Faddish social theories

I don’t know what the argument was for the Seattle Public School system’s diversity policy recently considered by the Supreme Court, but after reading George Will today, I know even less:

>Seattle’s “race-conscious” policies were devised by the sort of people who proclaimed on the school district’s Web site that “having a future time orientation” (planning ahead), “emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology” and “defining one form of English as standard” constitute “cultural racism” and “institutional racism” and arise from “unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality.” Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens, said the court should be deferential to such people when they shuffle pupils on the basis of race.

>Why race? Although progressive people would never stoop to racial stereotyping, they evidently believe that any black or other minority child, however young or from whatever social background, makes a predictable and distinctive — you might say stereotypical — contribution to “diversity.”

>Breyer said that last week’s decision abandons “the promise of Brown.” Actually, that promise — a colorblind society — has been traduced by the “diversity” exception to the equal protection clause. That exception allows white majorities to feel noble while treating blacks and certain other minorities as seasoning — a sort of human oregano — to be sprinkled across a student body to make the majority’s educational experience more flavorful.

>This repulsive practice merits Clarence Thomas’s warning in his opinion concurring with last week’s ruling: Beware of elites eager to constitutionalize “faddish social theories.” Often, they are only theories. As Roberts said, Seattle and Louisville offered “no evidence” that the diversity they have achieved (by what he has called the “sordid business” of “divvying us up by race”) is necessary to achieve the “asserted” educational benefits.

>Evidence is beside the point. The point for race-mongering diversity tinkerers is their professional and ideological stake in preventing America from achieving “a colorblind mentality.”

Their policy might even be less justifiable than this makes it seem. But that’s precisely why I want to know what it is. In the fever of his perpetual advocacy (and perhaps his recent rediscovery of the virtues of segregation [here–then here]), Will never lets on that there was ever a legal case for it. And here he has managed even to make the Supremes sound like him–picking quotes about racism out of context (and to heightened negative effect). Here, for instance, is the fuller context of that quotation:

>Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

That’s better. Having a discussion about that quotation, however, would take time and would involve seriously considering the claims it makes. And that’s boring. It’s easier to call them “faddish social theories” and be done with it.

4 thoughts on “Faddish social theories”

  1. I want to clarify (since you used my post as the link to Seattle’s quote) that I, too, think it oversteps itself rather badly (on the individualism point and on the future time orientation point). I think the funnier part of Will’s column is him discussing this as a fad. Am I missing something? Are kids these days spreading malicious rumors about how the uncool kids are “futurist”? Are they demanding that the markers they use be labeled “tan” instead “nude”? What kind of fad is this?

  2. Dear David,

    If you mean that the Seattle schools’ definition of “cultural racism” oversteps on those two scores, I’d say you might be right. They certainly sound foolish, but (1) it’s difficult to evaluate them without proper context; (2) singling them out for derision (and as representative of an entire school of thought or policy) smacks of “nutpicking” (and so fails to deal with the view it criticizes fairly or substantially). We can all play those games with each other (I could go quote-picking through Will’s columns, but that wouldn’t demonstrate anything).

    On the other point, I think the fad refers to the way Justice Thomas dismissively refers to social theories he doesn’t agree with (according to Will at least). That’s unfortunate. They ought to be more serious.

    But maybe I missed the point of your observation. Apologies if that’s the case. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I feel like in a short column, what otherwise might be “cherry-picking” a ridiculous line is acceptable if in the full-context the line is equally ridiculous. I don’t the context makes Seattle’s “future-time orientation” line any less silly, so I’m willing to okay it under space-constraint grounds. The “faddish” line is a quote from Thomas dismissing the opinions of social scientists that diversity is good (a dismissal Will agrees with). I just feel “fad” is poor word choice on both their parts–whatever else diversity-theory is, it’s not what all the cool kids are doing (with their baggy clothes and their hippity-hop music….kids these days!).

  4. I’d say if you can’t fairly represent a view, then you ought not to try. That quote from the Seattle public schools may seem ridiculous (and maybe it is), but it’s not clear what relationship it had to the actual legal case being made. Here’s how will introduces the claim: “Seattle’s “race-conscious” policies were devised **by the sort of people who**. . .” Given that distant relationship between the policy and the idea, I’d say it probably bears no relation to the legal case. And the legal case–the thing with the briefs and the judges and the arguments–is the question here–not something that had been said once on the website. So Will ought to stick to serious arguments. If he can’t find a way to stick to serious arguments in his column, then he should look for another job. Which brings me to the “faddish” point. Perhaps in the opinion Thomas discusses the questions raised about the social theories used to buttress the schools’ claims, but calling them “faddish social theories” is just derisive (and, by the way, the use of “theory” is misleading in a way analogous–but only analogous–to the way opponents of the “theory” of evolution incorrectly employ the term).

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