When Race Trumps Merit


Tuesday, September 5, 2023 | Room 105 | Berkeley Law

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After the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, prestigious American institutions, from the medical profession to the fine arts, pleaded guilty to “systemic racism.” How else can we explain why blacks are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in C-suites and faculty lounges, their leaders asked?

The official answer for those disparities is “disparate impact,” a once obscure legal theory that is now transforming our world. Any traditional standard of behavior or achievement that impedes exact racial proportionality in any enterprise is now presumed racist. Medical school admissions tests, expectations of scientific accomplishment in the award of research grants, the enforcement of the criminal law—all are under assault, because they have a “disparate impact” on underrepresented minorities.

Heather MacDonald offers an alternative explanation for those racial disparities.


Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and a New York Times bestselling author. She is a recipient of the 2005 Bradley Prize. Mac Donald’s work at City Journal has covered a range of topics, including higher education, immigration, policing, homelessness and homeless advocacy, criminal-justice reform, and race relations. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, and The New Criterion. Mac Donald’s newest book is When Race Trumps Merit.

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Episode Transcript


[STEVEN HAYWARD] Thank you all for coming.  Just 10 seconds about me.  I’m a fellow, here, of the Public Law and Policy Program  and a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies down the hill.  Occasional lecture here and there.  That’s enough about me.  

Heather McDonald is a — what do they… the Thomas Smith distinguished fellow of the Manhattan Institute in New York,  author of a number of books that address the most pressing  controversies of our time in the most direct and blunt ways.  And what we’re going to do  today is something a little different from the usual format for two reasons:  One is that Heather has an injured foot.  She’s recovering from a foot injury, and my feet are just terrible.  So, rather than stand at a traditional talk,  we’re going to have an interview/conversation for a while.  And then after that, we will take your questions and comments and challenges.  I do.  If you want to get a better view, encourage  you to move over to the other side. Just don’t walk in front of the podium because you’ll be on videotape forever.  And then we have to get you to sign a release form, I think. Right.  Okay.  All right.  

So we’ll get started and we like doing this format, Heather and I, because I always try and throw her off her game a bit.  And so far, I have never succeeded.  So, we will try again in certain ways.  But Heather, I do want to start with just a little bit of biography – because I’m always interested in a little bit of biography.  And here’s what’s so interesting to me about yours — uh, just the brief: If you read a biography of Heather McDonald online, whether Wikipedia  – never to be relied on – or even the Manhattan Institute official biography, so to speak, what you know about Heather from that is that she attended Yale and graduated  magna cum laude, summa cum laude in English literature, pursued advanced studies in English literature at Cambridge and in Italy, and then went to law school. Following which, she clerked for the famously left-of-center Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhart, and then went to work at the Environmental Protection Agency and volunteered for the Natural Resources Defense Council. End of paragraph. 

Next paragraph: Now, she’s at the Manhattan Institute. So there’s something missing there, Heather.  And what I’m interested in drawing out of you a little bit is – is, uh… and I’ve heard you describe how you were very much  into the fashionable Deconstructionist ideas on literature back in the eighties. That’s a term  we don’t use anymore, even though the underlying theories are still alive.  And so what happened? What are the milestones? What are some of the things that made you evolve in your thinking and interest and ultimately lead you to become a journalist?  

[HEATHER MAC DONALD] Well, it was becoming a journalist that led me to evolve in my thinking, and I just want to thank people for showing up. I want to thank the Federalist Society and Maguire and Professor Hayward.  And I also want to thank the protesters for letting me know your point of view in a respectful manner.  And I hope that you’ll ask questions and we can talk about your issues.  

But I thank you for being here,  because I know it’s middle of semester already and people have other things to do. So, again, I’m grateful for the audience.  

I was, um, yes, very involved  in literary studies and not particularly political.  But when I came to New York in the nineties, I started writing  about cultural issues, post-Modernism,  post-Structuralism, which I’d come to disagree with, and felt I’d wasted my college career reading way too much Jacques Derrida and – and Paul Damon, instead of more Trollope and – and  Jane Austen and George Eliot.  But I was asked to start doing journalism, and I figured that my only value  added as a journalist in New York City was that I knew that I knew nothing.  I was not – I had no preexisting conception about public policy and certainly not conservative public policy. I didn’t even know what National Review was or commentary,  no exposure to those worlds. But my value added would be to go out and interview people and go to institutions and spend the time of getting off of my butt and pontificating and actually finding out what the programs were that I was asked to write about consisted of.  

