Greg Moses
White Facts
Submitted to Online J of Ethics
c 1996

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White Facts and Questions of Justice: Reforming the Commonplace Logic of Diversity

Although this article is not for whites only, it dwells upon moral questions raised by white facts.(1) A white fact is a straightforward thing which may be located according to commonplace distinctions. For instance, there are white voters, white men, and white power. There are also white colleges, white neighborhoods, and white markets.(2) Occasionally, one speaks of white friends. These commonplace determinations are based roughly on skin color and European ancestry. Some examples are not so easy to decide, but they are not the subject of this essay.(3)

I assume that white facts raise moral questions, but this assumption is increasingly controversial. One one side of the issue, white facts are said to have no moral valence at all. If a fact is white, it could just as well be purple or green--in any event, the color of a fact is not worthy of moral consideration. On the other side of the issue, it is agreed that white facts do raise moral questions, but disagreements arise about what the questions are. To the former position, I have nothing to say directly. To the latter, I suggest attention to questions of justice. As Bernard Boxill has argued before me, justice is neither an obsolete nor counterproductive concept, but a value worth pursuing (Boxill 1992).

Two kinds of white fact provide the occasion for this paper; both concern white college professors. The first kind of fact, finds the professor in a predominantly white classroom. The second, situates the professor among predominantly white faculty. Each fact raises moral questions, but what kind? Generally speaking, multiculturalism is the term which describes efforts to address fact one; affirmative action is in a similar relationship to fact two. These twin projects--multiculturalism and affirmative action--are prominent features of the broad social movement that is increasingly disparaged as political correctness. Today, the so-callled politcal-correctness movement finds hostility all around, typified by such prominent and powerful voices as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In this paper I would like to strengthen the case for multiculturalism and affirmative action by arguing that white facts ought to be approached through a heuristic of justice.

At first glance it seems obvious to argue that white facts raise questions of justice. Yet I find that commonplace discussions of white facts often stray toward other questions. If justice were more often the guiding principle in such matters, perhaps multiculturalism and affirmative action would be less demeaning to bystanders who happen to hear white professors debating the issues among themselves. Perhaps a heuristic principle of justice would salvage multiculturalism and affirmative action from much hostility.

Too often, justifications for multiculturalism and affirmative action rely on appeals to self-interest or they convey implied supremacy. Justifications by self-interest sound like this: "it will be better for our kids if they are exposed; it would be more enriching for us to work in a more diverse environment; it's plain stupid for us to be so out of touch!" Other justifications imply supremacy: "less qualified minorities need a boost; we have to help them out; without preferential treatment, they could not compete." Much of what angers Justice Thomas seems to derive from the attitudes which accompany such justifications. Thus, we have a Supreme Court Justice who, in his zeal to undercut patronizing justifications, is ready to dispense with affirmative action altogether. As an alternative to such a drastic remedy, I suggest that we reform our commonplace justifications of affirmative action and multiculturalism from the standpoint of justice.

Self interest and the doctrine of appreciation

Let's begin with a white professor addressing a predominantly white classroom. The professor ensures that nonwhite perspectives are included in course material. Some kind of moral question has been raised in the process, but what kind of question is it? The commonplace justification for the professor's action is a kind of doctrine of appreciation: a classroom of predominantly white students will usually need of some exposure to alternative cultural perspectives. It will be good for the students if they encounter more cultures--hence the term multiculturalism.

It would seem that the professor's actions have been appropriately justified by the doctrine of appreciation. Indeed, what else should be required? But I want to argue that, although the doctrine of appreciation is a helpful justification, when it stands alone in the diversity debates, its stands weakly. A stronger argument for diversity would add that white students should understand other cultural perspectives in order to better solve complex problems of justice. Thus it is not sufficient to say that the end of eductional is appreciation. In other words, the end of education is not to enhance appreciation of the world, but to enhance the world itself. And what greater enhancement is there than justice?

Of course, if one is going to enhance the world, it should be done with enhanced appreciation, but this is just the point. Enhanced appreciation is best justified when it leads to something else. In fact, how else might we measure what we mean by enhanced appreciation if not by the difference it actually makes. A common view of multiculturalism would agree that the curriculum should recognize the value of nonwhite cultures, but would disagree that education has any consequent responsibility to address questions of justice. Sometimes it is claimed that the move from cultural studies to affirmative action, for instance, is a shift from education to advocacy. What this half-measure itself advocates is some reconstruction of curricular content that will not address the exclusionary practices which provided the basis for the cultural isolation that we now seek to redress. As this argument goes, increased appreciation will probably lead to increased justice anyway--but if not, then no big deal. By preparing students to be open to cultural appreciation, white educators have met all the moral obligations they are bound to respect.

