Tuesday, July 20, 2010

White racism, the Daily Howler and Ross Douthat

Bob "the Daily Howler" Somerby in his 07/19/2010 column actually directly recommended an article discussing an issue involved with white racism in American politics: "For an intriguing column about another part of America’s racial fabric, we recommend this New York Times column by Ross Douthat, which we hope to discuss at a later date."

I hope he does. Because the fact that he finds this column by conservative hack Ross Douthat so "intriguing" gives a pretty good clue of the perspective which leads Somerby to trash liberals for bigotry and damaging the Democratic Party by taking issue with overt white racism in politics. Douthat's piece is called The Roots of White Anxiety 07/18/2010.

The short version of Douthat's column would be that affirmative action programs at elite universities causes white racism. What may have occasioned it before the Nixon administration instituted affirmative action programs as a conservative method of enforcing anti-discrimiation laws, Douthat doesn't make clear.

The column reads to me like a standard Republican rant against affirmative action, with some of the stock trimmings: Snotty Harvard students being critical of that salt-of-the-earth white man, Pat Buchanan. Out-of-touch liberals being condescending to Real American Christian white folks. Them thar blacks gittin' special treatment at the expense of pore deservin' Christian white folks. And so on.

Much of the column is a discussion of a book by Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life (2009). Douthat discussion of it is confusing, and relies on a conservative blog post by Russell Nieli, How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others Minding the Campus 07/12/2010 to help him interpret it.

Not having researched the book itself, I'll confine myself to saying that the conclusions Douthat and Nieli draw about how the complex process of college admissions functions at the most competitive universities isn't very convincing from what Douthat presents. The point of their argument is that working-class whites are unfairly disadvantaged by affirmative action programs. The conventions of these stock presentations requires that the effect of legacy admissions at elite private schools on the prospects of less economically advantaged students generally be discretely ignored.

Richard D. Kahlenberg also reviewed the Espenshade/Radford book in Disadvantages The New Republic 03/03/2010. Noting that trends in federal court decisions handed down by Republican judges may soon make university affirmative action programs designed to combat racial discrimination in admissions even more difficult to maintain, he writes:

As the debate heats up again, both supporters and opponents of affirmative action are likely to find ammunition in Thomas J. Espenshade’s and Alexandria Walton Radford’s book. A scholarly analysis of new data from eight highly selective public and private universities, it examines how affirmative action actually works today, how well beneficiaries perform academically, and, importantly for the upcoming court case, how well alternatives to affirmative action—such as class-based preferences—might work in creating racially diverse campuses. Although the book is generally well done, it seriously underestimates the potential for class-based affirmative action to produce racial diversity. Well-designed plans that recognize broad differences between black and white poverty will likely become the new face of affirmative action in the coming years.
Greg Mitchell in his Daybook at The Nation for today says of Douthat's column, which Somerby finds "intriguing": "Yes, Douthat's column yesterday was horrendous--and transparent."

Mitchell links to Tim Fernholz, Ross Douthat's Fear of Opining TAPPED 07/19/2010 in which he says:

It's awfully similar to Douthat's commentary on gay marriage -- it's clear that he opposes it, but realizing that his reasoning is indefensible, refuses to argue the issue. Reading today's column, you get the sense that Douthat agrees with Buchanan's white grievance, but he doesn't have the courage to come right out and say so.


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