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May 16, 2013

A Simple Prescription for Race Relations

As the Supreme Court prepares its opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas (in which that school’s use of racial and ethnic admissions preferences is challenged), and as our bien pensants continue as always to agonize about the state of race relations in the United States (which are actually quite good, by the way), a few thoughts.

Racial preferences are becoming more and more unwieldy and divisive as the United States becomes more and more multiethnic and multiracial.  But they are thought necessary because without them there would be “underrepresentation” of some groups.  The same logic, by the way, is behind the use of “disparate impact” lawsuits:  They are attractive because this is another way to address the “underrepresentation” that results from merit-based selection. 

But the principal reason for some groups’ failure in the aggregate to achieve will not be solved by using racial preferences and is ignored by them – the principal reason being illegitimacy.  That’s the problem that should be addressed, rather than pretending there is something wrong or unfair with merit selection.

Last fall the federal government released its latest figures on births in the United States, including out-of-wedlock births. The numbers are very close to last year’s: 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders.

It is, of course, no surprise that the groups with the highest illegitimacy rates are the groups that are struggling economically, educationally, with crime, and so forth (and this is true not only between racial groups but within them). To take just one example, here are the latest high-school graduation rates (the numbers were are taken from January 22, 2013, Washington Post article reporting on data collected for the class of 2010 by the National Center for Education Statistics and released that week):  Asians,  93 percent; non-Hispanic whites,  83 percent; Hispanics, 71.4 percent; American Indians/Alaska Natives, 69.1 percent; and African Americans, 66.1 percent. 

See any parallels between the pairs of numbers in the two preceding paragraphs?  If not, you have a promising future as a liberal social scientist.

So here’s a modest proposal: Why don’t the NAACP and similar organizations take all the money they use to challenge and complain about the standards that their groups (in the aggregate) don’t meet when it comes to university admissions, selective high-school admissions, school discipline, mortgage loans, police and firefighter tests, felon disenfranchisement laws, employment policies that look at criminal records, etc., etc., and use that money to figure out ways to bring down the illegitimacy rates that drive all these other disparities? 

It’s all really very simple:  We should all treat people as individuals, not as members of this or that racial group; and we should all wait until we’re married to have children.  Do those two things, and race relations will be just fine.

Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

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Published by the Manhattan Institute
The Manhattan Insitute's Center for the American University.