In response to the doctrine of appreciation, I want to argue that appreciation, when not accompanied by attention to justice, serves to perpetuate the predominantly white complexion of predominantly white institutions, only this time with a self-satisfied attitude among the predominantly white community that their predominant whiteness reflects absolutely no predominant problem! In this event the wars between pro-multicultural and anti-multicultural forces on predominantly white campuses reflect a dramatic crisis within white identity that will, in either event, result in the perpetuation of white power. However well the doctrine of appreciation may fare, the cause of justice remains extrinsic to its logic. Even when the doctrine of appreciation wins a skirmish with well-known antagonists of our day, and multicultural reforms become curricular policy, we are often compelled to wonder where is the justice in the payoff.

No doubt, professors who have worked with white students on the issue of racism, have noticed the doctrine of appreciation at work. They have perhaps shared the experience of expecting that a syllabus of appreciation would compel conclusions about justice. In fact, students with increased levels of appreciation are then quite free to argue that no further adjustments are necessary, since an appreciative attitude is the end of moral obligation with respect to nonwhite populations in the United States. I have heard this state of mind referred to as educated racism. And this is what the doctrine of appreciation does not prevent.

Students today thus agree to several important premises, but refuse to assent to crucial conclusions. Agreement for instance is forthcoming to propositions that all people should be treated equally, that all cultures should be appreciated, that no one should be hampered because of racial characteristics. It may even be agreed, after some discussion, that racism persists in today's society. Affirming all these things, however, does not seem to warrant the further conclusion that predominantly white institutions have a positive obligation to diversify along racial lines. If a white company wants to continue hiring white people, and if the white people hired are qualified to carry out the profitable duties of the company, then so be it. Why should anybody go looking for racial diversity? Why should anyone be hired just because of the color of their skin?

This predicament among white students is widespread in the United States, not peculiar to any region or type of institution, whether public, private, or parochial. So long as profit, efficiency, productivity, and competition are well served, then white institutions have no higher law they are bound to respect. In sum, there is no higher law than profit. Thus, I can't help thinking that Nietzsche was correct right when he declared that God is dead because Christianity killed Him. But I am not a theologian. I pursue my interests through the tradition of social and political philosophy. Whether God lives or not, I think it is proper to argue that there is a higher law than profit. For lack of a better term, let's call it justice. And so I have made my way to a second issue--how the doctrine of appreciation hampers the logic of affirmative action.

When faced with the widespread and distressing attitude among white students that affirmative action is beside the point of legitimate business practices, and that white institutions can go along being white so long as they work, my first inclination is to raise the argument of enlightened self-interest. Thus, I may argue that profitability may indeed depend on some kind of stable social order. So long as white institutions refuse to encourage diverse participation, those institutions will come under increasing attack and will encourage a stratified social order (apartheid) that cannot be conducive to peaceful commerce. If white institutions have enjoyed three and half centuries of prosperity in the United States, I will argue that they cannot arrogantly assume three centuries more. We know very well the kinds of exclusionary methods necessary for past generations of white power. And we know that this spirit of exclusion has its strong supporters even today, willing to lead us back to the golden age of white might. Frustration in nonwhite populations has been building for the past three centuries. Do we expect it to build for three centuries more?

Under contemporary conditions, it is tragically comical to watch white people call for ever more reincarnations of Martin Luther Kings. You have heard the refrain: Why can't more black leaders be like King? Why can't we love each other instead of spreading all this hate? There are even suggestions that King's approach to justice was colorblind. After three and a half centuries of persistent racism, it seems that white populations genuinely feel that they are entitled to nonviolent opposition forever. As if the black population should be a race of saints unlike any population before it! As if there never was a violent revolution for white folks to celebrate on the Fourth of July!

I think, however, that white power will not have the luxury or grace to depend on three hundred more years of Martin Luther Kings. Especially if the Supreme Court turns against affirmative action, we will have reversed the material conditions which made King's appeal possible. After all, King could be hopeful so long as the Supreme Court declared for integration--and he could find hopeful followers. If white folks are going to take a position that is enlightened by self interest, they might well see how they are replanting seeds of strange fruit with every new generation that perpetuates institutional exclusion under any cover whatsoever.

