatic framing, rather than moral.

Suppose that a moderately good student applies to a top notch university, but that student really is not prepared to handle the coursework at the university. A moral argument could be made that IF that student was actually accomplishing quite a bit, from their personal background, to even be above average - so they should be given a slot on that basis. But a contriving a good moral argument doesn't make somebody well enough prepared to succeed, and admitting a student whom experience indicates is likely to fail, wasting their time and money as well as the school's (and the admissions slot that another better prepared student could have thrived within) may not make sense in the larger picture.

So this moderately good student, who is doing remarkably well given their background, might well do better in a lesser school.

This 'matching for best outcome' process is sometimes called "merit based" but it's more about pragmatic optimization than *moral* merit.

There is room for judgement here of course. Perhaps there is good reason to believe that a given moderately good student is likely to adapt and thrive in a tough educational competitive environment, so it would be mutually beneficial (see above) to give them priority over another student for limited space.

That subjective evaluation can also be bent towards political agendas, of course.

I think that one problem is lack of a closed feedback loop for self-correction. Suppose that a university tracked which students were admitted based on a given admission officer's subjective judgements, and tracks the progress of all students. If over time, the real world feedback (averaged over many students to reduce noise) shows that a given officer's subjective judgements of predicted success are too often wrong, they could be given feedback to become less optimistic. On the other hand, an admissions officer who never takes a chance would also show up in the stats.

Anyway, I think it's important to distinguish between "merit" seen as a morally neutral assessment of likelihood of success, and "merit" seen as a moral judgement of a person, as a matter of "fairness".


background context:

One of my themes is that a dysfunctional or counterproductive policy doesn't magically become functional and productive just because someone constructs a moral argument around the cause or outcome the policy is nominally justified by. For example, a policy intended to reduce racial bias but which in the real world increases it, cannot be justified by moral arguments about how important it is to reduce racial bias.

One of the common rhetorical tools of Critical Social Justice ideology is to shift disputes about truth or pragmatic issues, into a subjective tarpit of moral and emotional reframings where its other rhetorical tools and weaponization of guilt gives it the advantage. Companies MUST implement a CSJ based DEI program, not because that program has a record of success in improving conditions, but because racism and sexism are so terrible. Metrics of success are irrelevant when Black women and children are being gunned down in the streets every day by racist cops! How can you talk about statistics when a person's very identity is being erased from the planet, you monster!

I'm trying to keep the issue of college admissions from falling into the fringes of this dynamic.

Expand full comment

"Merit" is sometimes an unfortunate word in this context, as it has a degree of connotation of moral judgement, like that anybody who was not admitted didn't "deserve" admission."

Merit in this context is simply a euphemism for ability. How well did the student do on test scores or taking part in extracurricular work. It has no connotation about judgment, which, incidentally, has no central E in American English. "Judgement" is Commonwealth, though, as with "grey," it's in common enough use that it isn't flagged anymore.

I'm of mixed feelings in setting lower standards for people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, that being the topiic of thiis column, but in the end I come down on the side of doing it. Because any kid who manages to rrxcel academically despite uh socioeconomic disadvantages is likelier to have the motivation to grow in college and deserves admission more than someone who excelled a little more but came from a privileged background.

Expand full comment

Let's agree that for this discussion, "merit" refers to demonstrated ability, not to morality.

You say a person coming from less advantage "deserves admission more than someone who excelled *a little more* but came from a privileged background."

[core assertion I take from your post follows below, will reference]

That seems to argue for merit based admission, albeit with a more nuanced concept of academic merit than a just a point in time assessment of current ability. A fuller concept of merit would take into account that an individual who had to overcome disadvantages to get to a given level of ability, has a brighter prognosis for succeeding academically in the future, than a student who achieved a little better but did not have those disadvantages.

In a sense, you are arguing that any predictions of future academic performance should consider the trendline or slope, not just a point in time assessment, in the assessment of merit.

So you present an argument for a "little bit" of "positive discrimination" (UK term; usually called by the more opaque euphemism "Affirmative Action" in the US), based on a better predictor of individual future performance which takes into account not just current ability, but also trendline, in predicting that person's future academic success.

So far, so good. That's a pretty easy sell - preserve a wiser meritocracy by taking a broader scope in predicting future success when deciding admissions, and making minor adjustments.

Where it gets tricky in in practice.

(1) Are the adjustments minor or major? Is it putting less-advantages beneficiaries ahead of peers who "excelled a little more" or "excelled a lot more".

The admissions offices desperately try to avoid any transparency on that issue, keeping stats about magnitude of "positive discrimination" a closely held secret. Why? The only disclosure I know of was due to the Asian student suit against Harvard, which forced the latter to disclose that there was a 250-280 point SAT gap between thresholds for being solicited, and about a 120 point gap between averages for those admitted, between Asian Americans and African Americans. (Whites and Latinos were in between). A difference that large could move people many thousands of places ahead in the queue. Is that just "excelled a little more"?

