15 May 2008

White Minority

Grath McGrath, lead singer/guitarist for the Steinways and author of such deathless lines as "You're so pretty, you're so Asian, kiss me baby, I'm Caucasian," is a prolific songwriter as it is, but the mind boggles at how much more inspired he might have been had he attended UC Berkeley instead of the considerably whiter Vassar. A stroll through the campus earlier this week had me feeling very much in the minority.

Not in a bad way, I hasten to add; in fact things seemed especially tranquil and pleasant that day, though the beautiful (for the first time in weeks) weather probably contributed to that effect. And even when I was a Berkeley student, Asians made up a disproportionately high percentage of the student body. But now they visibly as well as statistically outnumber white students, by about 42% to 31% by last year's figures.

African-American students? Not doing so well. I believe they're down to about 3% of the student body, and on this particular day, I walked from Sproul Plaza at Bancroft down to the western exit from campus at Oxford and University without seeing a single black student except for those pictured on a series of posters meant to illustrate Berkeley's commitment to "diversity."

So in a sense the hysterics were right when they predicted devastating effects for minority enrollment at the University after California voters put an end to affirmative action programs. But only in a sense, because after all, Asians are also a minority in terms of the general population, and yet they massively outnumber both whites and Latinos in representation at the state's best public university.

So is this a problem, or the result of a true meritocracy? A bit of a problem, perhaps, but also a fair result for people who obviously work harder and/or are blessed with greater intelligence, and I say that as someone who very likely would no longer be able to gain admission to UC Berkeley, whereas I was easily able to do so in the 1970s.

Yes, it's tragic that so few African-Americans are able to attend Berkeley (and a disappointingly small number of Latinos as well), but the role of an elite university is not to redress historical imbalances by lowering its standards for certain ethnic groups (and, by logical extension, refusing admission to students of other ethnic groups who have earned the right to be there). But clearly there's something wrong, not only with the primary and secondary educational systems, but also with cultures that don't sufficiently value education or the work required to obtain it.

Is racism a factor? Undoubtedly it is, though to nowhere near the extent it once was, and to nowhere near the extent race-obsessed ideologues and demagogues would have us believe. If it were, you wouldn't have Asians, another racial minority who have also endured enormous discrimination in the not so distant past, so massively outperforming every other racial group, INCLUDING the non-Hispanic whites who are supposedly running the show.

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