More On Lower-Class Whites And Affirmative Action.

Yesterday I wrote about Ross Douthat's column implicitly endorsing a calculus that reinforces the sort of racial resentment that benefits Republicans politically and often undermines liberal attempts to expand the social safety net (characterizing attempts to extend health insurance to an uninsured population that is almost half white is "reparations"). Dan Foster purports to respond, only to prove my point:

Except Douthat's point is that, when it comes to elite college admissions, it sucks more to be poor and white than it does to be poor and black, and a fortiori, that poor blacks' chances improve as they get poorer, while just the opposite is the case for whites. Either Serwer and Fernholz are okay with this or they aren't. But they won't say, leaving us to assume that they view it as acceptable collateral damage in the battle for diversity.

This is what I wrote:

Douthat never actually suggests that the admissions process relies too much on factors that favor the wealthy -- he merely suggests that minorities are getting too many of the scraps and that lower-class whites are therefore correct to fight with people of color for the gristle being tossed under the table. Douthat never questions -- and these days few do -- the implicit size of the pie retained by the wealthy, as though being born into the type of family that can afford to send you to Andover is a matter of individual merit.

In other words, I wrote that lower-class Americans, black and white, deserve more access to elite institutions. Even the original blog post Douthat links to notes that in such contexts "black" often really refers to the progeny of elite African and Caribbean families and not African Americans, so I don't know why both he and Foster insist on framing this as a zero-sum death match between lower-class whites and lower-class blacks, except that it's worked really well for conservatives so far.

Then there's this:

But that poor whites feel disenfranchised from participation in "elite" institutions is a problem whether or not they actually are, all the more so since we live with a political culture that tells them they have nothing to complain about. In some cases, feelings of discrimination become consequentially indistinguishable from actual discrimination. So when smarmy liberals look at poor gun-and-religion-clinging whites and ask what's the matter with Kansas, this is part of the answer.

This is a rather fantastic example of a conservative endorsing an incredibly frivolous notion of discrimination, but only as applied to white people -- it's whether or not you feel discriminated against, not whether you actually are. It's telling because in order to justify a claim of widespread systemic discrimination against whites, Foster has to take the bar so low that it would take Hermes Conrad to get under it. By Foster's definition, you needn't actually be disparately affected by college admissions policies, as the study suggests lower-class whites are -- you just need to feel that way. Imagine what the courts would look like. Better yet, imagine what the country would look like if conservatives could leverage this kind of -- gasp -- empathy toward someone other then the group Foster is concerned with here.

Foster writes that liberals "dismiss as so much whining the feelings of alienation from 'elite' culture felt by poor, working class whites -- at their peril and ours." Indeed they do, but that's part of the advantage of being white, regardless of class. Neither Douthat, nor Foster, wastes any pixels on the alienation felt by lower-class people of color, because they can afford not to, while concern over white disaffection -- feigned and sincere -- is always center-stage in the American political drama.

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