John Scalzi put up a hell of a blogpost yesterday. Titled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” it uses a videogame analogy to explain the concept of white male privilege. It’s great stuff. Go read it.
Done? Cool. Because I had a thing or two to say about the comments.
One common theme among Scalzi’s critics is the idea that white guys used to have it good, but affirmative action has put an end to that, and now the deck is stacked in favor of women and people of color. Here’s a snippet of a representative argument (from commenter bpmitche) to that effect:
In the case of academia, for instance, the admittance guidelines often restrict the number of applicants who will be accepted according to their stated race and their declared major.
For instance, let’s say that the Engineering program at Cal Poly is only going to accept 450 students in a given year; of those 450 openings 200 are set aside for whites, 100 for blacks, 100 for hispanics, and 50 for asians. There are also gender standards – let’s be generous and assume that the goal is pairity between admitted student genders. Now, let’s look at our pool of applicants: although Cal Poly gets applicants from all over the country, there are some demographic truths involved here. First, white males will be the overwhelming majority of applicants to the Engineering program, based simply on the racial demographics of the US (wikipedia). Out of any given 1000 applicants to the Engineering program 637 of them will be white, 163 will be hispanic, 122 will be black and 48 will be asian (with a total of 30 “other or mixed”).
Bpmitche goes on from there to report admission rates for various demographic categories to the nearest tenth of a percent. (“as a white male, your chances … are at best 31.8% … for a black male or female, 81.9%; for a hispanic male 61.7%, female 60.9%; and 100% for both asian males and females.”)
Damning, right? There’s only one problem with this analysis. It’s completely made up.
To start, race-based affirmative action in California’s public universities is illegal, and has been since 1996. Under the California state constitution, the state may not consider “race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” Period. At Cal Poly, admissions officials aren’t even told applicants’ race or gender.
And even outside of California, the kind of quotas this guy describes are illegal nationwide, and have been since the Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision. Since 2003, moreover, it’s been illegal to give college applicants any quantifiable numerical advantage in admissions on the basis of race. (Colleges are still allowed — though not required — to consider a student’s race on a case-by-case basis, for now.)
Bpmitche also errs in assuming that applicants to an elite engineering program will reflect the demographics of the country as a whole. If that were the case — if people of all races and genders were getting the kind of preparation and training that would render them viable candidates for admission to a school like Cal Poly — then any sort of affirmative action would of course be absurd. But they’re not.
Finally, there’s the issue of Cal Poly’s engineering school’s demographics, perhaps the simplest relevant fact to uncover. Bpmitche estimates that about 45% of the school’s students are white, while the true number is above 60%. He figures the school’s Latino enrollment at 22%, when in fact it’s just 13%. And black students, who bpmitche likewise estimates at 22% of the school’s enrollment, amount to just 0.9% — just 47 students in a school of more than five thousand.
And this, ultimately, is why folks like bpmitche think they’re oppressed.
It’s because they have literally no idea what the facts are.