In his New York Times column, Ross Douthat looks at affirmative action in 2028 — the year Sandra Day O’Connor promised us we wouldn’t need affirmative action anymore. (What? That sounds more like a policy judgment that should be made by an accountable elected official than a reading of the law by a judge? Well, grow some empathy!)
Douthat’s analysis is spot-on, but two points that he tiptoes up to deserve to be made explicit. The first is the role of class. There’s a certain irony in white liberals employed at elite institutions at which women and minorities are frequently underrepresented railing against “white skin privilege.” Most of them got to work at these institutions after graduating from fine colleges, to which they were admitted after performing well on the SATs and AP exams — two exams that would surely fail any “disparate impact” test. But that’s okay because that’s meritocracy. White skin privilege is when a bunch of boring blue-collar “fire buffs” who study fire manuals and stuff pass tests to qualify for jobs that some politically connected minister would prefer to see his buddies get.
The second point that deserves amplification is affirmative action as a “source of permanent grievance among America’s shrinking white population” that “corrodes the racial attitudes of its victims.” If Ricci-style racial preferences continue after the United States becomes a minority-majority country, it will fuel the growth and political viability of white racialist politics. (Something like the British National Party could happen here.) When American Renaissance-style white nationalists make the argument that whites should organize politically along racial bloc lines just like everybody else, most whites roll their eyes because the beneficiaries of racial preferences are more obvious than the victims. But a few more decades of mass immigration plus affirmative action could change that.
White nationalism would be very bad because, among other things, when the former majority population of your country sees itself as a distinct identity-politics group, you no longer have a country. You are then reduced to a squabbling bunch of identity-politics groups. For people who are rightly concerned about the moral evils of racism, this possibility seems like something more worthwhile to worry about than Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” which got a bunch of white people who supported George Wallace — an actual segregationist — to instead vote for a Republican who helped create affirmative action.