So I spent a lot of time going to welfare offices and homeless  shelters, housing projects, talking about big society programs. And what I heard from the recipients of those programs, I would go to a homeless shelter and would hear from  somebody using it that you should never get on government aid. It’s a narcotic. Or, people in welfare offices would say these other welfare  mothers are having babies just to expand their check each month. This were not my ideas. If anything, I was coming from a left-wing background, but I heard from the recipients of government programs themselves  that the assumption of automatic  entitlement was not working. The assumption that there should be no quid pro quo and welfare was not working. And eventually, as the nineties progressed, and this was during  the era of the sane Rudolph Giuliani, before he became an absolute nutcase. And- and so it – and it makes it very hard to invoke his name, because he has so besmirched his accomplishments as mayor. But they were extraordinary and unforeseen and he was a man of ideas and – and a very clear philosophy.  

So the nineties were a very exciting time in New York. The city had had, in 1990, 2,000 – and 245 homicides in one year. That works out to dozens of people being killed every day as a routine matter. The received wisdom in the criminology profession and even among police officers, was that there was very little that policing could do to solve crime. The FBI, in its annual uniform crime reports that give the national snapshot of what has happened in crime the previous year used to routinely publish a disclaimer – saying disclaimer,  saying: We all know that policing cannot lower crime. That’s a social matter that requires solving root causes.  

Well, Giuliani and William Bratton came in and said, no, actually, we’re going to start saving lives.  The police are going to, through being data driven,  assuming imposing accountability  on precinct captains to be able to protect  the lives of people in their precincts. And if they can’t do that, they’re out  and the crime drop, as  I say, was completely unforeseen.  It went down 80% over time.  So you went from 2000 and 245 dead bodies  in one year to 300, at most, 15 years later.  But there was a backlash against the proactive data driven policing  that said, led by The New York Times, that this was just another form of racism  because there were disparities in stop and arrest rates. 

So I thought I would go find out about this and I would go to housing projects  and gang areas and talk to people there. And I talked to a lot of  hardworking, crime abiding, law  abiding residents in those neighborhoods who were desperate for more police.  I talked to a cancer amputee in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx  who told me the only time she felt safe  to go into her building lobby to get her mail was when the police were there.  She said, Please, Jesus, send more police, because otherwise her lobby was colonized by trespassing. Teenagers smoking weed and selling drugs.  

And those voices that I heard, again and again, were not being represented in the – in the mainstream media. So I started to develop what I guess now  would be characterized as as a somewhat conventional  set of conservative beliefs about personal responsibility, the importance of family, the importance of law and order. But that came from, honest to God, no preconceptions, because I was a product of elite coastal culture and and actually going out and trying to understand how the liberal order worked and finding that it didn’t work so well. 

[HAYWARD] Was there any particular – do you remember any particular moments – or, I guess the phrase we use these days is triggering experiences that were, I mean, really shocked you, or shook you in a way that I mean, started it all rolling?  

[MAC DONALD] I have to say, I know this sounds incredible because it is  I am confirming a certain set of cultural memes, but it actually happened. It was real. Welfare reform was a very big deal in the 1990s. You had Wisconsin starting it out. Then New York City picked it up. The idea that welfare should not be open ended,  it should be time limited, that it should be a bargain. You know, we’re going to give you welfare, but you have to give something back. There should be some kind of work experience. And so the the conservative  narrative about this, which again, I was not a part of, was that it does breed a sense of entitlement. And I remember speaking going to a welfare office in the Bronx, and there was a young man waiting outside his  his girlfriend was going to apply for her renewal of welfare benefits. And his attitude was quite remarkable. He said, Well, I’m applying for food stamps, but if they make me work, you know, I’m there, I’m not going to do it.  It was a and it was and he knew that he was mooching off of his girlfriend  who was going to have to do work fare and and he would get her check. But there was no sense of shame in that. And and instead fed a sense of  sort of prophylactic outrage that anybody could expect him to do  anything in response for receiving his his weekly food stamp allotment.  So I saw that again and again  and again when I heard from a welfare mother saying these welfare  mothers are so lazy they won’t even change the 40 watt bulb in the light bulb. I’m not this is not me speaking. This is her. And she’s a welfare mother herself. Those those moments were clarifying.  

