Salvo 04.04.2023 6 minutes

The Affirmative Action Hierarchy

NFC Divisional Playoffs – Los Angeles Rams v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Our “news media” tell us when to care about racial representation.

Try to imagine this story on CNN:

Whites only make up a little more than a quarter of NFL players, much less than half their percentage share of the overall population, and experts fear the harm this disparity produces. How will white fans identify with the teams in their cities and feel inspired to pursue careers in this lucrative field if they see so few people like themselves on the field? Will they be able to avoid the harmful conclusion that they are performatively inferior in football to those who occupy the majority of positions in the league, and will they suffer lasting psychological deficits as a result?

Can’t imagine it? Yeah, me neither.

But here’s an actual article CNN ran recently, which notes that 5.7% of physicians in the United States are black, a statistic the editorializing writers say “does not reflect the communities they serve.”

What’s the difference in the two stories in principle? It’s pretty clear that one view is more objectively important in our society than the other. It’s not clear though that this fact justifies the approach CNN has taken.

Unlike on the football field, the CNN article assumes that racial representation in the medical profession should exactly mirror racial representation in the broader society. But in either of the two cases, or any others for that matter, why are these differences occurring? Is it that blacks are actively being excluded from the medical field and whites from professional football? If so, where’s the evidence of that?

What about other possible contributing factors? What if interest in the relevant fields is not equally distributed among racial groups? Or what if talent levels are not equally distributed? Today, you’re not allowed to hint that that might conceivably be the case in the field of medicine.

But why then is it okay to suggest it in the NFL? Proponents of the NFL’s current racial demographics tell us it’s a great accomplishment that we have learned to appreciate the importance of meritocratic selection without any biases or prejudices. In fact, in its “2019 Racial and Gender Report Card,” the Tides Foundation gave the NFL an A+ for their racial representation at the player level, that is, it is an excellent result that blacks are so overrepresented and whites so underrepresented.

Claims about the innate differences in tastes or talents between groups are always bad, we are told by the people who generally make arguments like those in the CNN piece. Everything is, after all, constructed by society and culture and therefore conceivably alterable if we just change society and culture.

If that’s so, that principle must apply not only to intelligence and performance in schools and on standardized tests but also to speed, agility, strength, etc. If not, why is it only brought up in one case and not the other?

Of course, there is no allusion to any of the above in the CNN story. To be sure, the writers predictably blame past discrimination as the sole cause for current racial disparities in the medical field. But past discrimination existed in professional sports too. Blacks were kept out of all the major professional sports leagues until varying years around the middle of the 20th century. And look at how the NFL is doing now on the racial demographic marker! If past discrimination has been overcome in one area but not in another, we clearly need more than just a wave at its existence to explain current patterns anywhere.

CNN apparently believes the answer to this question lies in noting the low levels of black enrollment and matriculation at the highest quality medical schools. But that’s just intellectually passing the buck and does not answer the fundamental question: Why are blacks underrepresented in those medical schools? Is it active discrimination? If so, where’s the evidence? Or is it perhaps a matter of meritocratic decision-making (grades and test scores) deciding the demographics? If so, why is that by definition evidence of something untoward? That is, if blacks make the meritocratic grade here less frequently than other groups, why is that the case?

CNN assumes it must be because we haven’t yet done enough to level the playing field. But to believe that, you have to be completely unaware of the money and other resources we have spent in the last half century to elevate black academic achievement and how disappointingly limited the results of that project has been.

The story also suggests the reasons blacks get into medical school less frequently than CNN would like has to do with a failure of their teachers to appropriately mentor and encourage them. But this isn’t objectively demonstrated. It’s based entirely on the complaints of black medical school students and doctors. Anyone who has spent any time in an institution of higher education knows full well how much counter evidence exists for the claim that black students are ignored and mistreated by faculty. You can’t reasonably condemn a teacher’s performance in the classroom by reference only to the evaluations of students. But there is typically no interest on the part of those who share the partisan views of the CNN writers to devise objective tests for such claims. If students give us the answers we want, we go with that; no further questioning is needed.

CNN’s solution to the problem of blacks supposedly not being represented enough in the medical field is to go full throttle on affirmative action. But in many fields, this has amounted to the elimination of standardized testing or at least lowering entry level minimums for blacks and making explicit demands about how many blacks need to be hired, enrolled, etc. And there are also the serious challenges to affirmative action from both the core political principles of American self-government and the spirit of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, which emphasized individuals and not groups as rights-bearing entities and explicitly prohibited discrimination based on race, whether intended to harm or help particular groups.

Does CNN believe there are no rational concerns that continuing affirmative action ad infinitum might conceivably lower standards in a profession such as the one involved here? Do we really want to get into the business of being less demanding in how we recruit some of our doctors? The number of barely competent or even incompetent doctors is already arguably too high.

But CNN has faith that a public health benefit would be achieved by affirmative action: blacks, it is claimed, have slightly better health outcomes with black physicians, a finding that is not universally accepted (and which has been little studied). This suggests some potentially scary destinations if fully followed through. That is, the same research that finds black patients like black doctors more and feel more comfortable with them finds that white patients like white doctors more and feel more comfortable with them. Are we prepared to go to some kind of separate but equal/full racial segregation of medical practices in the purported best interest of patients?

What would CNN say if someone suggested that a drop in quality of play in the NFL would be worth it if we could get the racial representation to more accurately reflect that of the larger society? Oh, quality doesn’t matter that much in the NFL, because it’s just a dumb game? Agreed. But it matters so little in medicine that we shouldn’t consider the question? We don’t need to make any effort to comparatively weigh the various factors in their likely benefits and costs?

This is yet another bit of evidence in the ongoing process of the total propagandizing of the “news media” and the methods they use to maintain political projects of which they approve.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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