Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sowell on Mascot Politics

Thomas Sowell at www.realclearpolitics.com begins:

Years ago, when Jack Greenberg left the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to become a professor at Columbia University, he announced that he was going to make it a point to hire a black secretary at Columbia.

This would of course make whomever he hired be seen as a token black, rather than as someone selected on the basis of competence.
What a great beginning! In just two sentences, Sowell’s stated and illustrated his thesis.

A reader can only conclude: “Sure, if Jack Greenberg says skin color is the essential qualification for the job, whomever he hires will be looked at as having gotten the job because of race, no matter how competent the person proves to be."

Sowell continues:
This reminded me of the first time I went to Milton Friedman's office when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago back in 1960, and I noticed that he had a black secretary. This was four years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and there was no such thing as affirmative action.

It so happened that Milton Friedman had another black secretary decades later, at the Hoover Institution-- and she was respected as one of the best secretaries around.

When I mentioned to someone at the Hoover Institution that I was having a hard time finding a secretary who could handle a tough job in my absence, I was told that I needed someone like Milton Friedman's secretary-- and that there were not many like her.

At no time in all these years did I hear Milton Friedman say, either publicly or privately, that he had a black secretary.

William F. Buckley's wife once mentioned in passing, at dinner in her home, that she had been involved for years in working with a school in Harlem. But I never heard her or Bill Buckley ever say that publicly.

Nor do conservatives who were in the civil rights marches in the South, back when that was dangerous, make that a big deal.

For people on the left, however, blacks are trophies or mascots, and must therefore be put on display. Nowhere is that more true than in politics.

The problem with being a mascot is that you are a symbol of someone else's significance or virtue. The actual well-being of a mascot is not the point.
The rest of Sowell’s column’s here


Most liberals will get upset at Sowell for shining a light on their mascot practices, but they engage in them; then expect the rest of us to think they’re virtuous.

But as Sowell tells us near the end of his column, liberals' mascoting of blacks has been shown to, on the whole, do more harm than good. Here's some of what he provides by way of exposing the consequences of mascoting blacks :
In academia, lower admissions standards for black students is about having them as a visible presence, even if mismatching them with the particular college or university produces high dropout rates.

The black students who don't make it are replaced by others, and when many of them don't make it, there are still more others. …

Many, if not most, of the black students who do not make it at big-name, high-pressure institutions are perfectly qualified to succeed at the normal range of colleges and universities.

Most white students would also punch out if admitted to schools for which they don't have the same qualifications as the other students. But nobody needs white mascots.
Various empirical studies have indicated that blacks succeed best at institutions where there is little or no difference between their qualifications and the qualifications of the other students around them.

This is not rocket science but it is amazing how much effort and cleverness have gone into denying the obvious.

A study by Professor Richard Sander of the UCLA law school suggests that there may be fewer black lawyers as a result of "affirmative action" admissions to law schools that are a mismatch for the individuals admitted. …
At the end of his column, Sowell says using human beings as mascots “is self-aggrandizement that is ugly in both its concept and its consequences.”

Does anyone disagree?


Anonymous said...

Charlton Heston is a very good example of a Conservative who was a major participant in the Civil Rights Movement, but he never waved that around in order to pat himself on the back. And the despicable Leftist ideologues, Black and White, constantly bad-mouthed Heston because he was an outspoken champion of the entire Bill of Rights. It all goes to show that leftists are hypocrites as a group, so it isn't surprising that they participate in the "mascot" game. Our society has become infatuated with symbolism over reality. Thomas Sowell is a brilliant commentator.
Incidently, I spent Memorial Day weekend in the Asheville, NC area and went to a Pow-Wow in Cherokee. Comparing the American Indian with African Americans was unavoidable there. Why? During the nineteenth century, it was official U.S. Government policy to kill as many Indians as possible. Those who weren't slaughtered were confined to reservations and the Cherokee were force-marched to Oklahoma Territory by the U.S. Army and 10 to 15 thousand perished from starvation or freezing. Yet today, you will not find a more patriotic group in our country than the American Indian. A principal part of every Pow-Wow is an Honor Drum ceremony as the U.S. Flag is posted, and Veterans are shown great respect in the Pow-Wow Sacred Circle.
Conversely, from many of our African American neighbors all we get is more whining about how bad they were treated when slavery was legal. How many African Americans were slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry? How many African Americans were forced to make a death march to a barren and unfertile patch of wasteland? I was proud to be among people who were proud to be Americans on Memorial Day.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

Republicans do the same thing. During the 2000 campaign (I don't remember it during 2004, but it must have happened then as well) Bush paraded the "little brown ones" around to pull hispanic votes. Both parties play this game, they are politicians, what do you expect?

Anonymous said...

The statement "In academia, lower admissions standards for black students is about having them as a visible presence, even if mismatching them with the particular college or university produces high dropout rates." is simply not demonstrably true. There needs to be some clear evidence shown to prove that these students are dropping out for academic reasons before this statement (on which the entire article is based) should be accepted as true.

