Conservative Hypocrisy on Racial Profiling and Affirmative Action

But there's an exception!

For Hanson, the fact that blacks as a group commit more violent crimes, per capita, than whites justifies treating particular black people with heightened suspicion. Seeing them on the street, it is permissible to react based on their skin color, rather than treating them as distinct individuals. Suddenly, his ideal of colorblindness gives way to the logic of group statistics. Suddenly, Obama's alleged actions aren't the only thing stopping race from being "an irrelevant consideration" in the U.S. There's also the Hanson family advice to consider. Emphasis on tribe is suddenly common sense. It no longer matters that the term  "African American" conflates people from staggeringly different backgrounds. Nor is the complexity of mixed-race individuals cited as an insurmountable obstacle. A given black male is very unlikely to rob, rape, or murder anyone. But Hanson still warns his kid to be wary of all young blacks on the street. He knows the vast majority of blacks who perceive that wariness will be innocent.

Yet he advises racial profiling anyway. Like the college-admissions officer of his nightmares, he just finds race too useful as shorthand to refrain from giving "special treatment" based on skin color.

But only when the "special treatment" unfairly disadvantages blacks -- never when it advantages them.


In a recent post, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote of racial profiling, "The unspoken premise here is chilling -- the annihilation of the black individual." I share his assessment. Reihan Salam replied, "It's worth noting that other measures, like racial preferences, also efface individuality, so one assumes that the effacement of individuality per se isn't the central problem with racial profiling." Personally, I oppose both racial profiling and race-based affirmative action, and I do think the effacement of individuality is one of several problems with both.

So naturally, I don't fault Hanson for opposing affirmative action (though I reject large chunks of his rhetoric on race). I nevertheless find it perverse that he insists on the scrupulous treatment of young black males as individuals anytime they would benefit from group preferences, and then, when they'd most benefit from being treated as individuals rather than dark-skinned objects of suspicion, he prejudges all young black males based on statistics about the racial group to which they belong. For Hanson, it is a miscarriage of justice worth lamenting if an Asian-American applicant to UC Berkeley loses a spot to a black applicant due to racial preferences. And perhaps that is an injustice. Maybe the Asian American is the child of an impoverished family of Hmong refugees and the black applicant is the president's daughter. What is the likely result of that injustice? The Asian-American applicant must attend UCLA or UCI.

What are the consequences of racial-profiling, the form of individuality-effacement Hanson defends? Countless innocent black men -- that is to say, the vast majority who will never rob or assault anyone -- walking around under constant, unjust suspicion from fellow citizens and law enforcement; heightened racial tension across America; prejudice passed down across generations; and some innocent blacks killed while under wrongful suspicion. Opining on affirmative action, Hanson wrote, "It is well past time to move on and to see people as just people."

He should take his own advice. 

(Some prominent Democrats are also comfortable with racial and ethnic profiling, even though it threatens a long-term Democratic priority. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly defended racial profiling, without calling it that in a recent op-ed. Alex Pareene brutally and persuasively rebutted every point.)


*In what sense are tribal attitudes "new"? Hanson surveys American history for racial Balkanization and picks now as a high-point of ethnic solidarity. Absurd.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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