Why Clinton’s Race Panel’s Recommendations Will Not Work

By Edwin A. Locke

The long awaited Presidential Report on race is out at last. Although it has been described as vague in it’s recommendations, the report supported Clinton’s “mend it, don’t end it” policy on affirmative action. The report also criticized racism, past and present, and argued that there should be a presidential panel to promote racial harmony. The problem is, however, that racial harmony is incompatible with policies such as affirmative action. You cannot have racial harmony if you are forced by law to think in racial terms.

Although it is now taken as a virtual axiom that the way to cure racism is through the promulgation of racial and ethnic diversity within corporations, universities, government agencies and other institutions, the unshakable fact is that you cannot cure racism with racism. To accept the diversity premise means to ignore individual character or merit.

Let us consider the issue in the realm of work as a case in point. Taking jobs away from one group in order to compensate a second group to correct injustices caused by a third group who mistreated a fourth group at an earlier point in history (e.g., 1860) is absurd on the face of it and does not promote justice; rather, it does the opposite. Singling out one group for special favors (through affirmative action) breeds justified resentment and fuels the prejudices of real racists. People are individuals; they are not interchangeable ciphers in an amorphous collective.

Consider a more concrete, though fictional, example. Suppose that since its creation in 1936, the XYZ Corporation refused to hire redheaded men due to a quirky bias on the part of its founder. The founder now dies and an enlightened Board of Directors decides that something “positive” needs to be done to compensate for past injustices and announces that, henceforth, redheads will be hired on a preferential basis. Observe that: (1) this does not help the real victims—the previously excluded redheads; (2) the newly favored redheads have not been victims of discrimination in hiring, yet unfairly benefit from it; and (3) the non-redheads who are now excluded from jobs due to the redhead preference did not cause the previous discrimination and are now unfairly made victims of it. The proper solution, of course, is simply to stop discriminating based on irrelevant factors. Although redheaded bias is not a social problem, the principle does not change when you replace hair color with skin color.

The traditional and essentially correct solution to the problem of racism has always been color-blindness. But this well-intentioned principle comes at the issue negatively. The correct principle is individuality awareness. In the job sphere there are only three essential things an employer needs to know about an individual applicant: (l) Does the person have the relevant ability and knowledge (or the capacity to learn readily)? (2) Is the person willing to exert the needed effort? and (3) Does the person have good character, e.g., honesty, integrity?

It will be argued that the above view is too “idealistic” in that people often make judgments of other people based on non-essential attributes such as skin color, gender, religion, nationality, etc. This, of course, does happen. But the solution is not to abandon the ideal but to implement it consistently. Thus, training and education should focus not on diversity-worship but on how to objectively assess or measure ability, motivation and character in other people.

The proper alternative to diversity, that is, to focusing on the collective, is to focus on the individual and to treat each individual according to his or her own merits. This principle should apply in every sphere of life from business, to education, to law enforcement, to politics. Americans have always abhorred the concept of royalty, that is, granting status and privilege (and, on the other side of the same, coin inferiority and debasement), based on one’s hereditary caste, because it contradicts the principle that what counts are the self-made characteristics possessed by each individual. Americans should abhor racism, in any form, for the same reason.

Our leaders have not had the courage to identify the proper antidote to racism and the proper alternative to racial thinking: individualism Their belief—that you can cure racism with racial quotas—is a hopeless quest with nothing but increased conflict and injustice as the end. Here is what every parent, every teacher, and every leader should promulgate as the prime axiom of racial harmony: you are a sovereign individual human being first, a male or female second, and a member of a racial group third.

About Edwin A. Locke

Edwin A. Locke, a Professor Emeritus of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute (www.aynrand.org) in Irvine, Calif.