Posted on October 11, 2020

How Racial Preferences Really Work

Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, January 2006

Steven Farron, The Affirmative Action Hoax, Seven Locks Press, 2005, 405 pp.

Over the last 40 years, racial preferences for non-whites have wormed their way into virtually every corner of our lives. Whites were at first silent about institutionalized discrimination against themselves, but slowly began to object. Since the 1980s, there has been increasing criticism of “affirmative action,” but few authors can match Steven Farron for thoroughness, clarity, and utter disregard for contemporary pieties about race.

The Affirmative Action Hoax by Steven Farron

Prof. Farron, who left his job as a professor of classics at University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 2000 to study racial questions, stakes out his position early on: Affirmative action is “vicious anti-White discrimination.” It corrupts every institution it touches. The people who practice it lie about it. When they are forbidden to discriminate, they just try harder to cover their tracks. Their victims are whites — not deserving Asians or competent blacks whose achievements are devalued. And finally, they can never, ever succeed because the races are not equal. The Affirmative Action Hoax may well be the first book-length treatment of preferences that pulls no punches and respects no taboos.

It Begins With the Jews

As Prof. Farron correctly argues, a large part of the problem with “affirmative action” is that it is shot through with lies — beginning with the ridiculous euphemism itself. If the country wants to discriminate against whites, it should do so honestly and efficiently. This means using the best measures for evaluating candidates, and then boosting the scores of favored groups. The best evaluations, whether for college or on the job, are standardized tests. They predict performance better than interviews, recommendations, or past experience but they highlight racial differences in ability.

Therefore, if Harvard uses the best measures to admit only the smartest students it will get almost no blacks or Hispanics. If it is determined to have some, it should put them through the same objective evaluation and then boost their scores just enough to fill a quota. Prof. Farron is adamant: quotas and open score-boosting are the only honest, efficient way to practice preferences and get the best candidates of all races. Instead, recruiters downplay objective measures of candidates — precisely because they accentuate racial differences — and fill quotas for non-whites through jiggery pokery, protesting all the while that they are not lowering standards.

Prof. Farron introduces this subject from an unusual perspective: a summary of how American universities used to keep out Jews. He argues that the dodges the old WASP elite used parallel what goes on today; dishonesty goes back a long way.

Before standardized testing, admission to even the best schools was very informal. People with enough money for tuition and who knew they were from the right social classes went to the Ivy League. There were not even limits on class size at places like Harvard and Yale, and schools chose whomever they liked.

In 1899 the College Entrance Examination Board was established to give colleges an objective test for evaluating candidates. The Ivies started selecting for academic ability, and high-scoring Jews began to pour in. WASPs conceded that Jews were smart but thought they were boors. Rather than establish limits on Jewish enrollment, colleges came up with indirect ways to keep them out. Even before the First World War, Columbia began to claim “geographic distribution” was important, and went looking for students beyond heavily-Jewish New York City. The real purpose, as one administrator put it, was to get “Gentile boys of a desirable type.” Not long after, state universities in the rest of the country started charging out-of-state students higher tuition fees; Prof. Farron says it was mainly to keep out Jews.

In 1919, Columbia established the first college application form, in which it asked about extracurricular activities, and required essays and letters of recommendation. As the headmaster of the elite Horace Mann School put it, “it is clearly impossible to draw racial or class distinctions between applicants,” but by claiming to look for candidates who showed “manliness” and “leadership” as well as brains, Columbia managed to keep the number of Jews between 17 and 20 percent from 1918 to 1945. Prof. Farron says Columbia should have dispensed with the “manliness” ruse and simply set a tight quota on Jews. That way, it could use objective criteria to get the best students but still keep the number of Jews down.

That is exactly what Harvard tried to do in 1922. It announced it was going to stick to objective admissions criteria but keep Jews to 15 percent. President Abbott Lowell expected praise for such an open, honest system but was greeted with so much outrage that Harvard had to start discriminating secretly like everyone else. It issued application forms (one question was “What change, if any, has been made since birth in your name or that of your father?”), resorted to “geographical distribution,” and in 1926 limited the freshman class to 1,000. As President Lowell explained years later: “I tried, as you know, to find an open, fair, and practical solution, but was howled down by the preference of most people to profess one principle and act upon another. Any educational institution that admits an unlimited number of Jews will soon have no one else.”

Yale did the same things, limiting its class size, emphasizing the “manliness, uprightness, cleanliness, native refinement, etc.” said to be lacking in Jews, and adding preferences for children of alumni. Open quotas were out of the question because, as one admissions director noted, “The Jewish problem continues to call for the utmost care and tact.” In 1926, the Yale Daily News reported that Harvard’s application required a photo, and said Yale should go one better and require photos of applicants’ fathers, too. Only after Sputnik in 1957 did the pressure mount on selective colleges to end the quotas on smart Jews.

