The Bizarre Contortions of Identity/Victim Group Politics

Two news stories that capture how deeply entrenched identity group politics is on the left and how it revolves around assigning everyone to a group.

The groups are fundamentally of two types: the “perpetual victims” and the “oppressors.”

These appear first on liberal-arts college campuses but those are simply the distilled essence of this tendency in progressive politics.

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Excellence as “Prejudice”


Story #1: Let’s not honor the best academic performance because it “systematically favors historically dominant groups.”

Here’s the story (link here):

  • Harvard, like all universities, admits less-academically qualified students to fill its “diversity requirements”
  • Predictable outcome: although some of these students rise to the top, many of those admitted with lower GPAs and SATs do not perform as well as other students.
    • This is not a statement about race or ethnicity. It is true regardless of demographic characteristics. If new students are less qualified according to standard markers, they perform less well, drop out more often, move to less challenging majors, and so on. There is increasing statistical evidence that these less-qualified students would achieve better outcomes if they were matched to universities where their GPAs and SATs predicted they would finish in the middle or higher.
  • Harvard, like all universities, gives out awards for outstanding academic achievement. A typical award is “best Honors BA thesis in computer science (or Latin or Philosophy).”
    • These awards are relatively new. They started in the mid-1600s.
  • According to the Harvard Diversity task force, “diverse students” don’t win many of these awards for outstanding academic performance
  • The Diversity Task Force is on the case. They know exactly what to do. If you think changing admissions is the answer, you are certainly not the kind of person who sits on a diversity task force.
  • The diversity task force recommends Harvard reduce this “overreliance on indicators of excellence that systematically favor historically dominant groups.”

Got it? Your achievement as the highest grade point average in chemistry should not be seen primarily as a mark of intelligence and diligence. It should be seen as a mark of a “historically dominent group.”

You cannot make this up. You have to find it lying around–usually in the University Office of Demographic Diversity and Thought Conformity

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By “Diverse” we mean only black like me, not black like you

Story #2: Cornell’s Black Student Group Complains Too Many Black Students at their university come from Africa, Caribbean, and Latin America.

Links here and here. Here’s the key sentence and student demand, as reported in the Cornell Sun, the student newspaper.

The irony is that this kind of “grandfather” clause was originally used in the South’s Jim Crow laws, passed in the 1890s. If you grandfather couldn’t vote, they said, then you couldn’t vote. Of course, if your grandfather was a slave, then your grandfather couldn’t vote. So, those laws kept blacks from voting.

Now they are advocated by black US students at Cornell to gain an advantage over black students from the Caribbean and Africa.

This kind of politics occurs when groups win a special benefit as a group and then try to exclude others from sharing in that benefit. (It is typical rent-extraction politics.) It has happened among Hispanics, as well. They sometimes tried to exclude Cuban-Americans from various Hispanic groupings for two reasons.  First, the Cuban-Americans were more conservative politically than the other groups. Second, the Cuban-Americans were winning disproportionate shares of competitive awards.

There is one important countervailing tendency. The black students strategy at Cornell is divisive within the minority community on campus. It splits them into US  and non-US and pits them against each other. That weakens their overall power as a collectivity, even though US blacks become more powerful within the smaller group.

To see professional politicians deal with this, look at the Congressional Black Caucus support for very liberal immigration policies. Those allow more low-skilled immigrants (legal and illegal) from countries such as Mexico, with a significant and obvious negative impact on employment in black communities. Why does the CBC support it? Presumably because they fear that “divided they fall.” If they split with Hispanic Democrats who support these immigration politics, both groups will lose politically. So, they give the Hispanic caucus what it wants and expect reciprocity on issues important to them.

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  • Tim Favero
    September 29, 2017

    Harvard is nothing but a $36B hedge fund that has a side business as an educational institution. They use the U.S. tax code to enrich their endowment (including not paying property taxes that would help Cambridge and Massachusetts), while enriching themselves by way of the federal government by getting students, who aren’t on scholarship from the “Cambridge Hedge Fund”, excuse me, I meant “Harvard University,” are exploiting the way students gets federal loans, that almost 12% of those holding student loans are in default?

  • Dave Schuler
    September 30, 2017

    I disagree with your characterization of the Cornell kerfuffle. We have a social problem in the United States and it’s only partially about race. There are grave problems among black Americans who are the descendants of slaves, a group of black Americans the sociologist Charles Moskos dubbed “Afro-Americans” . The problems include lack of economic opportunity, the collapse of the family, the street gangs that have led to Chicago’s homicide rate, and a host of others. Sub-Saharan Africans in the United States don’t experience those problems and Caribbean blacks experience them to a reduced degree.

    In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s a series of measures were put in place that were at least notionally intended to address those problems. Perversely, they have been used to confer advantages on sub-Saharan Africans and Caribbean blacks.

    It’s not new. It’s been going on for the last 30 years. That’s deseg’s dirty secret. Preferences and set-asides have gone disproportionately to sub-Saharan Africans and Caribbean blacks rather than to the African Americans, the descendants of American slaves, they were intended to help.

    While I look on your points about groups as opposed to individuals and the inherent problems in trying to solve the problems of groups with favor, nonetheless it still remains the case that Afro-Americans have special problems and some other means will need to be found to address them.

    • KL
      September 30, 2017

      Sadly, it’s apparent that institutions aren’t actually concerned with an individual’s progress, that their goal is merely to fill some quota so, for their purposes, black is black.
      My heart breaks for those who find themselves in over their heads because their earlier education was lacking.
      Who wouldn’t want to reach out and say, “It’s ok, it’s not your fault that you weren’t academically prepared?”
      If that Diversity Task Force had any integrity or worth, they’d be reaching back to the high schools to notify them of their failings. (Can you imagine the harrumphing?!) But if I were a superintendent or school board, I would certainly take note of that.

    • Charles Lipson
      September 30, 2017

      This is a smart, valuable, and well-considered comment. Thank you, Dave.

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