Suppose you are studying for your dream job, a job that will be interesting, rewarding, and that will pay well and provide good benefits. You expect that 1000 people will be hired when you graduate. The hiring process will require that you demonstrate knowledge of all aspects of your qualifications. However you learn that there are 10,000 people expected to apply for that job. How hard would you study?
Now let's change the scenario a bit. The people hiring not only want employees who can do the job, they also want a certain physical characteristic, namely red hair. In fact they are willing to hire people otherwise unqualified if they have naturally red hair. Of the 10,000 people studying for that job, only 800 are redheads and you are one of them. That means you are essentially guaranteed a job. Now how hard would you study?
“That's silly,” you say. “What employer would ever do such a thing? If they did they would only encourage certain groups to slack off. The employer would end up with incompetent employees. Other employees would resent them and the incompetents would feel inferior. Morale and company performance would both suffer.”
Sadly the answer is that lots of employers do similar things, and our government encourages them to do it. In fact government is the prime offender. The desired characteristics are not red hair but dark skin or two X chromosomes. Any employer with an insufficient number of employees in those categories is considered to be discriminatory, regardless of other reasons for the workforce makeup. Universities also attempt to admit students at least partly on the basis of ethnicity. The results are predictable. We've created a form of identity-based society. Groups of people think that they are entitled to jobs or advanced education because of their ethnicity or sex. In all too many cases, identity supersedes qualification.
For example, “Black American college students planning to go on to post-graduate education were found by one study to feel no sense of urgency about needing to prepare themselves academically 'because they believe that certain rules would simply be set aside for them.'”* That study was done before such things as the Bakke decision, but it does illustrate the problems created by entitlements. People simply don't work as hard when they perceive no need to do so.
Similar studies have found a lackadaisical approach to learning elsewhere when some ethnicities were given preference for hiring or admission. Malaysian students were legally entitled to preferential hiring for government jobs, over the better-educated Chinese minority. In the American Virgin Islands children knew they would have government jobs waiting so they failed to apply themselves in school. Meanwhile their West Indian classmates did better academically but were not eligible for those jobs. In those cases it was the majority getting the preferences and slacking off because of those preferences.* *
The result in such cases is discrimination against those who work harder to become qualified. Another result is poor performance of all employees. Those employees hired (or students admitted) to achieve “racial balance” or something similar are seldom qualified so they cannot do the work well. The qualified employees resent those hired to meet quotas, so they often fail to work to their ability. Everybody loses.
The U.S. Naval Academy is a sad example. Most applicants with C average grades and a 500 SAT score can forget about ever being admitted. Not so for black applicants. In an effort to “remove artificial barriers” they can be sent to a remedial school in Rhode Island where they will have a chance to improve their grades. Even if they fail there they may be admitted to the academy. Then if they do poorly in either class work or deportment they will be treated with kid gloves in order to reach the de facto quota of black naval officers.
As a result of this special treatment, those “special” students are the subject of resentment. Their white classmates resent the fact that they got special treatment. Of course there are plenty of qualified black cadets at the academy and they resent the fact that people may think that they were also admitted under affirmative action instead for their very real qualifications. As citizens we might all resent the fact that defense of our country is being entrusted to the unqualified.
Of course we should help inner city kids whose schools are hardly worthy of the name. However the way to do it is to provide them with opportunity for a good education, not to put them into situations where they are unqualified. Unfortunately too many people want to do it backwards. They want to build the superstructure before the foundation by admitting the unqualified to higher education or by hiring them. Instead we should build the foundation first by educating them at the primary and secondary level.
College admission is not an entitlement. Neither is a job. We need to encourage people to become qualified for education and jobs, not just give it to them because of skin color. Giving someone an “entitlement” because of irrelevant physical features deprives the person of the satisfaction that comes from being a productive citizen. It deprives others of the jobs or education they might have had. It deprives the country of what that person might have produced had he developed his potential instead of just taking “entitlements.”
We should all work to stop this nonsense, for the betterment of the country and for the benefit of both those discriminated against and those handicapped by receiving preferences.
*Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice, p40, referring to Daniel C. Thompson, Private Black Colleges at the Crossroads