The role model argument for affirmative action hiring cannot be dismissed out of hand. There may, however, be a few less-than-welcome autonomous consequences to consider. 

For one thing, affirmative action hiring is very likely to be sub-optimal by measures other than this role modelling. And this sub-optimality, whether true or not in any particular case, will not go unremarked upon by students of either colour. For another, turning black students on is just as likely, if not more so, to turn white students off. And, finally, imagine a generation of black youth so disgusted by the Uncle Tom-ish behaviour of their parents’ generation that they’d do anything but follow a black lead. Then it would follow that we should hire nothing but white teachers and professors.

None of these are intended as slam-dunk objections to affirmative action hiring. But they do suggest that the soundness of the role model argument should be up for empirical confirmation. Is it the case that under black instructors black students are more likely to become teachers and professors themselves? And that white students are no less likely to, given they might see themselves upon graduation being passed over in favour of their black classmates?

As I say, these are empirical questions, to which we don’t know the answers. My worry is that we may not want to.   

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

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2 replies

  1. Only 3.5 percent of the Canadian population is black. (In the USA it is 13.5 percent.)

    If we have a hard time finding white role models that are truly inspiring the black population will have to have a disproportionately high number of role models to make affirmative hiring work.


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