How Can You Identify White "Oppression" Or "Implicit Bias"?

Here we are multiple decades into the era of affirmative action intended to raise up racial minorities and women in education and in the workforce, and yet by reported statistics certain groups -- women, Hispanics, and particularly blacks -- continue to lag.  Indeed, by many such reported measures, the lags have not shrunk noticeably in all these decades.  Protesters from Black Lives Matter to Antifa to NFL players to various university students and faculties think they have identified the cause:  "oppression" by white males; or maybe, in a less harsh articulation, "implicit bias."  But does that hypothesis hold up to scrutiny?  And, if there is "oppression" or "implicit bias," how can you spot it?

On the subject of the racial gap, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has just come out with a lengthy analysis of the extensive literature on implicit bias, titled "Are We All Unconscious Racists?"   It is fair to call her highly skeptical.  Her fundamental point:  how could the explanation for black under-performance be "implicit bias" on the part of whites, when literally every major societal institution is explicitly engaged in some kind of affirmative action program intended to achieve the opposite?

[Blacks] are still not proportionally represented in the workplace, despite decades of trying to engineer “diversity.” You can read through hundreds of implicit-bias studies and never come across the primary reason: the academic skills gap. Given the gap’s size, anything resembling proportional representation can be achieved only through massive hiring preferences.  From 1996 to 2015, the average difference between the mean black score on the math SAT and the mean white score was 0.92 standard deviation, reports a February 2017 Brookings Institution study. The average black score on the math SAT was 428 in 2015; the average white score was 534, and the average Asian score was 598. The racial gaps were particularly great at the tails of the distribution.

Meanwhile, over in my own beloved legal profession, it's all one big guilt-fest over the failure of the profession to achieve percentages of women and minorities at all levels -- including partners of the largest and most profitable firms and lead trial lawyer roles in the most high-profile matters -- strictly in accordance with overall population ratios.  After decades of affirmative action, the percentage of women partners at major law firms remains under 20%, and the percentage of black partners under 3%.  "Implicit bias"?  Reacting to the failure of these numbers to move much over decades, the ABA in 2008 instituted its "Goal III":  to "Eliminate Bias and Enhance Diversity" in the profession.  In its most recent web page on the issue, the ABA lists no fewer than six big initiatives, bodies and commissions:  the Diversity and Inclusion Center; the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession; the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice; the Council for Diversity and Inclusion in the Educational Pipeline; the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities; and the Commission on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.  But the numbers continue to move little if at all.    

As I pointed out in this post back in August, the problem with the "implicit bias" hypothesis in the law firm world is that there are several hundred major law firms, literally all of which claim that they are engaging in affirmative action in favor of women and minorities.  And literally all of them have in place a "diversity" bureaucracy (almost always staffed by people who are either female or minority or both) charged with achieving that goal.  Could it all be a big scam, orchestrated simultaneously by hundreds of seemingly independent entities?

And, even if you could believe that all these law firms are discriminating against minorities and women while loudly proclaiming they aren't, what about the formation of law firms?  After all, any given firm could, if it tried, discriminate in hiring.  But nobody can keep you from starting your own law firm and then trying to grow it.  All of the major commercial firms started from scratch, and remarkable numbers of the biggest and most profitable of them during my lifetime.  AmLaw Media compiles an annual list of the 200 largest and most profitable commercial firms;  here is one of their lists from 2016.  Of these 200 firms, how many were started by blacks?  The answer is zero.  But don't feel too bad, blacks.  How many were started by women?  Zero.  How many by Hispanics?  Also zero.  Was that "implicit bias"?  Or maybe, "oppression"?  If so, how did it work?  Who stopped these people from starting and building their own firms?  The same question could be asked as to firms in the technology business and, I suspect, numerous other fields.

Of course, for every white male who started one of these successful law firms, there were probably at least ten -- or maybe more like 50 -- who tried and failed at the effort to build a big and hugely profitable behemoth.  Some such start-up firms just remained small and marginal, while others failed entirely.  But in today's world, where all major law firms are practicing affirmative action for women, blacks, and Hispanics, why would any such person take the huge risk of striking out on their own and trying to make it big?  With affirmative action, the much easier, secure paycheck beckons.

From the University of North Carolina comes a story of affirmative action carried to its logical conclusion.  The NCAA has been investigating UNC for violations of its code of conduct, allegedly for providing its athletes with no-show, easy grade courses where the basketball stars can get an A without ever going to a class and then turning in one meaningless paper.  You won't be surprised to learn that the courses at issue are in the African American Studies Department.  But UNC has just been exonerated!  Its defense:  these were not special courses for athletes, but rather were courses available to all students.

In the bubble of today's higher education, the people who put this together apparently can't see that they are saddling the intended beneficiaries with an incredible handicap in life.  George W. Bush used the phrase "soft bigotry of low expectations."  The phrase seems to me a remarkable understatement.  How about "white oppression"?