|Son Tan Sexy|
David Bernstein can't figure out why Latino professors are mad at him. Maybe I can help!
Bernstein wrote a post saying he doesn't understand why Hispanics benefit from affirmative action when they apply to universities. He finds them getting special treatment odd because:
A. The Supreme Court allows affirmative action in higher education under a diversity rational. Universities want to create a diverse student body so they get to weigh race a little in selecting students. But Bernstein observes that "Hispanics" are a very broad group, including people of Native American, European, and African ancestry. Since Hispanics are so diverse, he doesn't think it makes sense for universities to favor recruiting them when they want to try to promote diversity. ??????????????
B. He acknowledges that there might be other reasons for affirmative action, even if they probably don't pass constitutional muster under existing jurisprudence. Specifically, he can see the argument that affirmative action exists to balance out past injustices minorities suffered. But he doesn't think that makes sense in this context, because according to him some Hispanics (the ones of European descent) never faced real historical injustice. Meanwhile, some groups that aren't favored in the university admission process have faced tons of historical injustice, like Jews.
OK, first thing's first: he actually has a good point! Some Hispanic people are really well integrated into our society, and may not need affirmative action. You don't think of Louis CK as Hispanic, but his dad is Mexican and he grew up in Mexico for a few years. So there really is a small subgroup of Latinos who are descended from Europeans, don't particularly identify as Hispanic, are treated as white by society, but could identify as Latino on a college application. Maybe, for people like Bernstein, that is enough for universities to throw out "Hispanic" as a class of people they want to recruit. I think that would throw out the baby with the bathwater, but i at least get why he wants to throw out the bathwater. He hates bathing, is what I'm saying.
So if he is wrong but has a good point, why is everyone so mad at Bernstein? Because, whatever you think about the merits of his argument, in making it Bernstein has completely failed to identify the reason most people support affirmative action. Which is:
C. Most hispanics have to deal with a lot of bigotry in our society and affirmative action gives them a leg up to counterbalance that. This bigotry is directed at them because they are Hispanic, not (just) because of their race or history or economic condition.
Maybe I've missed it, but he seems to have not even considered this. Which is weird! It's usual for comfortable white men to think bigotry isn't a real problem anymore, but most of them at least know other people think it's still a problem. You'd expect him to talk about how some people think Latinos should get preferential treatment when being recruited for higher education to cancel out both overt discrimination and the more subtle, negative treatment they get when applying for jobs, looking for promotions, whatever. Or you'd expect him to just focus on the diversity rational, since that is what matters for legal purposes. But instead he tries to postulate non-legal reasons people might like affirmative action and then completely ignores the actual non-legal reason people like affirmative action. Weird.
And infuriating! If you know a European-descent Hispanic who has faced real bigotry and barriers in their education and career, your teeth start to grind when you read a guy explaining that Hispanics of European descent weren't discriminated against in the past so why should they get a leg up now. Here is why, Bernstein: it's because while some European-descent Hispanics basically function as white people, others are more identifiable as Latinos and, consequentially, face lots of overt and covert bigotry. And the lesson there is that "Latino" isn't just a cobbled together collection of some racial groups that are discriminated against and some that aren't, it's a distinct and discriminated against class of people. The fact that some Latinos are able to evade discrimination does not change that. If you want to talk about ending affirmative actions without offending Latinos, you have to acknowledge this basic reality. Or at least, acknowledge that lots of people think it is reality. And if you just want to talk about the diversity rationale for affirmative action because that is the legal standard, then just talk about the diversity rationale for affirmative action. Don't wade into the broader debate only to claim you never left the beach as soon as you see tiburónes circling in the water.