There is likely a reason that no admissions office ever voluntarily releases such statistics, which they could do to show they are only make tiny adjustments.

2) Are these Positive Discrimination adjustments being made based on a more nuanced and accurate assessment of real academic potential? If taking appropriate account of the trendline as well as the snapshot of ability produces better predictions of academic success, that should show up in the stats. If they track how well beneficiaries of PD perform over the course of their academic experiences, that could show that the admissions office's wiser predictions are paying off. But if the stats show that PD recipients underperform their non-PD peers, then maybe the admissions office is not using a wiser and more accurate assessment of merit after all.

A policy which is justified based on a "wiser meritocracy" (per the original assertion), can actually be implemented based on a very anti-meritocratic ideology instead.

And the admissions offices consider any data on the effective criteria by which they grant favors to be another deeply held secret, along with any data reflecting whether their adjustments paid off for the school, the students, or society. This operates in strict darkness, allergic to transparency.

3) Advantage and disadvantage are predominantly individual. The variance within a large population group (eg: race) is FAR larger than the variance between group means. Individuals of all groups can be personally advantaged or disadvantaged. Treating individuals as if their ability or advantage/disadvnatage is primarily determined by their race, rather than varying individually, is absurd today.

Backing up, the paragraph labeled "core assertion" above does not mention race. For example, it could apply to a person of any race whose high school academic performance is unusually good given their personal history. If they had to overcome disadantage to achieve their current merit/ability, then their future prospects may be higher than somebody with the same current merit/ability who did not have such disadvantages to overcome.

That rationale is more about socio-economic class, than about race. But it's used to justify blanket polices which are intended to systematically apply positive discrimination based on group membership, not individual circumstances.

Apparently, from reports, nearly all of the Black students in the Ivy League schools, come from middle to upper middle class families and had the advantage of educated parents, good schools and a network of high achieving acquaintances - not from urban ghettos. That is, many of the benefits of Positive Discrimination go to the most advantaged subsets of a population group, while being sold as if they were primarily going to the most disadvantaged subset of that population group. There's some degree of bait and switch going on, to evoke emotional respnses and inhibit critical thinking.


What this comes down to is that we can accept the "wiser meritocracy" arguments of the "core assertion", without automatically agreeing that the current implementation of Positive Discrimination are actually adhering to it's principles in practice.

Beware the bait and switch tactic. "Shouldn't we give an individual some minor bonus for having personally overcome disadvantages" gets transformed into a mandate for ideology based administrators to use their power to attempt to reshape society without need for transparency or accountability.

I support some of the arguments for positive discrimination - but I see any kind of racial discrimination to be akin to to chemotherapy - using something which is inherently toxic and dangerous in carefully limited doses and carefully monitored treament for limited time, based on evidence that this is statistically likely to result in more good than harm, and always subject to modification based on observed actual effects. I do not see current PD applied in even vaguely that manner, which makes me suspect that the good intentions may have been hijacked by people with vested interests which are not openly disclosed for discussion.

I call for much more transparency as a first step. If the programs are actually producing positive results, I will support them. But if they are hiding bad results, then they need to be reformed and reshaped to better implement that goals they were created to serve. If they desperately have to avoid transparency, that's a bad sign.

Expand full comment

My children felt cursed by the dual cultural influence of their parents.

Me: Don't come home with a report that says could do better, isn't putting best effort, etc. I just wanted them to do their best.

Wife: That's not an A.

Expand full comment

My estimation of the problem is not that it's fundamentally a bad idea but that it counteracts the business model of universities who think they have been doing the right thing since the term Affirmative Action was invented. Ask them what their edifice of diversity is and they will point back to decades of growth of their administration to professor ratio in service of the 'student community'. That will not be means tested against the overall quality of their educational product as compared to that of other first world nations.

There is nothing at all wrong with the less competitive standards of land grant schools, state university systems, community colleges and other types of non-scam forms of higher education. But when it comes to any university that considers itself academically competitive, its cherry-picking of any sort of 'minority' to round out the social experience of undergraduates is the worst kind of quota. Most people recognize the over-representation of such marginalized tokens in glossy marketing aimed at teenagers and parents. But not so many are aware of how much more successful people apt to get a 3.4 GPA actually fare at teaching oriented schools as compared to research oriented schools.

Speaking personally about achievement gaps as an adult collegian entering 4 years after my high school graduation. I can tell you unequivocally that the quality of math instruction in K12 public schools is horrible relatively speaking. Competent math instruction is at such a premium, I would not be surprised to see something like only 10% of K12 math teachers actually having a degree in mathematics. The ability of math teachers to explain multiple approaches to calculus or statistics is invaluable. So many just don't have that skill.