[HAYWARD] All right. I want to try another unusual thing that I don’t think people draw out of you very often. I’ll put it this way, then I’ll put it in a more neutral way.  I’m not convinced sometimes that you fully shed your deconstructionist and even left leaning ways.  And I’ll just say that you’re an iconoclast. That’s the neutral term. And the reason I say that is every once in a while I will pick up from you a seemingly straight comment where you’re pretty tough on.  I’ll just say our team.  I don’t really mean it that way,  but in other words, you dissent from the sort of mainstream  of what you might call American conservatism today, in a number of ways.  What if you comment on one or two of those?  What is, what is the one that conservatives have wrong or do wrong? Well, I think I think you’ve got a long list.  

[MAC DONALD] Yeah, I think they’re wrong to say that you can’t be a conservative, unless you’re religious. Right.  And that, and that you can only derive conservative principles from the Bible. I disagree.  I think that conservative principles are empirically based and should be the result of reason. To ground something in what purports to be revealed. Scriptural truth, I think, is an extremely weak read to, to base a set of moral views on, because other people have different  scriptures and, and may not believe in that. But I think that the case for instance, for the two parent family, and what happens when it dissolves is very empirically strong based on simple social science research, and does not depend on saying that God made some commandment  for a certain type of family structure. I guess I was one of the first dissenters against the Iraq war  and was criticized for that; and I guess I’m also,  I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of American exceptionalism,  because I think every country probably thinks that it is exceptional.  And it does strike me as a little bit  self-centered to go around  preaching to the world that only America is a place where people can lead, lead, fulfilling lives.  

[HAYWARD] Yeah, okay. I would say a lot more about that.  I’m going to mark you down as a no on theocracy. So.  Okay,  social science, let’s start to draw into the subject with some social science data.  As a political scientist, I’m a huge consumer  and critic of survey data because.  But I won’t get into all those problems.  So with those caveats, which you probably share.  I want to bring to your attention  the survey that Gallup has been doing since about the year 2000.  And the question is, do you believe that relations  between blacks and whites are good or somewhat good?  Not so good or bad?  And when they started the survey in the year 2000, this was very interesting.  The deeper proportion of blacks who said that relations  between whites and blacks were good or somewhat good was 70%.  The number of whites who said that, 62%.  So at that moment, the, at least, in the Gallup survey,  I think they’re pretty good, survey is again, within the limits of these severe limits of these kinds of surveys.  I thought that’s an interesting thing.  It didn’t last long.  By the middle of the decade, about a ten point gap had opened up.  So it’s roughly for the next 12 years or more.  But 70% of whites said relations were good or mostly good and about 60% of blacks.  But then there’s an inflection  point around 2015, and the number of blacks  who said relations were good or mostly good went from 66 to 51.  It is now at 33.  So in 20 some years you’ve gone Blacks entering the Gallup survey from 70 down to 33.  Whites fell from 72 to 45%.  And today, the, what I have written down, here. Yes.  So today’s numbers, the latest one last year.  So 43% for whites, down from 72%  around 2010 or so, and 33% for blacks.  The inflection points around 2015.  What happened in or around 2015?  Was it just the beginning of Black Lives Matter in the Michael Brown-Ferguson, Missouri incident that gathered so much attention and commentary?  Or is there something else going on?  Or do you have a theory on this? 

[MAC DONALD] Well, first of all, I would say that what did not change was American institutions  of receptivity towards blacks.  I would say that there was not any actual change in  admissions standards, in hiring standards, that became somehow exclusionary. That’s just not the case. In fact, the fervency  with which every mainstream institution seeks out diversity.  There’s not a single mainstream institution in this country,  whether it’s a bank, a law firm, a university,  a science research lab, or a Hollywood studio that does not have  constant effort  to find and hire as many underrepresented minorities as possible. This is a dominating theme in all of academia.  So that did not worsen after 2015.  And in fact, after 2020, the push for underrepresented  minority hiring and promotions became more intense.  So what did change in 2015?  Well, obviously that was the start. And I don’t think these numbers are new to me. I haven’t seen it, but so I’m just giving you a rough response.  But 2015 was the start  of the first iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement, with the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, in August in Ferguson, Missouri.  The movement got under way in 2015, and the repeated narrative that we were living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings of blacks became very strong, and it gave rise to the first iteration of what I called the Ferguson Effect; which was the dual phenomena of officers backing off of colorblind proactive policing under the constant charge that they were racist to go fight crime in high crime neighborhoods; and the resulting emboldening of criminals.  

So what did we see with the first iteration of the Ferguson Effect? The largest two year increase in homicide in this nation’s history, up 15, 16%.  Thousands more black lives are being taken in drive by shootings. And then after the George Floyd murder, we had either Ferguson effect 2.0 or the Minneapolis effect, and an even greater falling away of proactive policing. You had massive resignations. The attrition rate out of, out of police departments is huge. Hiring is over,  and 2020 saw the largest one year increase  in homicide in this nation’s history of 29%. I mean, that’s a, that’s a statistical charge.  And in response to viewers,  we have a large Black Lives Matter banner here. I agree that Black Lives matter. And I would like to see, and we are told to say the names  of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Donte Wright, and Freddie Gray. Okay. Well, I.  I would love to hear the names of law, Davian Garrett,  Trinity, Trinity Artisan Smith, Aniya Allen.  Legend  Taliaferro. Jocelyn Adams.  Mickie James.  Tyrone Patton.  Zachariah Turner.  These are children between the ages of less than one year  and ten  who have had their brains blown out in drive-by shootings  that were part of the mass of slaughter that was unleashed  after the George Floyd murder when police backed off.  

There are dozens and dozens of black children who have been gunned down in their parents car, in their front yards, and in their back porches, jumping on trampolines,  that I never hear them being commemorated. So I think that the movement  for Black Lives Matter has somewhat of a blindspot to the way that black children after George Floyd,  black juveniles now are shot at 100 times the rate of white juveniles, one hundred times the rate. That’s a civil rights problem.  Blacks between the ages of ten and twenty-four die of gun homicide at twenty-four times the rate of whites between the ages of ten and twenty-four. That’s a problem. And they are not being killed by the police. They’re not being killed by whites. They’re being killed by kids that have not been socialized, that are engaging in these insane drive by shootings about white supremacy that come with that question. Okay.  So, anyway, that’s what happened, that I think the narrative  that whites are under, that blacks, rather, are dying from white supremacy has led to the drop off in any sense of possibility of racial harmony.  Yeah.  So let me try and give a version, at least one version.  I think there are multiple ones, that one version of an explanation or challenging analysis of this, and well, actually,  let me give a particular example that I think on point.  

So is it last year in Saint Louis you had that unit of all black police officers who detained and then beat to death a black suspect?  Mm hmm.  And one of the explanations you heard was, well, those officers, no legitimate questions about their training and supervision. Okay. As an administrative thing. But beyond that, you heard, again, usually theorists and academics and some media figures, and they were making the argument earnestly that in the background of  that is that even those officers were affected by, dominated by, had their consciousness shaped by, I’m not sure what form you want to use, by the phenomenon of white supremacy; however, that is understood or defined.  

[HAYWARD] And by the way, I know that you don’t mean, I think I’ve heard you say that. In fact, I think you’ve said that too many conservatives downplay or ignore the legacy of racism in the country.  I’ve heard you say that.  But what do you make of, how do you handle that particular  objection to what you just laid out?  

[MAC DONALD] Yeah.  I mean, at this point we’re in something that is non-falsifiable. There’s, you don’t have actual empirical evidence of discrimination going on of white supremacy, but it is an unquestionable truth that anything bad that happens to a black person must be the result of white supremacy. And that’s a hard thing to, to combat. But again, just to repeat, yes,  I would say that the conservative narrative about American history is a whitewash of it. I think that we do not account enough for the fact  that Americans were gratuitously nasty, hostile, heartbreakingly so, to blacks. For most of our history,  was an enormous contradiction to what we were going around  preaching to the world about our founding ideals.  And Americans were completely blind to that.  

[HAYWARD] Can I ask people to wait  for the question period, which will come in about 15 minutes? Thanks. 

