Canny invoker Ross Douthat cannily invokes Pat Buchanan in his New York Times column from Monday, in which he suggests that Harvard and other Ivy League institutions discriminate against working class, rural and conservative whites. This position is, of course, extremely popular with white racists, which is why Douthat chooses to open his column with something Buchanan did in 2000. When the former Nixon speechwriter spoke at Harvard in March of that year, he was greeted with jeers, accusations of bigotry, and pretty much every other expression of anger you can carry off in a pink polo shirt. Buchanan’s claim that contemporary America persecutes white Christians is laughable, but Douthat observes that it’s the same note currently sounded by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other vital elements of contemporary conservatism. One of those elements turns out to be Douthat himself, who gives us this third paragraph:
To liberals, these grievances seem at once noxious and ridiculous. (Is there any group with less to complain about, they often wonder, than white Christian Americans?) But to understand the country’s present polarization, it’s worth recognizing what Pat Buchanan got right.
And thus does an old myth smear itself with lipstick before trying on its new dress.
Douthat cites a study by two Princeton sociologists of admissions practices at “eight highly selective colleges and universities”—presumably the Ivies minus Brown and Penn, plus Duke and Stanford—* that found that white and Asian students needed higher grades and test scores than their black and hispanic counterparts to get in. That’s not surprising or even particularly unjust, given the Ivies’ financial incentive to diversify their student bodies and their long histories as bastions of white privilege, respectively. “What was striking,” about the study, Douthat writes, “was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.”
According to the study, white applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were less likely to be admitted than their wealthier white counterparts, whereas the opposite principle held true within the black and hispanic application cadres. Moreover, the study found that activities like ROTC, Future Farmers of America, and 4-H actually hurt an applicant’s chances of admission rather than helping. “Consciously or unconsciously,” Douthat writes, “the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or ‘Red America.'”
It’s a killer theory, in that it combines two classic anxieties of conservative America—liberal elites are conspiring against conservative commoners, and affirmative action has made whites into a second class. Unfortunately, it’s utter bunk. There’s a clear reason why an upper-class background is an advantage for whites and not for minorities: money.
Harvard and other extremely expensive schools rely heavily on alumni donations, and it’s no secret that a prospective freshman whose parents are already millionaires is much more likely to generate post-graduation income than one who may or may not go out and get himself rich. All things considered, Harvard would like to admit as many heirs and heiresses as possible.
That’s why we have diversity funding, financial aid, and programs that reward colleges for admitting poor people and ethnic minorities, since the first group contains a disproportionate number of the second. In that context, the study’s finding that the Ivies would rather admit poor blacks and hispanics than poor white people makes perfect sense. If we’re counting the number of minority students and the number of economically disadvantaged students, a poor black freshman counts as two where a poor white freshman only counts as one. Not only do you get a twofer on your diversity scorecard for admitting the poor black student, buy you also free up space for one more rich white kid.
Douthat briefly acknowledges the money angle, but he believes the FFA and ROTC evidence* proves that the real culprit is liberal elite bias. “The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities,” he claims. “They’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions.”
That’s a startling fact, perhaps because it is not true. The most underrepresented group at Harvard is American Indians, who make up .6% of the student body. After that it’s African Americans, with 6%. While the percentage of “working-class whites” is not a reported statistic, 51% of Harvard students receive financial aid from the university. Even if every single black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian Harvard student is getting institutional aid, they still only make 23.4% of Harvard enrollment—meaning that 27.6% of Harvard students are white and on scholarship.
At 1/4 of the population—again, this assumes that every single minority at Harvard is there on scholarship—whites who have qualified for financial aid are by no means an “underrepresented group,” much less the most underrepresented. Once you realize that Douthat’s fact is demonstrably false, his claim that “This [underrepresentation] breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike,” becomes a curious reversal of cause and effect. Maybe the paranoia is why Douthat believes whites are being discriminated against, and not the other way around.
In most cases, that seems to be how majority-group fear of racism works. Having wholly dominated the Ivy Leagues for over two centuries, white Christians are now slightly less dominant, thanks to a conscious effort to increase diversity. Ergo, white Christians are the victims of prejudice. That the overwhelming majority of Harvard students and faculty are white and Christian is irrelevant; the point is that their stranglehold is slightly looser than before. Few would argue that constitutes persecution, unless of course they were hoping to lay claim to one more thing.