From a philosophical point of view that is in fact informed by King, I think that self interest has limits that can never quite touch the important questions of justice. "Justice at its best is love correcting everyting that stands against love" (King 1967). There is a higher law than self interest, and this law requires that any project of multicultural appreciation should entail the raising of submerged questions of justice. Consider this argument for affirmative action: the experiences of white workers are limited when they are surrounded only by other white workers who share the cultural assumptions and dispositions that get promulgated along race lines. Therefore, the richness of the work environment is enhanced for the white worker when diversity is pursued. Now this argument is just another version of the self-interest position. Diversity is justified wholly and completely from a white perspective.

The white worker may argue, "it would be better for me were I to work in a diverse environment, therefore let the diversity begin." And so long as we are operating in a hyper-pragmatic mode, any opening is an opening nevertheless. And like the skirmishes won in behalf of cultural appreciation, I would not want to discourage their prosecution. But if we want to draw out the intelligent implications of the doctrine of appreciation--however shrewd it may be under particular situations--I think we have to be dissatisfied that this doctrine overlooks something fundamental. It overlooks the need to be actually concerned about the legitimate claims that any group of citizens may raise about its rights to participate in the social community. And these are the rights which have been left still buried by the excavations of the doctrine of appreciation.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. These are pearls of wisdom that provide profound riches for commonplace Christian tradition. But they cannot be confined to the terms of self-interest or profit. For the first pearl tells us directly to love someone else other than ourselves, and the second pearl says to treat them with instinctive compassion. These pearls do not confer mere appreciation, but something more. Appreciation may be something we do, it may serve as a foundation for service, and it may enrich our own lives, but it is not the end of the multicultural project. Ultimately, a multicultural aspiration pursues community that is inclusive of the widest and fullest harmony of activity between our various centers of interest. At some point, multicultural aspirations must survey the relationships between racial and ethnic groups and ask if everyone is loved and well treated. But I don't think appreciation rises far enough toward either challenge to satisfy the value implied by our pearls above.

Revaluing Integration

Having outlined a reform of our commonplace justifications of diveristy, I wouldnot want to suggest that such reform will be easy. There are dimensions of the commonplace which appear virtually intractable when viewed against the background of racial history in the United States. If we have won a slim margin of approval for the proposition that integration should not be obstructed, we nevertheless find disapproval growing at the suggestion that integration should be encouraged.As a multicultural sympathizer with several years of experience at a predominately white, conservative, Republican, university campus in Texas, I have been assailed by all kinds of opinions about affirmative action. And working to loosen the knots that others have tied within me during their various outbursts of conviction, I have spent many hours thinking about the peculiar patterns of popular opinion which prevail in America today. Hardly anywhere among the voices that make up my world, do I hear any which would sing the praises of integration as a goal worthy of any commitment beyond intellectual assent.

In keeping with sociological findings about the "new racism," white opinions tend to agree that race should not be an excluding factor, but when it comes to using race as a category of inclusion, we find predictable opposition. In policy terms, white opinion has solidified at the stage of equal opportunity, but will not embrace affirmative action. Thus traditional patterns of opportunity change slowly, leaving exclusion as the theme of my days, like it or not.

Given the above arguments that favor a context of justice, I will now discuss the general predicament of U. S. public opinion concerning race-oriented policies, adding to my own experience as a classroom teacher the analysis of sociologist Lawrence Bobo of UCLA. I will show how my own quest for a normative logic of integration is illuminated by sociological analysis of white public opinion. In order to advance from the stage of nondiscrimination to the level of affirmative action, certain premises seem necessary, such as a structural view of stratification and a sense of ongoing prejudice.

In order to reform white opinion beyond terms of group interest, I will encourage attention to integration as a value. This value, I believe, helps white and black students find a logic of affirmative action that transcends their separate group interests. But integration must not be confused with certain well-known traps that suggest assimilation or the atomization of group identities. Finally, I will argue that Alain Locke's guiding principles of tolerance and reciprocity may help us analyze the logical difference between nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The old liberalism of tolerance is thus in need of systematic augmentation in the direction of reciprocity.

To begin with, I would like to talk about my experience with white students in the classroom. Although southern students are likely to have opinions less liberal than the white population at large, in general the white population is not very liberal on the issues addressed in this paper (see Bobo and Kluegel 1993). Thus, the white students I have experienced in the classroom over the past half-dozen years, whether southern or northern, seem comfortably ensconced in the white, suburban traditions which define their rhythms of possibility, and they perpetuate their illiberal outcomes as if by instinct.