[MACDONALD] So that’s a reality. We were, we were a white supremacist country.  We were an apartheid state.  And, and that makes it, and that lasted for so long that it makes it very hard  to believe that a country that was that invested in white identity being based on crushing blacks  with the most heartbreaking nastiness, that was the reality that, that could change.  It sort of, it it is asking a lot of somebody to believe that a culture could change that much. But, I would say that the empirical evidence  now is the opposite of that, that we are not discriminating against blacks.  The opposite is the case. I don’t know a single, as I say, a single institution that is not engaged in the use of massive racial preferences. So the, the beating case in Memphis, I mean,  I think that we have reached a point of absurdity  at this point when five black officers  who are engaged in thug behavior that’s attributed to white supremacy.  

[HAYWARD] Well, I think you have excited the crowd,  which I figured might happen at some point.  Still, let’s see,  I’ve got a million more questions in this line,  but I want to hit some other topics.  So your latest book is called When Race Trump’s Merit. And do you want to try your thumbnail summary or, or should I ask him about particular things or aspects of that?  

[MACDONALD] Well, the book is an argument against the dominant narrative of our time, which is that racial disparities in any institution are, by definition, evidence of racial discrimination. So any institution that does not have a proportional number of blacks, if it’s a meritocratic institution, so that if, if Google has 2%  black engineers working for it, that is proof of discrimination,  and Google must be discriminating against qualified blacks. I argue that’s not the case,  but that is now the only allowable explanation  for any underrepresentation of, of blacks in an institution.  If, if Covington Burling or,  you know, Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher does not have 13% black partners,  it is by definition because those firms are discriminating against qualified black  associates or qualified black law school graduates.  And in the case  of overrepresentation in the, in the criminal justice system,  the overrepresentation of blacks in the criminal justice system,  so that the prison population is about a third black,  even though blacks are 13% of the nation’s population.  That disparity, that overrepresentation of blacks, is also, per se, evidence of a racist criminal justice system. That is not allowed to be said in, in, in explanation of those disparities, is the academic skills gap; which makes it impossible to be both diverse and meritocratic, or, or the crime gap of which is why blacks are dying at such extraordinarily higher rates than other groups, is because blacks are committing crime at higher rates. You’re not allowed to say that. The only allowable explanation is the police are gratuitously, without grounds, arresting blacks and, and the system is gratuitous, seen without grounds, putting them into prison.  

So, the book is about saying that I reject the idea that racial disparities and colorblind standards  that have a disparate impact are, per se racist.  I think the disparate impact analysis at this point, the instinct to say that any set of standards that have a disparate impact on blacks must come down, I think that is wrong.  And I think it is condescending.  I also think it is the death knell for our civilization, which depends on excellence. I, for one, do not care whether the research lab that finally unlocks  the problem of cell signaling and nematodes and manages to find out how we can solve the scourge of cancer, or that, understands what is leading to Alzheimer’s disease.  I, for one, do not care if that lab is all Asian,  all female, all black, all gay.  It doesn’t matter.  None of those attributes to me have anything to do with scientific accomplishment.  They are not accomplishments.  It is not an accomplishment to be female that I can tell you.  I do not think that my being female  should ever, ever serve  as a reason to put me on a panel or to publish me.  And I know that that has, I have been told by a producer I was asked to go on some Fox Nation show on interest rates, and I said, What are you talking about?  I am not an economist.  Are you asking me because I’m female?  And the answer was yes, that is absurd.  Being female is not an accomplishment, and I would say the same  for every other identity trait that is now so carefully cultivated.  

So I think that when we start putting race ahead of merit, and we have now, what’s the condition in our science, federal grant making agencies, that are giving out grants to try to solve the big problems of neurology, whether it’s  Parkinson’s disease, premature dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease,  they are making it race, not scientific qualifications.  The criteria for receiving research grants.  We are deciding our research priorities based not on what is the most scientifically urgent and compelling field of research,  but in order to try and have greater equal data.  I see that sign of “equity is beautiful”.  In order to have better equity in our science research grants,  we are saying we are going to defer funding pure science and, and, send that money to research in racism, in medicine. That may be valid, but not a scientific judgment as far as I’m concerned.  And as long as we continue to tear down standards  based on the false premise that if they have a disparate impact,  they should be gotten rid of and we should replace identity based hiring, we are going to stop scientific progress. We are going to put lives at risk because I don’t want a doctor coming through that emergency room door, or when I’ve had a car crash, who has been elevated throughout his medical career.  

