ROBBINS: Pride and Preferences

Affirmative action keeps racial discrimination alive

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

The U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts is providing America with a teachable moment about affirmative action. Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown’s campaign has accused Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren of promoting her academic career by unfairly claiming American Indian ethnicity based on a remote 19th-century family link. After some delay, the Warren campaign confirmed that she listed herself as a Native American while at Harvard University. Faculty directories published by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) also list Mrs. Warren as a minority faculty member at her previous academic posts. Universities where she worked all claim affirmative action played no role in her hiring, but the public can be justly skeptical. Higher education has long been the most committed bastion for the defense of race-based hiring preferences.

The debate over whether or how Mrs. Warren benefited from affirmative action highlights the contradictions of multiculturalism. Affirmative action forces people into racial and ethnic boxes, and some are more rewarding than others. Self-interest prompts people to find ways to associate themselves with protected classes, no matter how tenuous the connection may be. This is a zero-sum game where scarce academic posts are concerned. If a search committee is looking to increase “faculty diversity,” whites need not apply. While affirmative action pretends to be a remedy for victims of discrimination, the primary victims in this scenario are the applicants who might have gotten jobs based on merit had imposters or exaggerators such as Mrs. Warren not shown up.

Even acknowledging a trace blood link to the Cherokee people means little if Mrs. Warren did not have any personal ties to the tribe, which she apparently did not. These might include knowing the Cherokee language, living in or among acknowledged members of the tribe or engaging in traditional rites or ceremonies that are meaningful in Cherokee culture. Such actions constitute meaningful connections to a people and rightly establish identity. If every American claimed one-thirty-second of his or her ancestry as official racial identity, the number of “minorities” would skyrocket. Worse, basing an ethnic claim only on a blood tie is very dangerous because it follows the same sinister logic that has been used by every racial supremacist, promoter of miscegenation laws or advocate of segregation.

Mrs. Warren says she is proud of her Cherokee heritage, and rightly so if she truly does care. Ethnic identity is an important source of pride, fellowship and dignity. It is one of the ingredients in the great American melting pot. Ideally, a person’s heritage should not be a point of public contention. Yet affirmative action forces such issues into the political realm. It transforms the peoples’ diverse cultural affiliations into hard categories that the government uses to sort out winners and losers. For conservatives, the Warren affair simply reinforces the idea that affirmative action is illegitimate, unjust and discriminatory. Liberals have a harder task, namely confronting the suggestion that one of their prominent leaders personally benefited by exploiting a system designed to achieve social justice.

James S. Robbins is a senior editorial writer at The Washington Times and author of the forthcoming book, “Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity” (Encounter, 2012).

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts