More On Structural Discrimination

Michael Berube's response to my writing about the lack of conservatives in the cultural elite is, perhaps unsurprisingly, just a tad overwrought, and not very responsive.  Frankly, I sort of wondered if he didn't outsource it to an undergraduate.  He makes some decidedly unhilarious jokes--conservatives!  country clubs! take my wife--please!--and then proceeds to berate me for not mentioning Jim Crow.

Yes, obviously, Jim Crow was an important means of maintaining segregation.  And yet, in the three quarters of the country where it didn't exist, we still didn't have a lot of blacks getting hired into positions of responsibility by white institutions.  How could that be?  It's almost as if there was some other force . . . maybe we could call it "discrimination" . . . that was keeping people out of whole areas of employment. 

Get me the New York Times! The world needs to know about this!



What I was saying about non-legal discrimination is bog standard Sociology 101, to the point that I am positively shocked to find Michael Berube claiming that the only thing that matters is the law.

I mean, to a conservative, this is no doubt a gratifying admission.  If Jim Crow is the only reason we didn't have black bank managers, then we certainly don't need affirmative action, and we can stop worrying about racism in general, because Jim Crow is gone!

On the other hand, if we think there is structural racism, and structural sexism, and that these are a problem even though explicit legal discrimination against blacks and women ended some decades ago, then it must therefore follow that, well, structural discrimination can be a problem even without legal infrastructure to bolster it.

Me, I think there's structural racism, and structural sexism--though my views on the latter are considerably more complicated than my views on the former.  I don't know exactly what to do about this, since affirmative action has proven an unsatisfying remedy in many ways. But I'm pretty sure that it exists.

Because I think that society can produce these bad outcomes, I also find it very plausible that there are structural barriers to conservative entry into mainstream academia and media, and I physically wince when I hear otherwise committed liberals making arguments about conservatives that were state-of-the-art when the Dartmouth Review deployed them against affirmative action around 1984. 

And I don't even know what to say when he accuses me of claiming that blacks didn't try to be bank managers because they'd be lonely.  Obviously, blacks didn't set out to be bank managers because they knew they wouldn't get the job, and even if they did, they'd probably be at greater risk for getting fired, and would find it very hard to move elsewhere.  No one can write so carefully as to avoid misinterpretation by people who are determined to believe the stupidest possible thing.

As far as I know, Michael Berube is pretty sure structural racism exists too, so I find his post more than a little puzzling.  If the best argument he can muster is that any group that didn't suffer Jim Crow can't be said to face structural barriers to employment, then I think we've got huge portions of the regulatory state to dismantle, not to mention half the sociology departments of America.

Now, maybe you want to argue that professors are so awesome that they aren't prone to bias . . . but they do seem to think that they're prone to racial and gender bias, so that can't be it.  Or maybe we want to argue that conservatives are not a class worthy of protection.  I think it's a little odd to believe that it doesn't matter whether people with certain sorts of beliefs find it systematically difficult to get a toehold in the areas of life that deal with our beliefs . . . unless you make the circular argument that their ideas must be bad, because academics don't hold them!  But I'm not trying to get conservatives a good seed in the injustice olympics--I'm interested in whether they are excluded, not whether their exclusion is better than that faced by blacks, or worse than that faced by people who stutter.  I'm not looking for protection for conservatives.  Even if we all agreed that there was unconscious discrimination against conservatives in academia, affirmative action would be a terrible idea on so many levels that I don't even know where to start.  The most I hope for is for at least some liberal academics to be conscious of the fact that they might be prone to be nicer to people who agree with them, than people who don't.

But apparently Michael Berube finds the possibility of being nice to conservatives too horrifying to contemplate.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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