In Prof. Farron’s view, these were the intellectual antecedents of today’s racial preferences: Set up a labyrinthine but allegedly neutral selection process that was really a smokescreen for discrimination.

Preferences Today

Prof. Farron traces today’s preferences back to John Kennedy’s Executive Order No. 10,925 of March 8, 1961, in which government was to take “affirmative action” to make sure people were hired without regard to race, creed, color, or national origin. Immediately, this directive produced exactly the opposite result. In his admiring biography of Kennedy published in 1965, Arthur Schlesinger wrote, “The joke in Washington was that every department was sending posses out to recruit Negroes in order to avert the wrath of the White House.” In the two years ending in June 1963, the number of blacks in the top civil service grades jumped 88 percent. In other words, “equal opportunity” was a lie from the very beginning. It always meant discrimination against whites.

From the Kennedy days onward, the official assumption has been that the races are equal in every respect and that “racism” explains underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics. Prof. Farron notes that this was the explanation for setting aside for minorities 10 percent of the $4 billion voted in 1977 for public works. Minority-owned businesses had been getting only one percent of the business, so although no one could actually find discrimination there had to be plenty of it.

Universities, about which Prof. Farron has gathered the most data, took up discrimination with gusto. From the 1960s to the 1980s, while whites were more or less somnolent, universities discriminated as they pleased. They drastically lowered standards for non-whites, and reserved university places, scholarships, and entire programs for them. Any non-white, whether descended from slaves or fresh from Mexico, could count on preferences.

Admissions staff knew there would be a stink if people knew what they were doing, so they kept the qualifications of non-whites a dark secret even from their own faculties. The official lie was that standards were no lower for non-whites or that race was a “tie-breaker” or gave only “a slight edge.” When there was a leak from the admissions office at Georgetown Law School — the differences in qualifications were spectacular — the school made the staff sign a statement swearing to keep mum.

The University of Michigan claimed it did not lower standards for blacks, and insisted that if they were dropping out, it was because of “institutional racism.” This gave the administration an excuse to lather blacks with benefits even after they were on campus. Later, when Freedom of Information suits crowbarred the data out of Michigan, it turned out blacks were showing up with a combined SAT deficit of 200 to 250 points compared to whites.

It was in the 1990s that whites began to beef. In 1996, the Hopwood decision banned university preferences in the 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. That same year, California whites voted to overturn state-sponsored racial preferences (every other race, including Asians, voted to keep them). A few people in the Reagan Justice Department actually read what the civil rights laws said, and began to sue a few of the most blatant offenders.

University officials cooked up new ways to keep out whites — and were more cynical about it than ever. Chang-Lin Tien, chancellor of Berkeley, explained what he would do when preferences became illegal: “We can come up with some tricks.”

At first, the preference industry thought poverty could stand in for race: just boost the scores for poor kids, and they would get all the blacks and Hispanics they wanted. It didn’t work that way. As one disappointed California Hispanic discovered, “Using poverty yields a lot of poor white and Asian kids.” This was because the non-whites who were getting racial preferences were not children of sharecroppers or ghetto slugs. As the dean of Berkeley Law School explained, “African-Americans who apply to our law school are not disadvantaged. Their mothers and fathers are professionals with good family incomes.” She wanted preferences for them anyway.

Admissions officers pressed on with preferences for “overcoming adversity,” but poverty just didn’t count. Being non-white did, and staff started coaching non-white applicants on how to claim the right sort of “adversity.”

Another trick was to give as much weight to one achievement test as to the entire SAT. Children of non-white immigrants often take the achievement test in the language they speak at home, and get scores that are much better than their other grades. At one heavily-Hispanic high school in California, the average score on the Spanish achievement test was 715 out of 800; the average verbal and math scores were 390 and 402. UCLA gives as much credit for the high Spanish score as for the combined verbal and math SAT. Because of tricks like this, in 2001, the average SAT scores for Hispanics admitted to UCLA were 40 points lower than the average scores for whites who were rejected. UCLA, of course, claimed it wasn’t discriminating.

It would be wrong to think it is only university officials who stay up at night thinking of ways to discriminate against whites. After racial preferences were banned in Florida and Texas, the state legislatures voted to let anyone into state schools who graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class. As Prof. Farron points out, “class rank is by far the most unreliable and unfair of all measures of academic performance. That is why these university systems adopted it.” They could funnel unprepared blacks and Hispanics into college and claim they weren’t discriminating.