These are the sorts of means testing we should focus on, but the symbology of race rules these discussions to the detriment of all. This is the nature of institutional racism - that we track race at all given the complexity of human attributes and individual history we don't bother to consider.

Expand full comment

Affirmative Action causes white students with mid-range grades not to be accepted, and it especially hurts Asian students, but it hurts a lot of black students in another way. Black students with low grades - who wouldn't otherwise be admittable to top universities - are being recruited by Ivy League schools *because* they're black, so that these universities can claim to be fulfilling their DIE (diversity, inclusion and equity) requirements. But when students with low grades get thrown into competitive environments at Ivy League colleges, it turns out they are not prepared to work at the level of their peers, so they tend to get discouraged and drop out altogether and thus never complete their degree.

It turns out that black students with low grades have a higher success rate if they go to community college, because community college has all kinds of remedial programs and support for students who are a little behind, to help them get caught up (whichy Ivy Leagues schools very much don't). So black students who enter college with low grades have a higher rate of graduation if they go, not to Ivy League colleges, but to their local community college first, and transfer to a four-year college later after completing a general AA at community college.

Expand full comment

Retrospectively, I don't see why anyone would do the first two years at an expensive university, freshman and sophomore are so generic.

I had already placed second in the state science fair and been sent to the international in chemistry (I met Glenn Seaborg there) so I was a whiz but I lost interest in chemistry after a while, those two years at Purdue were mainly a chance to do a lot of LSD.

As for remedial, I needed that in math really badly, and ended up getting my degree in math beecause I was so sick of not knowing it well enough. Story of my life: don't run away from problems, run toward them.

Expand full comment

My daughters went to community college for the first two years before going to ASU. $$$.

Expand full comment

Wish I could upvote this more than once. I have been saying this for 30 years.

Expand full comment

And that's why I've attempted to stop using the terms "racism" or "racist" online - the terms have been unilaterally (and in my view, smugly) redefined by activists, and so at best you wind up arguing (mostly unproductively) about definitions rather than content. At worst, people just argue past each other, implicitly referring to different things and making no sense to each other.

Also, even without recent redefinitions, when the same term is used for anything from lynchings to teaching kids standard English in school, it's both inherently confusing and easily weaponized to borrow extreme emotional valence from one end of the spectrum to exaggerate the seriousness of something at the other end. "Racism" has become a huge amorphous blob concept, not much better than, say, "scientists say".

So instead I decided to exclusively (as best I can remember) use the terms "racial prejudice", "racial discrimination", "racial bias", "racial stereotyping", "racial hatred" etc. in discussion with strangers. Even DiAngelo etc agree that all races can do these things to all races, so it circumvents a tiring and predictable replay of the same old metadiscussion.

Perhaps a new term like "racial patronization" would be useful to add to that vocabulary, for the "low expectations" form you reference in the article. (Acknowledging that it's a subform of racial bias and racial stereotyping).

An unexpected benefit is that I found that deciding more specifically which term to use was clarifying for me as well. I suggest readers try this in their own writing and see how it goes.

I recall a study which found from video recorded interactions that liberals tend to simplify their vocabulary and sentence structure when speaking to an unknown Black person, while conservatives tend to verbally treat them more as equals. I believe that when critical social justice ideology promotes empathy for the downtrodden by centering "the poor oppressed who need our help" in their conscious and unconscious, it reinforces negative unconscious stereotypes of functional inferiority. A typical white progressive's internal model of a archetypical Black person is often somebody barely literate living in urban poverty and oppression by police - and they can have trouble recognizing that a majority of Black folks are middle class or above today. (There are differences in the economic stats between races, but not as stark as their internal model would have it.)

My spouse grew up in Geneva, and tells of how when visiting New York on family leave, her mother automatically spoke French to the serving staff. In that case, she would obviously catch herself when they looked in confusion, but a liberal automatically speaking simplified language to Black people would typically would never realize it - although a message can be sent anyway.

If CSJ advocates were serious about "micro-aggressions" and rooting out their own "unconscious biases", they would take this as a key element to reform about themselves, but (in my view) since this "being kind to our oppressed lessors" with a corresponding boost to one's own moral status (at least in one's own unconscious) is one of the unacknowledged psychological payoffs powering the adoption and spread of the ideology, this tends to be pushed out of consciousness.

Expand full comment
Apr 24, 2023·edited Apr 28, 2023Author

"Also, even without recent redefinitions, when the same term is used for anything from lynchings to teaching kids standard English in school, it's both inherently confusing and easily weaponized to borrow extreme emotional valence from one end of the spectrum to exaggerate the seriousness of something at the other end. "Racism" has become a huge amorphous blob concept, not much better than, say, "scientists say"."

