One person’s affirmative action experience

I keep mulling this piece over and wondering whether to post on it. It’s written by a woman with a black conservative father who is opposed to affirmative action. So is the woman, who looks white. But she eventually decided to let her agent (she was trying to get jobs as a television writer) offer her as a “diversity” candidate. So she got interviews for “diversity” posts, at which she was quizzed about her exact racial makeup while her interlocutors tried to decide if she was black enough.

I am in fact in favour of affirmative action. But I do find myself wondering if situations like this (which I find deeply problematic) are unavoidable. If you’re going to have special consideration for people who fit some category, you’re going to have to have strict rules about who fits that category, and that gets us into very serious difficulties indeed– as anyone who has delved at all into the literature on e.g. race and gender is well aware. (Or anyone who reflects even a little!)

And then I think: Surely there’s a literature on just this issue! So, is there?

Race in Academia

Sophia Wong sent a link to this to the FEAST mailing list.

the vast majority of white people in the academy are absolutely clueless when it comes to race. Not race as some abstract category of analysis “out there,” but race as it is manifested daily in their/our own subject position and actions.

One archaeology colleague remarked to me at a cocktail party, in the midst of the Oscar Lewis debacle, “Too bad for you cultural anthropologists. You should be like us in archaeology. We don’t have any race problems. Because all of our students are white!” I gamely tried to explain to this colleague that the absence of students of color in her program was actually a more profound sign of a “race problem” than any visible conflict could be, but she was unmoveable.

Brains and brawn

Sometimes, might doesn’t make right. Sometimes might just makes you so punch-drunk that your peaceful, over-sexed cousins wind up doing better than you on intelligence tests.

The bonobos, chimp-like apes who live in matriarchal family groups and frequently use sex to resolve social conflicts, defied expectations by beating the group of chimpanzees in intelligence tests, because the chimps were too busy fighting among themselves for dominance.

Are there parallels here for philosophy? One can only hope.


(Thanks, S!)

It’s worse than the 80s for Black Britons

That’s what Joseph Harker argues.

Over the last three decades we’ve allowed ourselves to be fooled that, with greater integration, plus a few black faces in sport and entertainment, things have improved. People gush about the growing mixed-race population, supposedly Britain’s “beautiful” future. Well, Mark Duggan had a white parent but it didn’t make much difference to his prospects.

Today, Cameron could stick to his comfort zone, talking of tough action against gangs and social media, of punishing offenders and welfare spongers. This is destined to fail: as in Iran or Syria, a crackdown won’t solve the problem. It will just bring more people into conflict with the law, seeing officers as the enemy. Once that happens, the impact on communities can be devastating.

So no, this is not 1981. In many ways it’s worse. Those riots were in their own way aspirational – people thought things could get better. This time all the indicators seem to be pointing downwards.