In short, white students today are still opposed to affirmative action, although they only vaguely sense what it is they are opposing. They call it reverse discrimination or preferential treatment for minorities. They jump at examples of minority admissions and scholarships in order to make their case. And they assume that nondiscrimination is the absolute limit of their moral obligation to diversity. Although sociologists such as Bobo and Kluegel can make distinctions between "opportunity" programs that require self-effort and "outcome" programs that simply insist upon quotas, and although they can suggest that white opinion is more favorable toward "opportunity" programs such as college scholarships, the students I know consider college scholarships to be "outcome" and "quota" driven. Hence, the students I know do not condone the practice of race-oriented scholarships.

Even at a campus of 42,000, which is 2.7 per cent black, white students do not see the need to increase black representation toward a statewide ratio of about 12 per cent. And this attitude prevails in other settings which continue to be virtually all-white. In other words, wherever neighborhoods, clubs, or schools turn out to be all white, well, don't complain to white college students, because they will quickly tell you that they have never done any discriminating and are not responsible for those who have. Where outcomes continue to produce virtually all-white populations, today's white students are happy to perceive a continuation of their normal and rightful traditions. They are not the least bit moved to insist that there is any intrinsic problem with exclusive demographics, nor are they asserting any practical value to integration.

Thus, forty years after Brown, white students do not feel compelled to produce integrated situations out of non-integrated ones. For today's white student, integration has no value worth any effort on their part. Later in this paper, I will want to discuss attitudes of black students in this milieu, but first I would like to talk about a philosophical approach to integration which gets empirical support from sociological research on public opinion. As a teacher with a normative interest in integration, I have searched for effective arguments to awaken the consciousness of students. In this sense, I have learned a few things that have been discovered and confirmed in many other arenas.

First, it is necessary to focus attention on a structural approach to social dynamics as opposed to an individualistic account. If one is going to argue for efforts that increase integration, one must show how social habits continue to perpetuate the exclusive demographics of segregation. Furthermore, one must show that these social habits persist--not just that once upon a time they had enormous and obvious force, but that such forces exist now and are likely to continue for some time to come. That these two premises are essential toward a convincing argument for affirmative action is borne out in the work of Bobo and Kluegel, who confirm that "stratification ideology" and "perceived prejudice" are salient correlates to attitudes about race-oriented programs. As Bobo and Kluegel conclude in one report:

Our research suggests that framing policy as "opportunity enhancing"--even if it is race-targeted--is a politically viable approach. On the other hand, our research also points to the need to address the denial of contemporary racial discrimination and sense of group self-interest prevalent among whites if policies addressing persistent racial inequalities are to be pursued. These factors are strong political "weapons" in the battle over "frames." (Kluegel and Bobo 1993:460)

In sum, the convincing argument for affirmative action stresses that beneficiaries indeed do possess earned qualifications, that social reality has a structural dimension, and that structural racism persists. Simple nondiscrimination, it must be argued, is thus an inadequate individual response to ongoing racial stratification.

During the course of developing this argument among white students, I have found that there is a moment when debate must be shifted from competing claims of separable group interests, and the question posed, "does integration have any value to you?" In other words, as white students persist in arguing that it's okay to produce white outcomes--either because they see these outcomes as the result of individual merit or because they feel that increased black outcomes endanger their own group interests--I have tried to introduce the dimension of reciprocal group responsibility by invoking the value of integration. To white students I ask: "Is integration worth any effort on your part?" Or more specifically, "When you show up to your first job and you notice that the workplace is virtually all white, will that pose a problem for you?--Will that fact be important enough for you to notice and to change?"

Whereas affirmative action can be debated as a simple power struggle between black group interest and white power--leading black and white constituents to their predictable positions--the question of integration is designed to invoke a synthetic dimension of a shared community which would have common significance for the question of justice no matter which group one identifies with. In other words, the question of integration has philosophical value which "frames" the responsibility of white populations to care about race-oriented programs. I'm not suggesting that the concept is a panacea, or that it works instant miracles, but I am suggesting that in the context of a normative debate about affirmative action, there is a role it plays in illuminating a dimension of responsibility not otherwise covered by other indicators of justice. This shift in frames has value not only for white students, but for black students as well.

As black students defend affirmative action programs, they also tend to accept terms of debate that ignore the value of integration. This, I believe, contributes to a cynical, group-interest clash in our public debates. The predicament of black students was most clearly articulated on our campus in the Spring of 1994 when a representative from the Nation of Islam chastised them for taking scholarship money as a lure to the great, white campus. If black students were stung by these remarks, they did not respond by defending the value of integration, rather they argued that they were simply trying to make the most of a scholarship situation. "Yes, we're here because of the money," they answered, "but what's wrong with that?"