I love this entire paragraph. It maps so well onto my frustration with the weaponisation of language and the flattening out of the concept of racism. We're at a point in society where I simply don't want to hear about people being asked "where are you from," or feeling like they're being watched too closely in their local convenience store.

Yes, this is racism, or racial stereotyping/bias, but there are so many more pressing problems affecting people of colour. And writing academic theses about it won't change the attitudes of the convenience store owner or the geographically curious stranger. The influence of academia on racial discourse (and, in fact, any social justice discourse) has been pretty much wholly negative.

Where I use the phrase "pretty much" solely to allow for the possibility that there's a positive case that I'm not currently thinking of.

Expand full comment
May 6, 2023·edited May 6, 2023Liked by Steve QJ

THIS! Exactly. I have the same issue with feminism, which has gone down a similar path of treating the smallest slight as though it were necessarily an extension of a world conspiracy to subjugate and abuse women. There is a world of difference between being sexually assaulted, on the one hand, and being "mansplained" to by a dude who assumes I'm a helpless bimbo, on the other. I don't relish either experience, but they are worlds apart, and pretending they're not diminishes our perception of the harm caused by true victimization. Furthermore, claiming that 'society' is somehow responsible for enabling attitudes that necessarily lead to acts of rape minimizes the responsibility of actual rapists for their crimes.

Expand full comment

I try to avoid the whole set: racism, sexism, homophobia (stupid word), transphobia (ditto), misogyny .... since they all come in one piece, I just use “bigotry.”

Expand full comment

Actually, I consider that to be somewhat of a hijacked word as well. Originally it meant intolerance of differing opinion. From Webster:

"obstinate or intolerant devotion to one's own opinions and prejudices : the state of mind of a bigot"

One can still find this, and very similar, in most dictionaries. By which standard many CSJ ideologues would easily qualify. One could be intolerantly and obstinately devote to their own opinions and prejudices as a conservative or liberal, as racist or anti-racist, as Muslim or atheist or Christian or Buddhist.

However, the term "bigotry" is now more often used in public by activists on the left, in reference to the other side, so it's used as if it just meant "racist but even more so". Or perhaps some other -ist. So newer dictionaries, being descriptive rather than prescriptive, tend to include this new usage as well.

So we may need to fall back on "zealotry" or "dogmatism" to partially capture what "bigotry" used to mean.

Expand full comment
Apr 24, 2023Liked by Steve QJ

Thomas’ examples of current systemic racism are all a product of low and/or unstable income and of voting Democratic. The per pupil spending claim is not factually correct--compare DC to Utah. Much of the lowest per pupil spending is in rural areas mainly white but also black.

The former status is indeed partially rooted in Jim Crow, but there are no longer Jim Crow laws to repeal. The problem is poverty. The sub prime crisis was driven in part to address the lack of credit available to people including minorities with unstable credit. When it blew up in 2008, many academics argued that the provision of easy credit that ultimately was not affordable was racist. Heads you win tails you lose.

Unless you can identify specific reforms, claims of systemic racism are useless and a distraction. Racism is a hearts and minds thing and poverty is best addressed by addressing poverty.

Expand full comment

"Unless you can identify specific reforms, claims of systemic racism are useless and a distraction."

Exactly. 'Twas always thus. From the very beginning of the civil rights movements, campaigners *campaigned* for legitimate, measurable change. For laws. For policies. Modern social justice activism seems so much more focused on finding ways to blame racism for problems than addressing those problems effectively.

I'll make the bold claim that in 2023, there are hardly any problems that are based on skin colour. Most problems that disproportionately affect black people are based on wealth inequality. And affect disproportionately black people because black people are disproportionately poor. This is a serious problem of course. And speaks clearly to the legacy of racism. But it also suggests a more helpful lens for fixing those problems. The fixing of which would disproportionately *benefit* black people.

It's so frustrating that MLK was saying literally exactly this 60 years ago. Even while segregation and Jim Crow *were* based on skin colour. And yet here we are still infighting instead of taking effective action.

Expand full comment

So well said

Expand full comment

"Academically accepted" - That doesn't mean much anymore given the low quality state of education there now. I'm really coming to believe more and more that trade schools are the way to go. I say this sadly, as when I went to school it was about moving outside the insular barely-there intellectual bubble of high school and expanding one's horizons, but now that students are customers with a narcissistic view of what they want to learn, and not challenge their values or belief systems, I don't know that university serves a purpose anymore unless you really have to be there (like for a law or medical degree).

Glenn Loury & John McWhorter, as you know, speak at length about lowering expectations for black students in high-achievement schools in the name of DEI. How white & Asian kids have to have much higher grades, and more impressive achievements to get into certain schools whereas black kids just have to have good grades, but not higher than average. It *is* a bigotry of low expectations and often these kids can't compete - they don't have the study habits, motivation and drive these other kids have - so they fail, drop out, and that surely doesn't serve the cause of equity or equality in the slightest.

I just started reading Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks & White Liberals" and the first essay touches on *where* the traditional negative stereotypes of black Southerners come from - lazy, into overly-emotional religion, ignorant, violent, licentious, etc. - and the answer is, they inherited this from white Southerners who were characterized exactly the same way, not just in the US but back in the hinterlands of Ireland and Scotland where they were exactly the hillbillies & rednecks so many of us have come to disdain. He makes his case for how white Southerners *did* embody those stereotypes and it's where southern blacks got it - and how northern blacks were more industrious and educated (he even makes a case for the descendants of slaves who came from more educated households having those same values, and passing them down through the generations).

The book was published in 2005 so it might be a bit dated, not sure, but it's begun to answer a question I asked rhetorically last year here that no one really had a firm answer on - Why were white Southerners so brutal to black slaves? (Some challenged the contention that it was light-years worse than any other slavery institution). The answer may begin with that the rednecks who came to settle in the South rather than the more centrally English who settled in New England were far more violent and, frankly, savage by our standards, with a retributive justice system that formed the basis of lynching (which pretty much only happened to white men until *after* the Civil War and freed blacks) and a love affair with torture, dismemberment and bloodshed (duels were fought mano-a-mano, not with guns, and the options were 'fair fight' or 'rough and tumble', the latter often being the preferred choice not just by the spectators, but by the duellers themselves. It described one battle in which the loser lost both ears, had both eyes gouged out, and had his nose bitten off.

Anyway...to get back to the bigotry of low expectations, according to Sowell that's where they came from, and he notes, as Shelby Steele has, that black people need to deal with a culture of lack of valuing education and achievement and to stop considering success 'acting white'.

Expand full comment

I mean positive discrimination in college admission favoring low incomes as opposed to racial categories.

I attended a very liberal elite undergraduate private college. Even back in the late 70s, the majority of the Black students came from wealth and good schools. I had and have no idea whether and to what extent racial preferences helped with their admission, but what I do know is that people of all races in this economic demographic generally had the chops to flourish there and indeed they did.

There was a smaller contingent of students who came from real tough backgrounds both socially and economically. They mostly struggled both academically and socially. These are the people who need a leg up.

One alternative to income based affirmative action is automatic admission to the top 10% of any public high school in the state, irrespective of the income or academic ranking of the high school.

Expand full comment

Thanks for explaining.

I agree with your focus on individual circumstances, rather than basing admissions on population group membership. Still pondering the details tho.

I want to note that need-based financial support is often not be considered positive "discrimination". But you may have been suggesting admission and hiring discrimination, like admitting a less qualified poor person over a more qualified middle class person - but based on family income rather than group membership.


The top 10% of high school graduates can be a large number, so I'm guessing that you mean "automatic admission to some state college or university" rather than to a particular university, right? And if so, would you support admissions matching those students with a most compatible university?

John McWhorter points out that Black success in California universities did not drop after positive discrimination was prohibited by the voters; the students still went to college but were not differentially admitted to colleges above their level of ability and preparation. As a result, they are spread through the spectrum of the universities they attend, rather than being encouraged to overreach and clustering near the bottom of their classes, transfer to easier majors, and have lower completion rates (more debt without extra income if they drop out). Basically, he says that on the whole, being admitted through AA/PD to schools above one's ability is not a blessing.

And that's not about race. Systemically admitting students of any race to colleges above their current ability would not be blessing them. A program which granted easier admission above preparation to applicants with surnames beginning with letters K-M would also produce such effects.


In some schools, one can read at an 8th grade level and still be in the top 10%. I'm astounded at how bad significant portions of the system have become, even inside liberal states. So there may need to be some sort of expanded pre-college remediation program - provided by community colleges and/or others. However the question would be: does it make the most sense to base admission to such programs on income on the need for remediation?

As I see it, the core qualifier for a remediation program should be the need for remediation. Using income would be an unneccessary and inexact proxy for that (as would be using race or national origin etc). Why use something which partially correlates with the relevant factors, when you can use the factor itself?

Expand full comment

I completely agree about the racism of low expectations being the most damaging. It just makes me cringe. That is why I have favored income-based affirmative action since I was an undergraduate in the late 70s.

Expand full comment

Could you describe what you mean by "income based affirmative action"?

I ask because "affirmative action" (which the British sometimes more honestly and descriptively call "positive discrimination") is generally used to specifically contrast interventions based on group membership versus the needs based (or income based) interventions of a conventional welfare state. So I'm not sure if you are just using "affirmative action" in a broader sense, or if you are proposing some new hybrid policy.

