Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Haves, have-nots, and have-somes UPDATED

It's unfortunate, if provocative, timing that Yascha Mounk's op-ed about whether Harvard's letting in enough Asian applicants pops up on the NYT homepage right there alongside the clearly far more important (and, thank goodness, treated as such) coverage of Ferguson. The temptation is great to say all of the things that, let's face it, come to mind - tone-deaf, first-world-problems, etc. At a time when one's sense of perspective will be questioned if one has any sympathy for a brown-but-not-black store owner whose place was looted, this seems maybe not the moment to lament the possibility that an Asian-American kid will have to settle for Dartmouth.

And yet. If the point is calling out or just better understanding racism, Mounk's article contains an important missing piece to the conversation:

As recognized by the Supreme Court, schools have an interest in recruiting a “critical mass” of minority students to obtain “the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” This justifies, in my view, admissions standards that look favorably on underrepresented groups, like African-Americans and Latinos. But it can neither explain nor justify why a student of Chinese, Korean or Indian descent is so much less likely to be admitted than a white one. 
Conservatives point to Harvard’s emphasis on enrolling African-Americans (currently 12 percent of freshmen) and Hispanics (13 percent) but overlook preferences for children of alumni (about 12 percent of students) and recruited athletes (around 13 percent). The real problem is that, in a meritocratic system, whites would be a minority — and Harvard just isn’t comfortable with that.
This is more or less what I'm always saying re: Stuyvesant. I've also said similar re: Europe and Jews, but I see that Mounk has said it better.

A dynamic exists where there are those in power, those being oppressed, and then some intermediary group basically created by the powerful. The intermediaries will then serve as stand-ins for the powerful. They don't seem to be in the middle. They seem all-powerful. And then those actually in power can, in turn, seem to be helping the oppressed when they bash the intermediaries... even though they're only doing so in order to defend their own position. Those on the bottom of whichever hierarchy are kept down.

As for who would function as an intermediary... it depends. Jews, Asians, Lena Dunham - it varies according to context.

UPDATE

Another way to put it, that also ties this in with something David Schraub was just writing about: It's not that intermediaries' marginalization should be equated with that of those at the bottom of the hierarchy. (Which is to say, it's not that an Asian kid dealing with college admissions is in the same situation as a black one dealing with a racist cop.) Rather, it's that intermediaries, as I define this category, are more than just people with some intermediate level of (for lack of a better term) privilege. They're not some sort of ethnic equivalent of middle-income. They serve a specific function.