Binge Racism

A penchant for quotas is addictive

By Dave Kopel & Dave Stolinsky. Mr. Kopel is research director of the Independence Institute. Dr. Stolinsky is retired from medical-school teaching. He writes on political and social topics from Los Angeles.

National Review Online, April 12, 2001 9:45 a.m. Also by Kopel on racial quotas: Officer Politics. Recent police department scandals are a result of increased federal involvement and racial hiring practices. American Outlook. May/June 2001.

For most alcoholics, the most reliable solution is to stop drinking entirely. Anecdotally, it is possible to find former

alcoholics who can have a social drink once in a while, former nicotine addicts who enjoy the occasional cigar, and former gambling addicts who can put ten dollars into an NCAA basketball pool without going off on a gambling binge. But for many other addicts or former addicts, the safest and most effective strategy is to stop the problem behavior altogether.

Many Americans, as individuals, are among the least racist people on earth, but like many nations, we have a long history of racism. And so, collectively, we are in a position similar to that of alcoholics — some of us may be able to take just one drink, but many of us are not.

Racial quotas for employment, minority set-asides for contracts, and race-adjusted test scores for college admission often are well-intended. Nevertheless, the inevitable side effect is to teach people to see people not as individuals but as members of races or other groups. And seeing human beings as members of groups is habit-forming. Once people have learned to think in racist paradigms, who can be sure that those paradigms will not have unintended consequences?

It is foolish to assume that only the well-intentioned will learn to see people as members of groups. This assumption is refuted by massive historical evidence — from recent complaints of racial profiling by police, to racial segregation, to hatred of one minority by another, to the tribal wars of Kosovo, to cultural genocide in Tibet, to the Holocaust. If we have learned anything from the twentieth century, it is that seeing people as members of racial or other groups can be life-threatening. But have we learned anything?

As the song in South Pacific put it, "You've got to be carefully taught" to think of people as members of groups, rather than as individuals. Unfortunately, the majority of the U.S. educational system has fallen into the hands of people who carefully teach racism.

National holidays are no longer marked by patriotic music. One school celebrated Flag Day by having the students march with the flags of the nations from which their ancestors came. We no longer teach young people to be proud Americans or to observe Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. Why are we shocked that the future killers at Columbine High School gave the Nazi salute and observed Hitler's birthday? We extol the value of "ethnic pride" and have school children describe for the class the ethnic and national origins of their families. Why are we surprised when some kids feel more affinity with Nazis than with Americans? We nod approvingly when demonstrators shout, "Viva la raza." We weaken what holds us together while strengthening what pulls us apart. We balkanize ourselves, forgetting that Kosovo is in the Balkans.

Many of those who insist that we should see people as members of groups also insist that the Constitution is a "living document" — i.e., it has no fixed meaning and is to be interpreted to meet "current societal needs." In other words, this "living Constitution" is really a dead letter, for it imposes no limits on what one group with a majority of votes in the legislature can do to a less powerful group.

If legislators or judges can order quotas that favor certain groups, what is to prevent them from ordering quotas that harm the same groups? Today, civil-rights laws are perverted to require what they plainly forbid: discrimination against whites and Asians. What is to prevent twisting them the other way, with discrimination against blacks and Hispanics?

For some alcoholics, detoxification programs include tranquilizers to tide patients over the acute withdrawal phase. But these drugs are not continued for the alcoholic's lifetime, and certainly not administered to their children and grandchildren. Similarly, quotas might, arguably, have been needed to tide society over its acute withdrawal from discrimination. But quotas (including quotas dishonestly labeled "affirmative action") have continued so long that they have become addictive and destructive. A person addicted to tranquilizers is no better off than one addicted to alcohol. Calling something a "remedy" and having it prescribed by an authority figure does not alleviate its addictive, destructive effects, whether it is a drug or a quota system.

The surest way to stop suffering from alcoholism is to stop drinking, and the surest way to stop suffering from racism is to stop discriminating.

We must consciously push ourselves to see every person as an individual, with individual strengths and weaknesses, and not as a mere member of a group. In order to control racism, it is necessary to stop racist thinking, one day at a time.

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