Expand full comment

My reply is in a separate comment. Pressed the wrong reply button!

Expand full comment

"And too many black people enjoy the cloak of victimhood too much to admit that their lives are already mostly free of racism."

"Mostly" because low expectations is often a well cloaked and hard to prove racism which does matter.

An engineer, who was a black man, once told me that he thought he was not getting respected by receiving challenging and interesting assignments/projects. How does one prove that. Had an MSEE. I didn't, but I got the challenging and interesting projects that all engineers crave. My white privilege? Black people with low expectations of the system might say yes. Could I blame them for thinking that? I'll be honest, I was happy to get respect and challenging projects. I worked my ass off for it. But so did he.

That stuff remains because while not quite stealthy, it is hard to prove.

Expand full comment

Or to disprove.

Which allows people to make different assumptions which suit their confirmation bias, not easily subject to objective falsification.

On both sides.

Expand full comment

Okay wait. What ARE the "four academically accepted categories of racism"? The "highlighted quote" is ... absent from the article. And I really want to know what someone thinks are the four "academically accepted" categories of racism.

Expand full comment

"The "highlighted quote" is ... absent from the article."

Haha, yeah, the quote is in Thomas' second reply. But yes, he isn't super clear about what the four "accepted" categories are.

Expand full comment

My inferred from the article answer would be, 1. systemic, 2. "where are you from" (perpetually a foreign outsider), 3. in your face racial bigoted magic word insulter, 4. low expectations. Steve can straighten me out if he had something else in mind.

Expand full comment

I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that many of the school districts in the country that spend the most per student are majority-minority, including New York and DC. Some states that have low-per pupil spending are mostly white (Alaska) and some aren't, like Alabama. I'm guessing unions have a lot to do with this, but see here and go to the Google:


Expand full comment

Wow, I've been perusing that link and I am stunned, by many things.

Either the assessments are wildly inaccurate, or our society is in far deeper trouble than I had realized (and I knew it was bad).

The statewide percentage of students at or above proficiency is absurdly low.

In that context, schools in my county with <50% proficiency in math and in language (like varying from 10-50%) can be in the top 30% statewide and rated 8/10. To get a rating of 5/10, proficiencies need to be down to single digits.

The most troubled schools (mostly alternative or charter) tend towards a 10:1 student/teacher ratio, but the few truly near the top (90+% proficiency) tend to be more like 25-30:1, exactly opposite of what I had heard was a key factor. I assume that's because resources are being poured into the challenged schools, without much improvement. (The data goes back long before the pandemic and continues through it).

On the other hand, the California school districts with the highest budgets per student (eg: spending $740K per student in a small district in San Francisco) are not doing well either. Do they really average almost 3/4 million bucks per year per student, or is there some confounding factor enormously distorting the figures?

Can a highly leveraged high tech society survive based on a small fraction of highly competent people, along with a majority who are poorly educated? Especially in a political context of weaponized resentments and divisions, and a desire for universal benefits? Where "equity" is implemented by removing advanced classes so the more competent fraction cannot get further ahead, rather than by bringing up the less competent? It sounds like the recipe for some dystopian cyberpunk future.

I'm too depressed to check other states tonight.

Expand full comment

Traditionally, the amount of money available per student is a product of the property values of taxable land in the district, and the tax ratio that voters in that district assess to themselves to support their community's valuation of education, divided by the number of students. A district with lower property values, lower tax rates, or more children per household would inherently thus have less funding per student.

Recognizing the value of better equality of opportunity through education, my state (among others) has eliminated and reversed that historical trend. The state provides targeted funding which first equalizes the total (local + state) per student, but then adds more to the districts which have more challenges, so the marginalized districts have the highest funding. I support that program.

However, I am sad to relate that so far there has been barely any budge in the performance statistics as a result. Perhaps someday that will change, but it's looking like differences in school funding may not be the primary driving factor in unequal outcomes, which is a shame because it's a comparatively easy (if not cheap) intervention.

It appears to me as an outsider that some sources of differential outcomes between districts with larger causative weights may be outside the Overton window of acceptable discussion in this state. It would appear that some causes can only be mentioned if they can be framed in consistency with the dominant oppression ideology. Sadly, "reinforce the dominant narrative at all costs" seems to be more important than "discover the empirical truth whether it's what we would prefer or not, and seek more measurably effective interventions".

I'm afraid we may not have learned from the Kansas City federal intervention in the late 20th century.

Expand full comment

Steve, you wrote, “Sadly, people like Thomas don’t get to feel like the heroes of a story of systemic racism unless they insist that they still hold power over every black person.”

I don’t know if that’s what Thomas’s real motivation is or not, but I think it’s really interesting that you think that’s his motivation. And maybe you’re right. But I’m curious - why or how does a narrative about systemic racism make a white person who espouses this narrative into a hero?

