Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXV - Issue 2 - News
Dinesh D'Souza Speaks:
The End Of Affirmitive Action
by Ricardo Trigueros and Bob McGrew
On October 16th, Dinesh D'Souza, the best-selling author of Illiberal Education and the End of Racism, spoke to a packed auditorium in the Law School about "The End of Affirmative Action."
Mr. D'Souza, who debated Jesse Jackson at Stanford several years ago about affirmative action, began by discussing that debate. The Rev. Jackson had argued that affirmative action was necessary to address "institutional racism" in American society, while Mr. D'Souza had argued that affirmative action should be replaced with a policy based on merit.
Mr. D'Souza, an immigrant from India, contrasted how the debate looked from the different perspectives of immigrants and indigenous minority groups. Mr. D'Souza emigrated from the Goa region of India during the 1970's in order to attend Dartmouth University. An new immigrant, he said, sees the United States as a place of unprecedented opportunity in comparison to his old country. If he continued to live in India, he would probably have lived and died within one square mile of where he was born.
"[I would have had] my destiny handed to me," he said.
In America, however, the immigrants run into the Jesse Jacksons of the world - the perspective of the indigenous minorities, the African-Americans and Native Americans. Instead of looking to how they can raise themselves up, they are told that they are "deluded" to believe that they could. According to Mr. D'Souza, the Jesse Jacksons of America tell them that "This is a great country - if you are white."
Mr. D'Souza went on to investigate whose perspective is correct - the immigrants or the indigenous minorities?
"Is racism strong enough," he asked, "to prevent minorities from achieving their basic aspirations?"
Mr. D'Souza argued that racism has largely vanished from American society - that it is episodic rather than systematic. Returning to his debate with the Rev. Jackson, he asked him "Where are the racists? Is there a racist in the admissions office?" According to Mr. D'Souza, the Rev. Jackson agreed that there was none.
Instead, Mr. Jackson had argued for the existence of institutional racism to explain the group differences between blacks and whites in America. Mr. D'Souza, offering the example of test scores, asked if the tests were biased. In arguing against this assumption, he noted that on all tests of scholastic achievement, whites and Asians outperform African-Americans.
"Are all the tests biased?" he asked. Concluding that they could not all be culturally biased, he referred to test scores and other measures of college preparedness. "Merit, not racism," he stated, "is the main instrument of group inequality."
In addressing the cause of this inequality, Mr. D'Souza laid out three broad views about the origins of differences between groups.
First, some argue that heredity itself causes differences between groups - that nature itself inscribes inequality between the races. Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, for instance, make this argument in their book, The Bell Curve. The second point of view D'Souza called the "liberal view", that society, not nature, artificially manufactures inequality through racism. It is this view that the Rev. Jackson leaned on when he argued that that inequality between groups implies institution racism.
Instead, Mr. D'Souza offered a third view, originated by Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution. He argued that differences in merit are caused by culture - specifically, that African-Americans, due to the experience of slavery and the legacy of racism, are "culturally disadvantaged," lacking the experiences of skills and entreprenuership, the "cultural capital," that whites have and immigrants bring over. To illustrate his point, he offered the example of the disparities between Asian-Americans and African-Americans on the SAT math section.
In The Bell Curve, Messrs. Murray and Herrnstein had conjectured that Asians simply have superior spatial ability. Mr. D'Souza instead pointed to the studies that show that Asian-American children spend more time studying than whites, who in turn spend more time than blacks. He offered a simple explanation: one-parent families form 1.8% of Asian households, as opposed to over 70% of black households. And, he argued, it certainly seems reasonable that children in a household with two parents would have more chances to study than those in households with only one.
What then can be done to remedy this "cultural disadvantage?" Mr. D'Souza argues against affirmative action: "Is this remedy narrowly tailored to meet the demonstrated wrong? Do we want more nepotism or more merit in our society?"
Instead, he invoked a debate that he traced to the turn of the century, between the black leaders W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. W.E.B. DuBois argued that blacks, in order to secure their rights, needed to follow a policy of "Agitate, agitate, agitate." Booker T. Washington, on the other hand, argued that, after the rights were secured, blacks needed to develop skills and businesses in order to take advantage of those rights. Mr. D'Souza characterized the successes of the '60s as the proper turning point between the two strategies. Before that, Jim Crow would have strangled any skills and businesses. But, according to Mr. D'Souza, after the Civil Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow and systematic racism, a strategy of "agitate, agitate, agitate" would be unproductive. One needs skills and entrepreneurship to use the opportunities afforded by a society in which racism is no longer an all-consuming force.
After Mr. D'Souza's conclusion, a question and answer period ensued for about two hours. Some of the students asked questions about his policies; others argued with his speech. Mr. D'Souza noted that he was able to say things which would be much more controversial if he were not South Asian.
Gesturing at his color, he said, "I enjoy a certain ethnic immunity that a white man would not have."
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