We’re getting rid of great, we’re getting rid of the past.  I happen to believe that step one of the US medical licensing exam,  which comes at the end of the second year of a medical students training, asks basic scientific knowledge of pathology of drug interactions. Do you know anatomy?  Do you understand how the blood circulates through the body? That test, which was developed simply in order to test whether students were mastering  the clinical and scientific  information in their first two years of medical school?  That test was not designed  to exclude any group, but it had a disparate impact. The black students who have been admitted to medical school with racial preferences, predictably, because it’s an inhumane policy, racial preferences are inhumane, cruel and condescending. Those students were not doing well.  They were at the bottom of their class. They were at the bottom of the curve in the US medical licensing exam.  So we have decided that the problem is the exam and we’ve gone to pass-fail,  so that now hospitals choosing  residents have no idea who is the most competent medical student. They’re going basically blind and, and, the pressure is now on, for step two, to get rid of grades. We are changing standards for medical honor society.  We are changing standards for hiring and for promotion in medicine. I for one, do not want to be in a medical system where race has been determined to be more important than actual scientific knowledge. Or you and me. 

[HAYWARD] Okay, let me see. I want to get to questions here fairly soon.  A couple more areas I want to cover.  Merit has many facets to it.  I’ll skip over that for now.  Maybe we’ll come back to it at least.  Well, let’s do it. There’s a couple of different ways.  I’ve been looking at some of the attacks on meritocracy lately  that come with all kinds of different flavors and directions. Like Nan Dan Markowitz, his book, The Meritocracy Trap,  which isn’t about race at all, actually, to my surprise.  But the other one is you have a chapter in your book about the arts and what’s the latest story. I saw that the Lincoln Center last week. Lincoln Center is going to either scale back or abandon their Mozart Summer, Mozart festival that’s been going on for a long time because it’s not diverse enough. And so that’s artistic merit. There’s also professional merit. You mentioned, I mean  it. Well, okay, I’ll just stop there.  Go ahead and give us some definitions of merit that you think we should be focusing on. 

[MACDONALD] Well, in the sense in the case of professional qualifications, I think, again, to go back to the science example, I don’t think that being female is a qualification for doing science.  I don’t think that  I have a particularly female way of doing calculus, or of understanding  the Krebs cycle or other processes of microbiology.  I think that there are,  thanks to the scientific method and the extraordinary accomplishments of the, of the Enlightenment, being able to work out  this amazing process of testing hypotheses,  of randomized controlled experiments,  subjecting hypotheses to testing. This is a miracle. This has given us liberation  from the cruel and crippling diseases and premature death that has been the fate of humanity for all of its history. Until the last century, you know, medicine was quackery.  In the 19th century, you’d be much better off staying away from a doctor than going to one. But eventually, through the application of reason and, and testing, we have achieved enormous amounts of giving people whole lives. And I believe that merit in the field of science is based on your mastery of the body of scientific knowledge. Well, all right.  Let me  press you on arts in that Lincoln Center example. Again, in science and math.  It’s one thing, by the way, I had a fabulous female calculus  professor 45 years ago back when there weren’t very many.  And anyway, but she’s not I mean, she was a calculus professor, I hope. I assume she was not promoted because she was female.  And I would also say, and the question is, who are you?  I’m just going to give you my personal experience, the idea  that I would need a female role model in order to study physics, I find absurd. How about okay, that I need a female role model?  To be a journalist or a lawyer is absurd.  How did, how does anybody become a  pioneer, then?  How did Marie Curie understand the problem of, of  radiation without a female role model?  This makes it a vicious cycle that you can never break out of any field that does not have proportional representation.  How about wanting to study physics because it is beautiful?  How about being fired up by ideas  and want to accomplish what human beings can accomplish? 