Although it may look contradictory when recipients of affirmative action do not defend integration as an intrinsic value, in fact these students are largely organized into historically black groups such as the National Society for Black Engineers or the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. They see themselves together with other black students getting through four or five years of rigorous struggle, and moving quickly away from the white campus where they have little in common with the white students there. Implicit in this behavior by black students is a recognition that, given white attitudes on the subject, integration for its own sake is a dead-end waste of energy. At some level of awareness it is clear to these students that their white colleagues have no interest in becoming working partners for integration. As black students, they have simply been offered some money and some slots, thanks to federal politics. And so they organize themselves accordingly. For them, as for the white students, integration has no value worth personal effort.

Among black students, then, we find two enduring fronts of struggle for African-American liberation. On the one hand, we find the affirmative action vanguard making rare inroads into opportunities traditionally reserved for whites, but doing so with minimal commitment to the larger issues raised by affirmative action programs. On the other hand, we see the ongoing accumulation of black organizational strength.

And among the white students, we find continuing resistance to both fronts of black power. Black students who have wedged their way into the edifice of white power find themselves suspected as unworthy benefactors of reverse discrimination. And the national organizations of black power are condemned at face value as racisms in reverse. Meanwhile, all factions, black and white, continue to perpetuate sexism and homophobia. The situation provides a rich challenge to philosophy, and I am suggesting that the value of integration might be invoked when we want to place the debate on a level that invites illumination beyond competing group interests.

In response to this situation, I prefer to address white students first, because their attitudes about integration are so binding as to suppress any effective catharsis of our social tensions. As white students continue to complain about organizational and institutional manifestations of black empowerment, I don't think they realize that the viable alternatives have already been suppressed by the attitudes of white students themselves.

And so, what might be the value of integration for white students? And why is their evasion of integration so stubbornly maintained? And how would one break with habits of the white mind, and venture an integrated future? Oddly enough, these are the questions that will not be asked, systematically, at today's white campus; thus, they are the choicest questions of our day. Philosophy is funny that way--always raising thoughts out of season.

Now, I don't want to answer for white students how they might find value in integration. After all, there are myriad paths to this goal. What I want to indicate is the transforming power that could be liberated were integration actually something white students were willing to achieve by their own efforts. First, white students might see what a paltry effort is now sheltered inside offices of affirmative action. After all, affirmative action offices are rarely authoritative; they are allowed to report but not to direct. Under contemporary conditions of public opinion, any direction from the office of affirmative action would be distasteful. Thus, affirmative action with teeth today is something someone else makes you do, contrary to your natural inclinations. But what if white students really did want an integrated campus? That is, with a really, gung-ho, can-do, no-mountain-too-high spirit of collective endeavor? The feeble programs now in place would look like ghosts and bones compared to the full-bodied zeal that might crowd the campus of tomorrow. Who, for instance, will be yelling reverse discrimination on a campus that demands integration?

Second, the bitterness and cynicism that often accompanies black power would be starved of its spark, no longer chipping against the flinty surface of white habits of heart. If black students could view their hard-won achievements in the context of a common good which is not opposed to white power or white prejudice, then their participation in affirmative action is not a source of shame, nor are their efforts at group empowerment viewed as zero-sum subtractions from white power. Of course, it has been said at various occasions that schools today would do well to cut the frills and get back to basic values. But there is no getting back to the value of integration. In order to get to such a value, one must go forward. But watch out, if students in America ever get the frilly idea that integration has value worth heroic effort, we'll have on our hands an age of heroes worthy of a New America. In the meantime, as I say, there are some instincts that have not changed.

In performing this thought experiment, in imagining what life would be like if integration were valued as something worth positive effort, I want to make clear that I am not embracing the well-known trap which equates integration with assimilation. Integration is not a conception which should be allowed to re-atomize the pluralistic realities that deserve enduring respect. Since Harold Cruse wrote his massive critiques of 1966 and 1986, I think it is important to avoid constructions of integration which deny the realities of group pluralism.

Finally, as we reach for a logic of integration, I think it is important to see how liberalism must move beyond its old affection for tolerance. This old standby liberal value addressed so eloquently by John Locke bears in its inception the limits of its individualistic appeal to noninterference. At the hands of the old Locke, the value of toleration was consistent with the value of slavery.

The new liberalism, following the lead of Alain Locke, would augment its logic with a value for reciprocity. With the addition of such a value, I think we have a nearly complete list of the elements we will need to revalue integration in such a way that affirmative action may win all the assent now enjoyed by nondiscrimination.


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