Expand full comment

"But I’m curious - why or how does a narrative about systemic racism make a white person who espouses this narrative into a hero?"

No, to be fair I was being a little flippant here. I don't necessarily think Thomas' intentions are bad or consciously self-serving.

There's a certain kind of white liberal who derives their sense of self (and significant social credit) from repeating tropes about systemic racism, white supremacy, etc. Their style of argumentation is built almost entirely around arguments that strip people of colour of agency, even though they make their arguments in the name of "defending" them. And my issue is that this kind of shallow analysis hardly ever does anything to help.

So when Thomas brings examples of voting laws into a discussion about whether or not a person of colour saying she wants to kill random white people is racism, it feels like an attempt to shoehorn the "antiracist talking points du jour" into a conversation rather than think about the issue seriously. I don't think he would, or should, be trying to make similar justifications for a white person saying the same thing.

And I think a common motivation for doing this (even if not always conscious) is to demonstrate that he's one of the "good ones."

Expand full comment
Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023Liked by Steve QJ

I am surrounded by the certain type of white liberals who derive social credit from repeating tropes about racism. It’s why I read your blog, so I can stay sane.

An anecdote (but first, some background): I’m from Canada. There aren’t a lot of black folks where I'm from, but those who are are fully integrated at every level of society. We don’t have separate neighborhoods like you all do here, and when you meet a black person in the course of your day, you just … treat them like you would any other person, because duh, they are.

So I came to America and I didn’t know the ropes. First off, I needed a daycare for my daughter that was open evenings, and the only one I could find in my area was run by a black lady and had all black kids. I was concerned for maybe a minute that the kids might treat my blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter differently, but I figured we’d give it a try.

So when I told my white liberal mom friends about this, I got some gasps, and then congratulations for being so “radical” as to send my white kid to an all black daycare. One mom confided in me that even though “diversity was a really important value” for her, that she wouldn’t send her kid to an all-black school.

So yeah. I know the phenomenon you’re talking about.

I've had a lot of weird moments in America - like walking up to the black neighbor kid to ask him if he knew what time it was. The expression on his face told me that a white neighbor lady walking up to ask a black teenage boy what time it is is NOT a normal occurence here. He looked positively terrified, and then visibly relieved when he realized I wasn't getting ready to call the cops.

In another moment of social brilliance, I invited another black neighbor family to a party with a bunch of white mom friends. The black family sat all together in a corner and only talked to each other, and the white moms didn't even seem to really notice. (By this time I was starting to feel like my Canadian ideas about racial integration were possibly just making everyone uncomfortable.)

All this awkward social stuff was really strange to me because nothing like this ever happened back home. But I'm pretty convinced now that America is so steeped in racism that people can't even see it in the mirror, not even when they're looking for it with a magnifying glass.

Expand full comment

I think there might be some rich discussion in neutrally parsing the experiences you describe. In particular, having lived in the various parts of the US for many decades, I perceive a lot of what you describe as having become more common with the advent of race conscious ideology. My experience was of race mattering less and less to ordinary people over the decades, with the easily understood and widely supported aspiration of achieving a race neutral society (aka, "color blind"). In that light, I observed historic shifts in attitude and statistics over my lifetime. We were aiming for your description: "when you meet a black person in the course of your day, you just … treat them like you would any other person, because duh, they are."

Indeed, if I go to my pharmacy to get a prescription filled, the race of the pharmacist is not highly salient, and I might not remember for long.

However, starting a couple of decades ago and accellerating, that vision was vehemently denounced as "color blindness", and strongly labeled as racist. Yep, by today's anti-racist ideological standards, what you described in Canada would be considered a manifestation of white supremacy. Cafeterias become voluntarily segregated. Explicit hostile stereotypes of whites became acceptable speech while anything vaguely negative about Blacks became sinful, and punished (rather than being against both). Differences and conflicts became vastly more common in the media and public life, than discussion of similarities and shared interests/values.

SInce then, I see a lot more of the kind of behavior you mention. It seems as if trust and acceptance and mutual good will have substantially eroded, backsliding from decades of progress.

It's still dramatically less racially biased than the world of my youth. But the trend has reversed in many ways.

I understand some of the reasoning presented by the advocates, but I disagree that the prescribed strategies will yield the promised outcomes.

I personally still value the kind of world you grew up in (where individuals of all races are just treated as ... duh, people) as a valid goal, and I know that even happens in some places today. I see neighbors of different races party together, work on projects together, help each others. But that perspective seems more under siege than supported by the elites today.

Occasionally there is a positive story of interracial kindness or cooperation on Quora or Medium. Just read the comments. The people who are disgusted by and hostile to such stories are not coming from the racially prejudiced within the right. To me it has become pretty obvious which subset of political ideologies is most influentially pushing racial trust and discord. It took me a while to recognize that, because the faction is nominally on my side of the political spectrum, and it's much more emotionally satisfying to focus on denouncing the immoral moron comprising "the other side", than to look more objectively at the reality.

