"Some Minorities Are More Minor than Others"

Ron K. Unz, Wall Street Journal, November 16, 1998

Ron K. Unz, a Silicon Valley software developer, was the author of
Proposition 227, the successful California initiative to dismantle
bilingual education.

With the victory of Washington state's Initiative 200, which ends
affirmative action in government hiring, contracting and education,
supporters of racial preferences have asked us to imagine an America in
which members of some ethnic groups are virtually excluded not only
from state university campuses but elite institutions in general.  But
no imagination is actually needed, for this is already the case today,
and has been for years. In a telling irony, current affirmative action
policies are more the cause than the cure for these gross imbalances.

From the very beginnings of affirmative action in the 1960s, its
underlying justification has always been that it resolves the problem
of "underrepresentation." The basis for this argument is the view that
the elite institutions of our society should reflect the diversity of
America's society, and that if certain groups--such as blacks or
women--seem to be receiving less than their statistical share,
discrimination (whether conscious or unconscious) is the likely
culprit. In fact, many diversity advocates believe that society should
correct for such imbalances even absent any discrimination whatsoever.

But for all the endless discussion over the origins and cure for
chronic demographic underrepresentation, there has been near total
silence regarding the flip side of the issue, namely demographic
overrepresentation. The underrepresentation of some groups is an
inevitable consequence of the overrepresentation of other groups, and
one issue cannot be properly addressed without the other.

Consider Harvard College. Over the past few years, black enrollment has
averaged 8% and Hispanic enrollment 7%. Despite Harvard's longstanding
commitment to affirmative action (recently reiterated in a widely
discussed new book co-authored by Harvard's ex-President Derek Bok),
these levels are substantially lower than their 12% and 10%
representation in the general population, and there are periodic
complaints by ethnic activists that Harvard is insufficiently committed
to "diversity."

But these numbers become much less surprising when we examine Harvard's
enrollment more closely. For example, Asians comprise between 2% and 3%
of the U.S. population, but nearly 20% of Harvard undergraduates. Then
too, between a quarter and a third of Harvard students identify
themselves as Jewish, while Jews also represent just 2% to 3% of the
overall population. Thus, it appears that Jews and Asians constitute
approximately half of Harvard's student body, leaving the other half
for the remaining 95% of America.

Under these circumstances, chronic underrepresentation of other ethnic
groups---with or without affirmative action---is mathematically
inevitable, and the only real issue is the allocation of such
underrepresentation. Since black and Hispanics are virtually guaranteed
a certain number of slots, and Harvard also admits a considerable
number of foreign students, the number of remaining slots is further
reduced. In fact, it seems likely that non-Jewish white Americans
represent no more than a quarter of Harvard undergraduates, even though
this group constitutes nearly 75% of the population at large, resulting
in a degree of underrepresentation far more severe than that of blacks,
Hispanics or any other minority groups.

Furthermore, even among non-Jewish whites there is almost certainly a
severe skew in representation, with Northeastern WASPs being far better
represented than other demographic or religious groups such as Baptists
or Southerners. (It's hard to know for sure, since Harvard doesn't
release breakdowns of the student body by religion.) These facts should
make supporters of affirmative action very uncomfortable. Large numbers
of rejected applicants from these underrepresented groups doubtless
have much higher admissions scores than many black or Hispanic
admittees--as well as the unique cultural experiences prized by
diversity advocates--and are much farther from parity with their share
of the general population. Thus, current affirmative action policies
actually act to increase rather than decrease ethnic
underrepresentation at the college.

Other than repealing the laws of mathematics, the only solution
available to supporters of affirmative action would be to adopt a
policy aimed at drastically reducing the number of Asians and Jews at
Harvard, thereby furnishing more spots for other groups. But Asian and
Jewish organizations would surely object, and the policy would be
controversial to say the least.

This entire ethnic dilemma is present to a greater or lesser degree at
most of our other elite educational institutions: Yale, Princeton,
Stanford, Berkeley and so on. And partly because these universities act
as a natural springboard to elite careers in law, medicine, finance and
technology, many of these commanding heights of American society seem
to exhibit a similar skew in demographic composition.  Seen in this
light, the well-known hostility of "angry white males" toward
affirmative action programs may represent less the pique of the
privileged and more the resentment of the discriminated-against. If the
recent Presidential Commission on Race had sought to engage in sincere
analysis rather than merely indulge in empty rhetoric, difficult issues
such as this one should have been central to their debate. That it was
not suggests why the commission has been a failure from the start.

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