Adolph Reed, who professes political science at Penn, has a snarky OpEd in the New York Times today, "The Puzzle of Black Republicans." Professor Reed is puzzled why any blacks would vote for Republicans, and why anyone thinks it's newsworthy that a "token" black has just been appointed to the Senate from South Carolina, "the home to white supremacists like John C. Calhoun, Preston S. Brooks, Ben Tillman and Strom Thurmond." "The trope of the black conservative," he concludes, "has retained a man-bites-dog newsworthiness that is long past its shelf life. Clichés about fallen barriers are increasingly meaningless; symbols don't make for coherent policies."
In the 19th Century, of course, and well into the early career of Strom Thurmond white supremacy was not limited to South Carolina, or even the South, but an impartial observer (as opposed to a Penn professor of political science) might think that Tim Scott's defeating the sons of Strom Thurmond and former Gov. Carroll Campbell in a Republican primary for what became his House seat was indeed a sign of progress. Apparently Professor Reed, however, believes, that any black who is not in lockstep with what Reed is pleased to call "black interests" is, by his definition, not merely a token but a "cynical token." Thus Reed notes with evident scorn that "[a]ll four black Republicans who have served in the House since the Reagan era -- Gary A. Franks in Connecticut, J. C. Watts Jr. in Oklahoma, Allen B. West in Florida and Mr. Scott -- were elected from majority-white districts."
Reed in short places a political science veneer on the naked racialism recently on display when ESPN's Rob Parker (actually, ESPN's former Rob Parker, since he was fired over the comment) asked whether Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is "a brother or a cornball brother?" Unfamiliar with the term, Lee Habeeb looked it up on UrbanDictionary.com and found, among other definitions:
Cornball brother: An African-American man who chooses not to follow the stereotype . . . life choices include marrying white women, being a Republican, and not being 'down with the cause.'
Reed's piece contains predictable and expected bias, such as his unsupported reference to the "thinly veiled racism of the Tea Party adherents." (If it's so "thinly veiled," why do commentators like Reed always fail to point to evidence or at least examples?) And his piece is also occasionally factually-challenged, as when he claims that one of the reasons "arch conservative[s]" like Scott and Justice Clarence Thomas "are utterly at odds with the preferences of most black Americans" is that they oppose abortion. However, a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which it claims is "the most comprehensive public opinion survey on abortion and religion among the two demographics and included more than 800 interviews each with black Americans and with Hispanic Americans, bolstered by focus groups," found that 51% of black Americans believe that having an abortion is morally wrong" compared to 33% who say that "abortion is morally acceptable ."
What is more troubling than Reed's politically correct bias and corresponding factual looseness, however, is his relentless emphasis on "black interests" and "black preferences," measured, presumably exclusively, by black partisan voting habits. Most Jews vote for Democrats; does that mean conservative, Republican Jews are therefore somehow less authentically Jewish?
This emphasis on a hard and fixed black identity rooted in, or at least revealed by, partisan voting habits also has some troubling implications (as if more were needed) for "diversity"-justified racial preference policies. For example, a leading justification for needing a "critical mass" of black students offered by the University of Michigan in Grutter -- quoted and accepted by Justice O'Connor in her majority opinion -- is that "when a critical mass of underrepresented minority students is present, racial stereotypes lose their force because non-minority students learn there is no 'minority viewpoint' but rather a variety of viewpoints among minority students."
Penn, like all elite universities, has striven to increase its numbers of black students and faculty, but I'd be very surprised if their number includes many "tokens" who added much "diversity" to Prof. Reed's viewpoint, and I suspect he would be, too. I'm not aware of any studies that attempt to demonstrate that increasing the proportion of black students at highly selective schools from around 4%, a likely number in the absence of preferential admissions, to the "critical mass" of (somehow consistently) around 10% typically includes enough "tokens" or "cornball brothers [or sisters]" who "are not down with the cause" to justify the racial discrimination necessary to admit the" increased numbers necessary for a "critical mass."
In any event, as Roger Clegg and I argued in Reason No. 8 of our recent article in Academic Questions that discussed 10 reasons why we are "Against 'Diversity,'"
... [t]eaching this five-word truth, "Blacks don't all think alike," can hardly justify institutionalized racial discrimination. A law school might, instead, simply assign to its students selected opinions from Justice Thurgood Marshall, on the one hand, and Justice Clarence Thomas, on the other.
Or, at Penn, a selection from the writings of Prof. Reed and another black professor at Penn who disagrees with him on what constitutes "black interests," if one can be found.