I hasten to add, that as this division has become valorized by Critical Social Justice ideology, there has also been some resurgence of intolerance from the other side. That's the problem with conflict-centric social change philosophies, they can easily turn into mutually reinforcing polarization, where the abuses and intolerance of both sides is justified by that of "the other side".

I am a critic of that strategy, even if there is substantial overlap between the values and those which at least nominally motivate said strategies. A dysfunctional strategy doesn't become functional because just it's nominal intention is laudable.


I'm curious about your experience with the daycare. Did it work out well for you?

Expand full comment

Thank you Lucy, Smith is not free of racism. Internal investigations are horse poop. I do appreciate your offering your statement that is very kind. I’m a professor at a large state university and luckily we have a strong union. Universities are corporations with neo-liberal agendas that have legacies of administrative bloat and excesses of managerial contempt for actual progressive ideologies. The one thing that terrifies them always is a strong workforce that can identify and call out the actuality of structural institutional racism. It goes so far as to impact title nine investigations, anything to avoid lawsuits, litigation, or actual commendation of advancements in creating a multi racial, society, and institutions. Otherwise, it looks good on the outside, but it’s rotten and performative on the inside. But I persist.

Expand full comment

I have said that the soft racism of low expectations is the basis of all racism and racism could not exist without it for years. I continue walk behind the words in that thought.

In the early days of affirmative action which was certainly needed there was a downside. In late 70s/early 80s there was a news item about a bunch of journeymen, supervisory and management positions being filled as an affirmative action act where I worked. A friend who had just received a well-deserved promotion to a supervisory position said to me, "I'll just be got-damned. It's hard enough for a black man to get respect around here and now I'll be seen as a tokin n****r." And he was right.

How would you like to be a black physician starting a practice in the wake of this being pushed? https://dailycaller.com/2023/04/22/dangerous-trend-medical-schools-are-ditching-standardized-tests-in-the-name-of-diversity/

DEI replaces "watermelon college graduate" slurs with "lowered bar graduate" doubt since it seems to support the idea that universities have low expectations of black people and lower the bar for them. No doubt there will be highly qualified black graduates once again saying, "I'll just be got-damned..."

Expand full comment

Re the article.

"Holistic" admission seems to be the current term for "deliberately opaque so we can practice discrimination without needing to justify or admit it, and without leaving an evidence trail for which we could be held accountable".

I currently favor a good deal more mandatory transparency in admissions. Deliberately subjective "black box" processes are extremely ripe for corruption, among other things.

Expand full comment

I’m a Black gay man who taught and graduated from Smith with a graduate degree. I can only guffaw in your direction as I, along with many of my Smithie Alums, are far away from the privilege that you, dear Lucy, seem to most egregiously possess.

Expand full comment

Mark, no offense was meant. I understand that many students (including myself) receive aid. What famously occurred at Smith, however, almost comically turned into a class conflict as the student body of an expensive school targeted and bullied working-class college employees even after investigation found no evidence of racism.

Expand full comment

Just to note - the investigation you referenced found no racial bias *in the specific incidents which were alleged to be motivated by racism*, rather than examining every facet of the university and proclaiming it entirely free of any taint anywhere.

If one were to interpret your statement as asserting the latter, they could well dispute it from their "lived experience", but they would be missing the point. Specific incidents can be free of racial bias whether or not there is racial bias elsewhere, just as some people can be innocent of specific crimes in Boston even though crime does happen in that city.

Expand full comment

I can’t wait until my subscription to this substack ends next week. It was a $50 buck mistake that is drowned in regret.

Expand full comment

Hi there, I'm genuinely sad to see you say this. I'd really welcome your feedback on how the reality didn't meet your expectations. Presumably you joined after already reading my work, and if you were interested enough to sign up for a year, I'm guessing you found some value in what you read. What changed?

Expand full comment

Sorry to see you leave. I have no desire to create nor inhabit an echo chamber; I welcome voices with differing but thoughtful perspectives*, even when I (currently) disagree with them. I've changed or modified my own perspective countless times by engaging with people who differ. I think that intellectual and viewpoint diversity is essential to functional democracy, but I realize that's not everbody's cup of tea. You seem intelligent and educated and thus a welcome contributor, and I honestly regret that you do not feel the same. Go in peace and find a group that provides what you seek.

(*I do not welcome those who just yell insults, but that's not you)

Expand full comment

You emphasized that meaningful conversations about racism need to start with people who need help. This is critical. The priority in combating racism should be on the people who truly need and do not receive opportunities, not privileged Smith College students.

Expand full comment