Eighteen months ago Philip Yancey wrote in this magazine about the Law of Unintended Consequences, citing Malcolm Muggeridge's view on the potential for change through politics: "The result is almost invariably the exact opposite of what's intended." Yancey cited the War on Poverty and the classification of alcoholism as a disability as optimistic efforts gone South. He could have chosen affirmative action as his prime example.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has several corollaries, the first of which is the Doctrine of Unlimited Missions: An organization will try to perpetuate itself when its mission is accomplished, by creating another mission. Affirmative action was supposed to be temporary and remedial. As President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 commencement speech at Howard University, "Freedom is not enough. … You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, you're free to compete with all the others, and justly believe that you have been completely fair." The idea was to give the grandsons and granddaughters of slaves just enough consideration in education and employment to equalize the economic context. Three decades later, there has been significant growth of the black middle class, but studies indicate that very little of that success is indeed attributable to affirmative action. And therefore, while huge problems of poverty and family structure still lock millions in misery, it is unlikely that standard affirmative action programs will fix them.

In the late sixties, worrying perhaps that its mission might someday be accomplished, the affirmative action machine found a new mission in the ideology of diversity: working to ensure that all ethnic and racial groups (not just those "hobbled" by a history of slavery) are proportionately represented in our universities and the ranks of government contractors. This ideology, however, gives preferences to many who need no help, and creates situations in which some minorities "lose" so that other minorities can "win."

There is a second corollary, the Money Magnet Effect: Most of the money appropriated for a tax-funded public good will be diverted before it reaches truly needy recipients. Consider the temptation that set-asides (government contracts reserved for minority-owned firms) create in cities with minority mayors and minority-dominated city councils. In 1993, George LaNoue calculated that groups eligible for affirmative action constitute a majority of the total population in 12 of the nation's 20 largest cities. More than half of the 12 had mayors from minority groups.

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And consider an audit of the Small Business Administration's Minority Enterprise Development Program (which is supposed to help "economically disadvantaged" minorities): 35 of 50 randomly selected participants had net worths in excess of $1 million (in violation of government rules), and 12 of the 50 received more than $750,000 annual compensation. Such programs have basically benefited not the poor, but those with resources who know how to play the game.

The third corollary is the Ultimacy-of-Integers Theorem: What cannot be counted (for example, racial justice) will be counted anyway. This is why affirmative action has appealed to big business (while it has been the bane of smaller enterprises). "If you want to see political correctness run rampant," says Alan Wolfe in the New Yorker, "forget the universities and visit the human-resources … departments of the big corporations." By and large, business actually likes trying to quantify the unquantifiable. And what began as a response to government pressure and a threat of lawsuits has become a mission for "corporate cultures suffused with 'empowerment,' 'holism,' … and 'win-win.' " It has also helped them exploit more diverse markets.

The fourth corollary is the Pretty-Good-for-a-Black-Person Phenomenon: If you insist on helping people because of their skin color, others will assume that skin color equals the need for help. Yale law professor Stephen Carter has written about this phenomenon under the rubric of "the best black." If you are hard working, and very good at what you do, whites will rarely consider you "the best," he says. Instead, you'll be "the best black lawyer." Pretty good, that is, for a black. This has clouded the reputations of high-achieving minority persons. Such not-so-subtle racism continues to plague the black middle class.

The fifth corollary is the Hopwood Effect: Considering race, even as one factor among many, inevitably ends up creating injustices. Cheryl Hopwood, a CPA with good grades from California State University, scored well on the Law School Admissions Test and sought admission to the University of Texas law school. Despite excellent qualifications, she was turned down. Why? She was not allowed to compete with all other applicants for positions in the entering law class. Rather, the university maintained a two-track admissions procedure, with whites competing for certain classroom seats, while blacks and Latinos competed for others. As a result, less-qualified students were admitted to the law school while Cheryl Hopwood was left out. The federal court agreed with her complaint: Two-track admissions systems are verboten. Hopwood is just one of many such cases of qualified people who lose opportunities for promotions, employment, or education.

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Colorblind California?
Frequently identity politics trumps both justice and reason, as when the California legislature decided to insist on equal outcomes, not just equal opportunity, in education. This led two activists to create the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI or Prop. 209), allowing the voters to approve an official policy of colorblindness for their state. This sounds noble and highly principled. Ideally, race should not enter into our hiring decisions, our admissions policies, our government contracting. But then, this is the real world.

CCRI passed with a solid 10 percent margin in a state where 43 percent of the voters are black, Hispanic, or Asian. Though most minority voters did not favor CCRI, a solid quarter of blacks and Latinos approved it, while nearly 40 percent of Asian voters voted aye. Economist Glenn Loury, a black, would have voted for CCRI—if he had been a Californian. He agreed in the November 18 New Republic that CCRI's "proponents have both better arguments and cleaner hands than its critics." Nevertheless, he called the measure "flawed both in letter and spirit" because it "implicitly denies that racial justice is a legitimate public goal."

We agree: Racial justice must be a public goal. The question is how best to serve racial justice, not how to remove it from the consensual list of public goods.

Loury, who generally opposes the racialization of public policy, recognizes that in the real world race, gender, and ethnicity matter to the success of some legitimate and necessary efforts. "Ideally, racial identities should be irrelevant to our dealings with one another," he writes. "Yet clearly they are not." As one example, he lends support to the preferential hiring of black prison guards in an Illinois "boot camp" for young offenders, three-quarters of whom are black. If effective re-education of these young men is what counts, it is arguably necessary for people of their own race to participate in that effort. This situation and others Loury cites in which race is relevant to the achievement of a goal require a lack of official colorblindness.

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"The broader point," writes Loury, "is that an ahistorical, racially symmetric, notion of governmental non-discrimination may be impossible in practice." He supports measures such as targeted recruitment and "developmental affirmative action" (such as military programs that do not lower standards, but that invest heavily in enhancing black performance). "What distinguishes this 'developmental affirmative action' from the more familiar 'preferential affirmative action,' " writes Loury, "is that it takes black underdevelopment in late twentieth-century America seriously."

Not diversity, but reconciliation
The most effective tools at lifting families out of poverty are values of disciplined living and a respect for education. Affirmative action, which muddles questions of individual rights and group responsibilities, cannot provide these tools. Restoring these values, as well as restoring family life itself, is the task facing church, business, and school partnerships. The stories of limited success, such as those reported on pages 70-73 of this issue, show us we have the models.

Just as business has learned to love diversity, some Christian organizations have been learning to love racial reconciliation. The story of Promise Keepers' active commitment to racial healing is by now familiar (CT News, Jan. 6, 1997, p. 67). Less well known is the effort of Strang Communications, which in one year's time brought its percentage of minority employees from about 4 percent to 25 percent —this in a Florida county that has a minority population of 9 percent. Strang publishes magazines for Pentecostals and charismatics, a stream of evangelicalism that has strong appeal among African Americans and Latinos. It makes good business sense in that minority-rich "market" to staff accordingly.

But it also makes gospel sense—not the ideology of diversity, which has grown far from the scriptural vision as diversity has come to include "sexual preference" and New Age values, but the ideal of reconciliation. Reconciliation can only happen when peoples labor and live together. Time spent together, meals shared, senses of humor discovered, sensitivities explored—these things both require and build togetherness and reconciliation.

Racial reconciliation is the wave of God's future. And while affirmative action was a sadly failed experiment, we must work to bend the public will toward doing the right thing.

February 3, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 2, Page 14

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