Affirmative Action Holds Blacks Down

Not racism, but culture and laziness.

Just as we thought there couldn't possibly be any more accusations of racism floating around the public square, a black scholar had to come along and rip the lid off once again.

In "Rich, Black, Flunking," the East Bay Express reports on the research which UC Berkeley Anthropology Professor John Ogbu carried out in the upscale Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.  Wealthy black parents had moved to Shaker Heights because of its excellent school system:

They expected their children to succeed academically, but most were performing poorly.  African-American students were lagging far behind their white classmates in every measure of academic success: grade-point average, standardized test scores, and enrollment in advanced-placement courses.  On average, black students earned a 1.9 GPA while their white counterparts held down an average of 3.45. Other indicators were equally dismal.  It made no sense.

When these data were published in a high school newspaper in 1997, black parents were upset that the matter had been exposed in such a public manner.  They called in Prof. Ogbu because he

"...had spent decades studying how the members of different ethnic groups perform academically.  He'd studied student coping strategies at inner-city schools in Washington, DC.  He'd looked at African Americans and Latinos in Oakland and Stockton and examined how they compare to racial and ethnic minorities in India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and Britain.  His research often focused on why some groups are more successful than others." [emphasis added]

Prof. Ogbu had a great deal of experience researching why different groups had different outcomes in schools, but he told the parents he didn't know what was going on in their schools and couldn't help without conducting research.  The parents convinced the school district to finance a study and offered him unlimited access to their children.

The professor and his research assistant moved to Shaker Heights for nine months in mid-1997.  They reviewed data and test scores.  The team observed 110 different classes, from kindergarten all the way through high school.  They conducted exhaustive interviews with school personnel, black parents, and students.  Their project yielded an unexpected conclusion: It wasn't socioeconomics, school funding, or racism, that accounted for the students' poor academic performance; it was their own attitudes, and those of their parents.

Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as "acting white."  Although he noted that other factors also play a role, and doesn't deny that there may be anti-black sentiment in the district, he concluded that discrimination alone could not explain the gap.  [emphasis added]

After extensive research, the most Ogbu could say about discrimination was that there might be some; he obviously hadn't found any he could cite.  Thus, a serious study by a experienced and respected anthropologist who happened himself to be black showed that black students didn't perform as well as white students because they chose not to work as hard.  What's more, black students who did work hard were criticized by their peers for "acting white."

It's politically incorrect to blame black people for any of their problems, of course.  Most black leaders, notably excepting Barack Obama, have based their careers on blaming whites for everything that goes wrong in any black person's life.  Such people react negatively to anyone, most particularly another black, who states otherwise:

Soon after he left Ohio and returned to California, a black parent from Shaker Heights went on TV and called him an "academic Clarence Thomas."  [We consider being equated to Clarence Thomas to be one the highest compliments possible, though it certainly wasn't intended as such. -Ed.]  The National Urban League condemned him and his work in a press release that scoffed, "The League holds that it is useless to waste time and energy with those who blame the victims of racism."  [emphasis added]

In a sense, the black students who wanted to work are victims of racism, but they weren't done down by white racism.  The hard-working blacks are victims of racial prejudice from other blacks who trash them for acting white.  In this case, blacks are their own worst enemies.

The brouhaha about the study ignores the fact that the lazy black students are acting sensibly in taking it easy in school.  They don't have to work in school in order to get by, and if they're satisfied with just getting by, they never will have to work particularly hard.

Affirmative action guarantees them college places they haven't earned and, when they "graduate," they'll be given jobs they haven't earned.  It's like the schoolteacher who told her kids they wouldn't be able to find jobs if they didn't learn arithmetic, only to be told, "I won't need a job - I'm going on welfare like my mom."

Middle class black kids won't need recourse to welfare; their membership in an Official Minority Group, combined with a minimum of decorum, enables them to find some secure, comfortable government or union position that calls for little exertion and offers no distinction but demands very little if any work.  Whereas, with effort, they're perfectly capable of excelling if only they'd choose to do so.

Affirmative Action Hurts Blacks

It's been recognized and admitted for a long time that affirmative action hurts better-qualified applicants who're denied jobs in favor of less competent members of favored races.  For some reason, liberals seem to feel that it's OK to hurt people who never themselves discriminated against blacks to help blacks who may or may not have been discriminated against, but that's been national policy for many years.

For example, newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that she'd never haven gotten a law degree without affirmative action.  Who knows which more-competent applicant was denied admission in her favor?

What's been known for an equally long time, but is anathema in public discourse, is that affirmative action hurts the very people who're supposed to benefit from it.  A black student who's admitted to a college for which he isn't qualified is in academic trouble from day one.  At MIT, for example, the average black student's math score was in the top 10% nationally but in the bottom 10% at MIT.  Unsurprisingly, nearly 1/4 of these extraordinarily talented black students failed out of MIT.

Did being admitted to a school where they were more or less guaranteed to fail help them or hurt them?  Had they attended a perfectly respectable institution in keeping with their academic skills such as a state university or any of hundreds of colleges whose courses were matched to their intellects, they could have graduated with honors and entered the world with a worthy degree and the personal self-confidence that comes with earned success.  Instead, they suffered failure at an early age.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a serious scientific study, "A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools," that claims that there are fewer black lawyers today than there would have been without affirmative action.  Black students who attend law schools which are too tough for them don't pass the bar as readily as others and many of them end up never practicing law at all.  These "mere facts" make no impression on people who've committed themselves to supporting and expanding affirmative action, of course.

What's worse, white people who've experienced affirmative action, which today includes just about all of them, assume that any black person in a high position probably isn't qualified for the job.  That's why, as Michele Obama noted, she was always "Black first, and a student second" while at Princeton.

This isn't racism; at Princeton as at MIT, it's simple truth.  When non-black MIT students who are held to higher academic standards encounter their black classmates, the lower level of preparation and intellect of black students is instantly apparent in casual conversation.

Why would it be remarkable if they reached the conclusion that blacks were in fact inferior?  The blacks they personally encounter manifestly are inferior, and no amount of politically-correct blather claiming otherwise can change the transparent facts on the ground.  To an MIT engineer who's been trained to separate facts from falsehood, the fact that the administration feels that it's necessary to repeatedly assert that every student admitted to MIT deserves to be there is prima facie evidence of a double standard at work.

Laziness Does No Harm?

Finally, affirmative action reduces the necessity of beneficiaries to work hard.  While knowing that they'll have to visibly out-perform blacks to get jobs may make white students work harder, knowing that they'll be given hiring and promotion advantages because they're black seems to make black students feel they don't have to work much.

It's truly a pity if the benefits of the excellent school system in Shaker Heights are lost to black students because they see no reason to do the work.  As many a scholar has mourned, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" - regardless of the color of the skin it's inside.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Opinion Editorial by Walter E. Williams

A renowned economics professor explodes the meme of Obama's detractors being overwhelmingly racist, and exposes the motivations behind these accusations.

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October 9, 2009 10:48 PM
What is the purpose of this article?
March 30, 2010 9:05 AM
I dunno about you, but I read these articles to stimulate thought.
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