Going beyond race - What is competence?

September 28, 1997|By Gregory Kane | Gregory Kane,sun staff

"Reaching Beyond Race," Paul M. Sniderman and Edward G. Carmines. Harvard University Press. 192 pages. $22.95.

Paul M. Sniderman and Edward G. Carmines are political science professors at, respectively, Stanford University and Indiana University. It shows in their book. That's not a compliment.

Oh, they mean well. And it's good that university and college professors try to find some way to help America out of its racial quagmire. As W.E.B. DuBois pointed out in "Black Reconstruction," college and university professors did so much to help us into it.

And the authors have a good premise: If we would only "reach beyond race," we will pull ourselves from the racial morass. Instead of targeting programs to help disadvantaged blacks, the government should target the programs to help the disadvantaged of every race. White Americans would be more willing to support such programs, Sniderman and Carmines argue, and hence end the overwhelming resentment both liberal and conservative whites feel about affirmative action.

To prove their point, the authors cited the results of a number of experiments. All these experiments come with their own tables. All are designed to gauge the way whites feel about blacks, quotas, affirmative action and government programs designed to help blacks. There are so many experiments and so many tables and so many graphs that soon the book becomes just what you would expect from two political science professors totally detached from the currents of history: boring.

This book has no sense of history, which must be taken into account when dealing with any issue relating to black and white. When describing how whites "distanced themselves from the politics of race" when the civil rights movement took on a nationalist tone, the authors piously insist that Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan replaced Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton as demagogues.

Apparently these authors are unaware that, whatever else his sins, Newton was no racial demagogue devoted to black separatism or black nationalism. Newton viciously denounced black racism and even booted Carmichael and H. Rap Brown out the Black Panther Party for it.

Or take this passage as yet another example of how the authors have forgotten history and no doubt expect us to:

"The largest number of citizens find it unacceptable that a person who is less qualified on academic criteria be admitted to a college, because he is black, in preference to a person who is more academically qualified, whether or not he happens to be white. It is unacceptable to an even greater number that a person who is less accomplished judged by a job-relevant standard be hired, because he is black, in preferenence to a person, whatever his race, who is more accomplished. It is wrong, in their eyes, not because the person who has gained the preference is black but because preferential treatment is wrong on principle."

How's that again? Preferential treatment existed long before affirmative action came along. No one objected to veterans or the handicapped being given preferential treatment in hiring because it was "wrong on principle." The only time principle became involved is when the beneficiaries of preferential treatment were black.

It appears the authors should have asked another question in addtion to the ones they asked in all their exalted experiments: Does being white and male carry with it a presumption of being competent?

Gregory Kane is a columnist at The Sun who often writes abou race relations. Before that, Kane, who grew up in West Baltimore, worked as a police reporter at The Sun.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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