I do not feel like I need to read a book  because the author shares my petty, narrow identity.  I want to read a book because the author takes me into worlds of experience that I would never know. As far as the mostly Mozart Festival in, in New York,  Lincoln Center has been open to every culture forever. The, the summer festival has been  spectacularly multicultural, of bringing in amazing world music;  which is something that is eye opening. The, the rhythmic traditions in non-Western cultures is the, the corner stone writing, the, the drive some of the choral works in Eastern European cultures,  whether it’s, you know, Bosnia or the Hungarian choruses are extraordinary.  So, yes, I feel enriched by knowing as much music as I can, but I would also say that to turn on Western music, European music,  because it came out of a demographic tradition that was predominantly white, because that’s simply the demographics of Europe, is self-destructive, completely unnecessary, and, and is shutting off young people to a source of beauty. I would also note that the deconstructive instinct that is being directed now against every aspect  of the Western cultural tradition, whether it’s art, literature, or music is perversely directed exclusively at Western art.  So the Metropolitan Museum of Art can go around  putting on its little deconstructive wall labels, doing the subtext of great still lives from the Dutch golden age, art of Vermeer and Rembrandt.  Frans Hals ten years and saying, well, actually this still life, which shows you the extraordinary dragonfly translucency of the, of a grape skin or the beauty of, of pewter and cut glass that actually this because it does not show colonial slave trade is a racist painting.  Okay fine.  Why do we not apply the same deconstructive acid to the African art, or the Chinese art?  Chinese was exclusively Chinese.  It did not have black singers in it.  It did not have white singers in it.  China had empires.  The only artistic traditions  which today are subjected to the deconstructive acid is Western ones.  When we have a Benin bronze in the Guggenheim, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we do not say  did the chieftain the, the from Dahomey well,  we are celebrating for his accomplishments in power.  What sort of tribal warfare is he conducting?  

Why are we not seeing the people that he is enslaved?  He is enslaved in this bronze celebrating  the enemy Chieftain. Why are we not seeing the, the portrayals of the slave trade that was driven by Africans?  It is only the West that is turning on itself with this degree of self-hatred.  Well, it holds the rest of the world.  It treats art as an esthetic realm, not as a political one. 

[HAYWARD] All right.  Let me do one last topic, but a very specific aspect of it,  because then I want to move to questions and comments.  I think we’re going to have some spirited ones. It’s just a hunch.  Since you’ve finished your book, we’ve had the Supreme Court  decision in the Harvard-USC affirmative action case.  Lot to be said there.  Of course, one particular question, it has long seemed to me  that well before this case, but certainly after it,  we ought to be asking the question and having vigorous debate about why are colleges expected to be the point of remediation for a poor public education system, for low income people of all races? 

[MAC DONALD] And it seems to me that the  disparities in tests or whatever qualifications  you want to use for admissions to college are a lot of students, again, from all races are not prepared because why aren’t, why isn’t there more outrage about why we’re not fixing our public education systems for everybody or anybody?  Well, for one thing, because those skills  gaps are kept off stage, it is very rare  to see any acknowledgment of the fact that the reason that we need racial preferences is because of the skills gap. It’s viewed as some sort of mystery  that without racial preferences,  we’re not going to be able to achieve diversity, which is not true. Nobody is saying blacks should not go to college. The same number of blacks would go to college without racial preferences. They would just not be put into the handicap situation of being catty, plotted uniquely among other groups of students into academic environments where they’re not competitively qualified. I would not benefit by going to M.I.T. if I had six hundreds on my math scores and my peers all had 800. That would put me up at a disadvantage from the start.  And the same goes for any group of preference beneficiaries.  And I’m against socioeconomic preferences for the same reason, because I don’t think that you’re helping somebody by putting them into an academic environment for which they’re not qualified.  

There are lots of schools with 600 on my math assessments,  for which I would be qualified, and if I intended to major in STEM,  I would have a much better chance of graduating with a STEM degree than if somebody had, for the sake of gender equity, had pulled me into MIT.  So I would say that we’re not talking about the skills gap  because that is not allowed to be talked about.  But yes, it’s absolutely preposterous to think  that by the time of college  you’re going to be able to close those gaps and they never do  close the same standard deviation test scores. That applies to the difference, that applies for SATs,  shows up in the last year.  The Gamuts, the cats, the grays. They never go away. And the solution is obviously to start preparing students better  early on so that we don’t have to have racial preferences which are stigmatizing and we’re all supposed to pretend they don’t exist. You know, we’re, we’re mandated to have this double  discourse that racial preferences don’t exist. And if you say that they might say, that’s racist. But if you want to get rid of racial preferences, that’s racist, too. So you can’t have it both ways.  If the only way that Berkeley can survive is racial preferences, you can’t tell me that I’m a racist for assuming  that Berkeley has instituted racial preferences. Oh, let’s go, black people. 