The push is on to get rid of all objective standards because they underscore racial differences. At least 383 of America’s 1,788 four-year colleges no longer require the SAT or the ACT. In Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Louisiana, and Oregon, the entire state school system has abandoned standardized tests. This way, they can claim not to discriminate, use incomprehensible standards, and let in whomever they want.

Even the College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) is backing away from the idea of objective testing. For years, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but that began to sound like an intelligence test, so the CEEB renamed it the Scholastic Assessment Test. Now, it claims SAT is just letters that mean nothing. Over the years the board has added mush like essay questions, and has renormed the scores to eliminate distinctions among top scorers, that is to say, at levels where there are the fewest blacks and Hispanics.

There are no nationwide data for colleges, but there are for law schools, and they are illuminating. They show that 4.8 times as many blacks got into law school as would have if candidates were evaluated on only grades and LSAT (Law School Admission Test, if, in fact, these letters still stand for anything) scores. For other races, the figures are Puerto Ricans 3.1, Mexican-Americans 2.1, American Indians 2.0, Asians 1.55, and whites 0.8. Whites pay the price for every other group; 20 percent of the whites who should have gone to law school are kept out so three times as many Puerto Ricans and twice as many Mexicans could get in as would have made it without racial preferences. The standard lie is that non-whites were admitted because they were so richly endowed with the non-academic qualities law schools look for in addition to academic ability. Somehow, every other group — especially blacks — is better endowed than whites. The gaps at the most selective law schools are even greater. In 1990, 17.5 times as many blacks got in as would have if academic ability were the only qualification. Needless to say, many of these non-whites who are richly endowed with non-academic traits drop out or flunk the bar exam.

Medical schools play the same game. For years, the average college grades and MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) grades for blacks and Hispanics who get into medical school have been lower than the average grades for whites who are rejected. Nor is there a shred of evidence for the widely-promoted view that non-whites admitted to competitive schools will “catch up.”

Prof. Farron blasts the idea that Asians are victims of racial preferences just like whites. In the above example with law schools, 55 percent more Asians got in than under a system of strict ability. The proof is in the final result: 92 percent of whites pass the bar exam on the first try, but only 81 percent of Asians do.

Pass rates for the US Medical Licensing Exam also reflect preferences for Asians: In 1994, they were 93.4 and 96.3 percent for whites on parts one and two; 86.8 and 87.6 percent for Asians. On teacher competency exams as well, whites invariably do better than Asians.

Prof. Farron suspects most of the huffing and puffing about how affirmative action hurts Asians comes from whites who oppose preferences because they hurt whites but who are too cowardly to stick up for their own race.

The Affirmative Action Hoax includes a good treatment of biased grading, and describes some of the pressures for doing it. For example, the $3.5 billion health education bill of 1998 threatened to withhold government money from nursing schools from which non-whites do not graduate at the same rate as whites. In 1999, the University of Pittsburgh announced that if the average grades for non-whites in any department were lower than those for whites, the department’s budget would be cut. The consequences are obvious.

A 1998 experiment elegantly demonstrated the race effect on grades even without pressure. Researcher Kent Harber wrote a set of essays full of misspellings and grammatical errors. He wrote another identical set, except that there were hints, such as a reference to the Black Student Union, that the author was black. He then asked students to grade the papers. The students gave papers they thought were written by blacks an average grade of 3.5 out of 4.0. They gave an average grade of 2.7 to papers they assumed were written by whites.

Prof. Farron notes that scholarships are another example of blatant racial preferences, with wealthy non-whites often getting them while poor whites do not. This helps explain why, in 2001, 48.6 percent of white students had paying jobs but only 34.3 percent of blacks did. In 2002, 17 percent of white PhD students had to support themselves teaching, but only seven percent of blacks did.

Harvard gets only half of the black students it accepts, and once looked into why so many went elsewhere. The answer was money. Several blacks told Harvard that although they had family incomes of more than $150,000, other schools offered big scholarships. One of Harvard’s competitors offered a black $85,000 plus $10,000 in travel expenses every year.

More than 1,280 colleges pay the CEEB for lists of high-scoring blacks so they can recruit them — money is the most common incentive. The University of Michigan gives 80 of its “merit” scholarships (granted on non-academic grounds) to non-whites. One student, both of whose parents are doctors, explained, “I got a full-tuition scholarship, and I didn’t need it. I didn’t even apply for it.” Her mother was white and her father was black. That, Prof. Farron explains, was her “merit.”

Newspapers have occasionally written about blacks who are showered with scholarship offers despite mediocre grades. Prof. Farron notes that none ever expresses the slightest qualms about their offers because even children whose parents were affirmative-action babies think they deserve everything they can get.

