Identity politics begins with blacks. Identity politics came out of the civil rights era pitting blacks (and liberal whites) against Southern segregationists. Blacks won and today make up roughly 20% of the Democratic vote.
To keep blacks Democratic, and more importantly to keep them voting, Democrats must keep alive a black sense of victimhood focusing on the (white) Republican enemy. Even when victimhood comes at the price of black progress.
Affirmative action helps maintain black consciousness. In a recent Wall Street Journal “Saturday Essay” entitled, “Hard Truths About Race on Campus,” scholars Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim digested a series of studies that show race is far less important when individuals share some other prominent social characteristic, like membership on a team. According to Haidt and Jussim, “If you set things up so that race conveys less important information than some other salient factor, then people pay less attention to race.”
Haidt and Jussim found that when different groups face a common threat or challenge, it tends to replace enmity with a “one for all, all for one” mind-set. But when groups compete with each other, people shift toward hostility.
One sees that in universities today. Affirmative action, a key piece of black identity politics:
automatically creates differences in academic readiness and achievement. . . [S]tudies have found that Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students. A similar pattern occurs for high-school grades. These differences are large, and they matter: High-school grades and SAT scores predict later success as measured by college grades and graduation rates.
As a result of these disparate admissions standards, many students spend four years in a social environment where race conveys useful information about the academic capacity of their peers.In non-academic language, non-blacks tend to see blacks as dumber.
So if black identity politics succeeds in doubling the number of black students, universities will have to reach deeper into the black applicant pool, admitting those with even weaker qualifications. That increases the racial gap, and strengthens the negative stereotypes that blacks find when they arrive on campus.
Haidt and Jussim further report that students tend to befriend those similar in academic achievement. So achievement or its absence contributes to campus racial and ethnic self-segregation. Expanding affirmative action as favored by black identity politics, therefore, will yield more self-segregation, fewer cross-race friendships, and even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.
Another study found that for black (also Asian and Latino) students, “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and [it expanded] victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.”
Nor does microaggression training, designed to overcome commonplace daily indignities that make people of color feel denigrated or insulted, seem to work. Microaggression “covers everything from asking someone where they are from to questioning the merits of affirmative action during a classroom discussion.” Black consciousness protesters also demand that microaggression training be coupled with anonymous reporting systems and “bias response teams,” which means keeping track of everyone by race.
As suggested, when people of different races mix together and get to know each other, prejudice goes down on all sides. But these benefits depend on having common goals, a sense of cooperation, and equal status. The benefits disappear when microaggression creates anxiety instead.
Maybe black identity politics, which thrives on division, helps Democrats. But it seems to do so at the expense of its black victims.
Haidt and Jussim point to a more positive example of black progress:
the U.S. Army escaped from the racial dysfunction of the 1970s to become a model of integration and near-equality by the time of the 1991 Gulf War [by investing] resources in training and mentoring black soldiers so that they could meet rigorous promotion standards. But, crucially, standards were lowered for no one, so that the race of officers conveyed no information about their abilities. [emphasis added]Race would become less powerful as a social cue if schools shifted their attention away from the raw numbers of students in each category and focused instead on eliminating the gaps between the races, as the Army did.
But then black identity politics, which thrives on victimhood, would consequently suffer.