Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Hyman and Race, Parts 1 and 2

I always take a deep breath when Mark Hyman begins a commentary on issues of race. After all, this is the guy who compared undocumented Hispanic immigrants to members of al-Qaeda and has mocked concerns of African Americans about racial profiling.

So, it was with some trepidation that I took in Hyman’s two recent commentaries on the NAACP and the issue of race in law school applications. Fortunately, there wasn’t the overt race baiting that I feared. On the other hand, the commentaries together show that, contrary to what Sinclair says about “The Point” on its website, Hyman’s commentaries aren’t a means of “stimulating critical thinking” (yes, that’s what it actually says on, but ways of taking important issues deserving of careful thought and turning them into political cudgels.

In his commentary on the NAACP, Hyman wonders aloud who the organization will pick as its next president. Attempting to paint the organization as hypocritical, Hyman suggests that perhaps the NAACP might pick a white president (such as Bill Clinton) or a conservative African American (such as J.C. Watts). After making these suggestions, Hyman snidely and sarcastically says “The Point would like to know the ethnic and racial background of all candidates interviewed and those who made the short-list. There're no doubts in our mind that the NAACP practices what it preaches and that everyone will get equal consideration.”

Of course not everyone should get equal consideration. Should the NAACP consider for president individuals of any color who do not agree with many of its basic beliefs? Moreover, although the idea of a white president of the NAACP is intriguing, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the few jobs where race is an appropriate consideration. Given the membership and mission of the organization, having a leader who is African American is not a simple matter of a reverse “good ol’ boys” network. It says something important about the nature of the group itself.

But to say all of this alone is to assume Hyman’s arguments are sincere when they clearly aren’t. The NAACP has come in for abuse from Hyman on several occasions, and this is simply a case in which Hyman clumsily attempts to portray a storied civil rights group as a collection of hypocrites because he doesn’t agree with much of their political agenda.

A similar lack of that ever-more-precious commodity, nuance, is evident in Hyman’s follow up, a commentary on a recently released study by a law professor suggesting that there might be unintended negative consequences to using race as part of the selection process for law schools. Hyman, along with many of his fellow conservatives, crow about this study because its author, Richard Sander, is an avowed liberal and champion of Affirmative Action in the past.

Affirmative Action in general, and the consideration of race in admissions to institutes of higher learning specifically, is a tricky subject, and one that deserves clear-headed and rational debate about the best way of achieving a society that sees individuals as individuals while addressing social realties that have left many disadvantaged simply because of their race or ethnicity. Anyone who says there’s an obvious answer is either being disingenuous or simply hasn’t thought about the issue to any extent. Which one of these applies to Hyman is itself a debatable point, but certainly at least one of them does.

To begin with, it won’t surprise you to learn that the jury is still very much out on Sander’s study. While intriguing, the results and the methodology that produced them have been challenged by a number of heavy hitters in the world of legal academia, suggesting that as interesting as Sander’s findings are, they may go the way of the cold fusion “breakthroughs” announced by a handful of scientists 15 years ago.

More troubling, Hyman distorts the message of Sander’s study when he claims the law professor is saying “it’s the results that matter, not the process.” Even Sander himself wouldn’t agree with this characterization. Right wingers like Hyman have latched onto this study because they see it as a brickbat with which to beat Affirmative Action generally. But Sander’s study falls firmly into the “mend it, don’t end it” category, and it says nothing about Affirmative Action beyond the highly specific context of law school admissions. Contra Hyman, Sander argues that the process and the results are firmly interlinked. Both matter, because one can’t be considered without the other. Sander does not call for immediate moratorium on consideration of race in law school applications, but for a reconsideration of how it is to be used in order to meet the larger goals. But Hyman doesn’t delve into the details, because they’d get in the way of his own political agenda. (Hmmmmm….Hyman distorting the word of academicians to score political points …gosh, that sounds awfully familiar . . . .)

As one of the most longstanding and volatile issues our nation has faced, race deserves to be talked about a lot and talked about publicly. It deserves reasoned consideration, and it deserves to be open to a wide range of opinions if we want to continue making progress toward the kind of society Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of. What it doesn’t deserve is cynical posturing and distortion by those who would make the search for the truth subservient to their personal political agendas.

And that’s The Point.

P.S. If you’d like to see a fine example of a reasoned, polite, and thoughtful debate on this issue, take a look at this exchange between Sander and fellow law professor William Henderson on the Legal Affairs website. This is what discourse that stimulates critical thinking actually looks like.


At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! I saw that "Point" the other night and exclaimed out loud "Thank you middle aged, upper middle class white guy." The part that got to me the most (and has ever since the inception of "The Point") is the delivery of his message; where he pauses for dramatic effect and makes a snide facial expression just before handing us the "punchline."

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Crimefighter said...

>Of course not everyone should get equal consideration. Should the NAACP consider for president individuals of any color who do not agree with many of its basic beliefs?

An individual who isn't so hardcore left-wing leading the NAA-L-CP would do wonders for the organization, instead it has become such an extremist organization that it does NOT represent the views of the mainstream of America. They look at ANYONE who doesn't follow 100% of his philosophy as a traitor and they view conservative African Americans as outcasts.


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