What created all the heat at Monday's meeting of the Special Committee on Affirmative Action?
Fred Mohs apparently asked Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) to "shut up" after Taylor yelled at committee chair Sen. Glen Grothman (R-West Bend), accusing him of doing something that was "a disgrace to this committee ...." Taylor accused Grothman of trying to abolish or scale back affirmative action.
What could Sen. Grothman's offense have been? Certainly it was nothing that the committee approved. It only recommends phasing out race-based preferences for minority businesses with a net worth in excess of one million dollars and requiring beneficiaries of racial preferences to be U.S. citizens. Kind of weak lager.
Maybe it was a proposal to require those seeking to be preferred over others on the basis of their race or ethnicity to prove that at least one quarter of their lineage actually comes from that race or ethnicity. Local blogger Michael Mathias dislikes that one, invoking the other "N-word" and observing that there was a once a country in Europe that obsessed over who your parents were.
On that, Mike's point proves too much. If we are going to prefer people of a particular race or ethnic identity, don't we have to ensure that they actually possess the characteristics that we seek? Would it be o.k. for my son (you can see his picture below) to claim that he's black when he applies to professional or graduate school? If not, then aren't we admitting that its o.k. to inquire as to a candidates' "real" bloodline? If we think it's all right to treat people differently based upon nothing other than their race, then why should we be uncomfortable with the notion that they prove that they are who they say they are?
The objection might be made that this proposal is designed to make a point rather than to solve a problem. There may not be (at least not that I know) a problem with people claiming some racial or ethnic status other than their own. But what's wrong with making a point?
If you believe that we can treat people differently on the basis of their race "just a little" and only for "good" without perpetuating our tendency to see race before all else, then shouldn't you also be able to believe that we can verify the race of proposed beneficiaries without bringing about Kristallnacht?
Doesn't the requirement of proof flow inexorably from the endorsement of preference? If the former makes you uncomfortable and conjures up visions of a racial state, then you probably ought to ask yourself if there is an unexamined problem with the latter.
Of course, I am not saying that there is anything like an equivalence between affirmative action (in the sense of preferences) and Nazi doctrines of racial superiority. But I do believe that systematic racial preference is a potentially dangerous and morally problematic remedy that ought to be avoided if it can be. Maybe the offending proposal at least hints at the reason for this.