I have taught at every level of academia (from high school to PhD students) and most students who I have seen drop out do it for financial, not academic, reasons.

Anonymous said...

"...to a barren and unfertile patch of wasteland?"

I'm guessing you've never been to Oklahoma. You can't believe everything you see in the movies nor read in "Grapes of Wrath."

-Reader in Tulsa

Anonymous said...

I have always admired and respected Thomas Sowell. Here we have a true black leader but sadly, so few blacks willing to follow. Incidently Tarheel, at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, the largest gathering in North America, there is always the Gourd Dance, a lengthy celebration of ALL veterans who are invited to participate in the circle. Steve in New Mexico

Anonymous said...

To Tulsa Reader:
I've been through Oklahoma and the parts of it that I saw are, indeed, fertile and arable. The portion that the US Government gave to the Cherokee people was a part that was not occupied by "Sooners" because it was rocky and difficult to till. It was decidedly less desirable than the Cherokee homeland in North Carolina, Tennessee, and environs. At least that is what I have read and been told. If I'm wrong, please enlighten me. At any rate, the Cherokee people were forced out of their ancestral lands and relocated to a place they neither knew nor appreciated. My point is that the American Indian has actually been the victim of a government policy of genocide, yet thay still honor and respect America.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

One of the unintended consequences of my outrage over the Duke Hoax was my "discovery" of Thomas Sowell. I recently bought several of his books and sent them to my graduated son who is working in NY. I hope he will appreciate Sowell's work as much as I do.

You go, Tulsa, my mother was born in Paul's Valley and lived in OK City. I understand the point about the Trail of Tears, but some American Indians DID wind up with headrights as a result of being relocated- not an acceptable recompense, but, again, God closing a door and opening a window (or the law of unintended consequences, if you will)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:25 PM via JnC -

Your statement may be accurate for what you have observed at your college. But before you or anyone can conclude that the reason for dropping-out is purely financial, and not academic, there would have to be an (unbiased) survey conducted of a random sample of colleges to ascertain why American of African descent drop out.

I should add that Thomas Sowell is a very careful researcher. While he may not have provided evidence in his column, I would bet that what he wrote is based on good solid research.

In any event, at least some evidence that the decision to drop-out is not purely a financial one can be found at the following site:

The following is from two paragraphs at that site and see especially my comment at the end of the first paragraph.

"Some studies indicate that a considerable proportion of college dropouts come from low-income families. The U.S. Department of Education found that 41% of low-income students enrolled in a four-year institution managed to graduate within five years. For higher income students, this jumps to 66%. Of the low income students that did not return, <<47% left in good academic standing>>. [That means 53% did not leave in good standing - J in SS.]

Though research links financial difficulties to dropout rates, there are a number of factors that account for why students decide to leave school. Students tend to drop out because their expectations of college—academically, socially, or both—don’t match up with the reality once they get there. They also suffer from lack of motivation, inadequate preparation, and poor study skills."

Jack in Silver Spring

Anonymous said...


I agree, actual research needs to be done to show why these students are dropping out. My point was that the entire argument in that piece hangs on the stipulation that students who were not qualified were admitted. There are a number of reasons, as you suggest as well, why students may drop out. I wanted to point out that the issue is substantially more complex than presented in that piece.

Further, I have actually worked on college retention problems. A big part of the problem is the culture of education. Minority students who get to college, for whatever reason, seem to have trouble fitting in and developing a strong network at school. Without the network, if they are having trouble they seem to go back to their previous network, which usually involves dropping out. At my university we are combating this problem, with some success, by helping minority (and any student who would like to be involved) students develop a strong network through student organizations, university functions, peer-mentoring, university and peer tutoring, etc. We as a country still have a long way to go, but we are making progress.

Anonymous said...


I attended undergraduate school at a flagship state university back in the "halcyon days" of college race relations -- that brief period of about 10 years between segregation and affirmative action, where every student regardless of color was admitted under the same standards.

True, these standards resulted in low numbers of minority students; I recall the figures of "1% black and 2% Hispanic". But I had some black friends; in fact, for a time I dated black co-ed and, later, had a black as one of my two apartment roommates. I don't relate these facts to show how "liberal" I was, but to say that I cannot recall ever hearing from a black undergraduate peer that s/he was having difficulty with the academic load.

Fast-forward. Nearly 15 years after I graduated, I went back to attend law school. The day I walked in to the law school building (of the same flagship state university), I was shocked: There were about 5-times, proportionately, as many minorities in law school as there had been in undergraduate. I immediately realized that I was looking at the "affirmative action policies" that I had heretofore only read about in the newspapers. I can tell you that I heard a lot of stories from my minority classmates about how completely out-classed and over-matched they felt. I never heard that from a minority peer in undergraduate school.

Reflecting on what someone above me said -- about how affirmative action probably reduces the numbers of, for example, black lawyers, I think that's probably true.

Minority students who were indeed "over-matched" at the top tier universities would do just fine
at the second-tier schools, and excel at the third-tiers. And I can tell you that, in the courtroom, no one gives a damn where you graduated from law school.
So, that's FWIW.