Because no one can plausibly claim that today’s high school students are real victims of racial prejudice, the preferences industry now hangs its hat on the need for campus “diversity.” The 2003 Supreme Court Grutter and Gratz decisions officially upheld this justification for anti-white discrimination but insisted that preferences be based on “holistic” mumbo jumbo rather than straight preferences. The undergraduate school of the University of Michigan, which was the defendant in the Gratz case, had simply been tacking on a fixed premium for being black or Hispanic — it was worth considerably more than getting perfect SAT scores. The law school, which was the defendant in the Grutter case, had a mystic preferences ritual that examined the “whole applicant” but got the same result: a tidy quota of non-whites.

The Supreme Court said a straight score boost was unconstitutional but the mystic ritual was fine. The undergraduate school promptly switched to the ritual — and had to hire 51 new admissions officers to preside over it.

The diversity argument is a preposterous lie like all the rest. The most obvious form of diversity a university should seek is a variety of viewpoints, but campuses are unrelievedly liberal. Prof. Farron cites campuses where there are two or three registered Republicans for every 100 Democrats.

The diversity boosters always tell us how important it is to deal with people unlike ourselves, but they give their non-white darlings racially exclusive dorms, clubs, orientations, and even graduation ceremonies. Prof. Farron reports that in 1996, when Wesleyan ended up with an unexpectedly large number of freshman, it housed nine whites in Malcolm X House. Blacks shrieked, and the invaders ended up in the basement of the philosophy building.

Anti-white discrimination has been best studied in universities, but there is plenty of it elsewhere. In the 1960s, the US State Department dropped its language aptitude test because blacks did poorly on it. We may now have the only diplomatic corps in the world that ignores candidates’ foreign language ability.

Police departments have often been proving grounds for preferences and, fortunately, John Lott, now of the American Enterprise Institute, has studied them carefully. He has found that increasing the number of black officers invariably reduces the quality of the force and results in higher crime rates. In general, a one percent rise in the number of blacks raises property crime rates by four percent and violent crime rates by 4.8 percent. Hiring more Hispanics and American Indians also raises crime, but not by as much.

One problem with lowering standards to hire more non-whites means there is often no way to keep out second-rate whites either. Some police departments have gradually done away with every standard that could give racial disparities and now have essentially no objective way to evaluate candidates. (Dr. Lott also found that hiring women has consequences, too: For every one percent increase in women, there is a 15 to 19 percent increase in assaults on officers. Women officers are also more likely to shoot people than men are.) Prof. Farron notes that probably not one newspaper, newsweekly or television program has ever reported Dr. Lott’s findings.

Many other organizations suffer from lower standards. Several state bar associations worry about the low quality of the people passing the bar exam. Efforts to make the exams more difficult have gone nowhere because too many non-whites would fail.

A number of states now have teacher competency tests to eliminate boneheads. Often, they have had to be watered down to the point of meaninglessness so that more than a tiny minority of blacks and Hispanics can pass. Alabama’s case is a classic. In 1981, black teacher candidates sued the state because so many blacks were failing what had to be a “biased” test. In 1985, Alabama promised a test on which the black failure rate would be no more than five percent greater than the white rate. No such test could be devised, so the state stopped testing.

As always, as Prof. Farron points out, it is far better to have tests than not. An honest preference system would simply give blacks extra points. That would be the only way to make the black pass rate approach the white rate, but at least the worst dummies could be culled.

The Larger Context

Good as this book is on the details of preferences, it is essentially silent on their larger context. Why is there a preference industry at all? Why do whites discriminate against themselves? Prof. Farron’s historical parallel with WASPs and Jews is interesting but fails completely at the most crucial point: motive. When WASPs kept out Jews they were protecting their own interests. WASPs built the Ivy League and wanted to keep it for themselves. Non-WASPs may gasp with indignation, but a proprietary view of one’s own institutions is normal.

What whites are doing now is completely abnormal. What is the state of mind of a college admissions officer whose job is to practice discrimination against people who might as well be his own sons and daughters? Blacks who work in admissions behave normally; they advance the interests of people like themselves. Whites thwart the interests of people like themselves. This is an aberration of gigantic proportions but Prof. Farron almost seems not to notice.

Why, also, do the preference people lie about what they do? Presumably, because they are afraid they would have to stop if the rest of us knew what they were up to. Presumably they think they know what is best for us but we are too stupid or selfish to understand. But just what is it they know best? That blacks still have to be compensated for slavery? That Mexican immigrants really do deserve preferences over native-born whites? That “diversity” is essential to an education? That whites are wicked and must be harried and humiliated? That only by going to school with blacks and Mexicans can whites conquer their “racism?” They must think something, and it would be worth exploring what it is.

This is admittedly a murky subject, but it is a little surprising that an author who has ripped away so many pretenses seems to have made no effort to understand the motives of the people whose actions he has studied so carefully.