Why Affirmative Action May Be Doing More Harm Than Good for Black Americans

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

I’ve been re-reading Mindset by Carol Dweck recently. If you’re not familiar with it, the basic thesis is that there are two “mindsets” — sets of established attitudes and ideas that affect how someone learns — that are predictive of how quickly and how well someone learns new things.

One mindset, which Dweck calls a “fixed mindset,” asserts that whether or not you learn something new is pre-determined; unless you have a natural talent, unless you’re “smart,” you are incapable of learning something new. The contrary mindset, called “growth mindset,” is basically that you can learn new things with some effort and that your effort is the primary factor in success.

Something struck me about the recent controversy over the recent Supreme Court decision on Harvard and UNC’s “affirmative action” policies. The 25-words-or-less summary of the decision is that you can’t end racial discrimination by racial discrimination.

The response from the liberal hive mind was … let’s say interesting. A fair number of them came out with statements that would have made my great-grandfather, born in 1861 and named for the president of the Confederacy, proud. A whole bunch of white liberals came out with statements like, “without affirmative action, higher education will become a whites-only plantation”; reduced to their core belief, they’re saying that “dem darkies ain’t smart enough to get into Harvard on their own.”

I’m sure my great-grandfather would agree.

But here’s the thing: the fixed mindset is basically characterized by a belief that your ability to learn or to succeed is predetermined by factors outside your control. If you’re not “smart enough” and you’re being “held down by the man,” you won’t be able to get into Harvard, UNC, or law school, and people like Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice couldn’t have succeeded except for affirmative action.

Now, hardly anyone on that side of the divide noticed or recognized that the Asians who brought the suit were responding to explicit racial discrimination. For purposes of radicalized admissions, they were demoted to “honorary white people” who were trying to stand in the way of really entitled People of Appropriate Color, probably because they weren’t really smart enough to know they were being manipulated by white supremacists.

Here’s the funny thing. There are a number of reasons Asians do well here. First, there’s significant selection bias. You hardly ever see someone from the streets of Kolkata or a peasant farm in China over here looking for admission to Harvard. Instead, they are people who have already made a success in their own country or whose parents have before they moved to the United States. Second, and I think more importantly, they come from the culture of the famous “A- is an Asian F.”

In other words, Asians and many whites come from a “growth mindset” culture. Blacks and to a lesser extent Hispanics come from a fixed mindset culture.

Affirmative action just reinforces that fixed mindset. You’re not capable of Harvard on your own. You must have the help of the Great White Father.

And modern liberals simply won’t stand for any other.


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