[HAYWARD] Well, that’s.  Can I.  Can I call this to order and now move to questions and comments?  Hold on a second. I’ve got to do a little housekeeping.  I have a statement from a dean.  I’m not going to read the whole thing, but I think you’ve heard it before about civility and not disrupting things. We’ve been pretty good. Yeah, We’ve been very good. 

[MACDONALD] I’m grateful for being able to talk.  So thank you very much.  

[HAYWARD] McGuire has the microphone. Sorry, I’m going to let you pick people. McGuire Try.  I’ll try to follow up.  Isn’t that funny? Because he’s white.  What is that?  I mean, I can try to keep traffic in, but to keep a list up,  all I will say is in all our events, we try to follow the Jeopardy rule,  which is make your statement in the form of a question, if you can.  And so why don’t we go him? 

[STAFF] I’ll go in order.  There you do.  And then I saw another hand over.  Go ahead, sir.  

[AUDIENCE 1] I think I might have to read the whole thing, really. What it says, though. Okay, well, free speech and academic freedom are foundational values for Berkeley, were Berkeley has committed to the belief that speech we may not like or agree with should be confronted with respectful speech. Of some people to compress the truth a little bit, the truth.  Because I want to save time. 

[HAYWARD] We ask that the audience members be respectful of speakers  and students in attendance and refrain from any disruptive behavior.  If you attempt to disrupt the event, you’ll be asked to leave the venue. I don’t know that we need all that, but I understand it. I just take orders from people. Sir, please go ahead. 

[AUDIENCE 1] Yes, my name is Dominic. Dominic. The acting skills gap seems to only be a mystery to you. You said in a recent interview that you can’t have proportional representation  in meritocratic institutions without lowering standards. The logical inference from this statement is that blacks and Latinos can never meet your standards or some set of standards,  and you’ve never sought to clarify or provide a solution. Why have you never answered why you feel we can’t meet those standards?  And why do you believe that blacks and Latinos are inferior?  And why should you have any credibility here today because of those beliefs?  

[MACDONALD] Okay. Well, thank you for the question, Dominic.  I think I would say just the opposite, which is that I do believe that blacks can meet the standards, and that we should not lower them on behalf of blacks. What I hear from many black leaders today is not, we’ll meet the standards and beat them, but lower them on our behalf.  And I think that’s condescending.  We have recently, New York City paid out  a billion in damages because of its teacher licensing exam.  It had a disparate impact on black test takers. And so the demand was to get rid of the test, rather than make sure that more blacks can pass the teacher licensing exam. I can tell you that was not a racist test.  It was seeking basic knowledge of the capacity to do basic math, know basic history, science, and yet, rather than say, okay, let’s make sure we’re preparing the solution today, as always, throughout the test, I think that is the wrong answer. Standards, a colorblind standard  that was devised to try and establish a basic level of competence is not, per se, racist, as a disparate impact. It seems to me the people telling us that we need to tear down standards are the ones that are saying that blacks can never meet them.  I’m not going to take that position. I don’t take that position. I think blacks can meet them. Standards are not racist.  Everybody should be working. The family culture must, must support a culture of high academic achievement.  

That’s what we see in Asians.  And they’re hoping, everybody says you walk down the hall,  it is disproportionately Asian because those parents are monitoring their children’s homework.  They are setting high expectations of doing homework, of passing tests.  They are riding their kids relentlessly, and all of us are falling behind in comparison. I believe that that is possible for all groups. If you put in the effort. You know, I did, I did just see the, the latest figures from a year or so ago on the SAT for math above 700. I think was the figure, and it was 2% for blacks, 4% for Hispanics, 6% for whites,  35% for Asians, which is simply eye popping to me. But sir, so is the S.A.T., a pro Asian test? If Asians are doing better on it and we have a white privilege culture, why are Asians doing better on it? Is it, was the test written so for Asians success?  I believe the test was written to test basic knowledge of math. When Asians have more knowledge of math than everybody else. I do not believe it’s a pro Asian test and I don’t believe it’s an anti-black test. Yes, sir. You’re up next. 

[AUDIENCE 2] Hi.  Sorry for being so spirited.  It’s just very hard to stay quiet, especially when you feel  assaulted by the stuff that’s being said in both your book and on the stage today.  But I’ll keep it brief.  

[MACDONALD] Thank you. 

[AUDIENCE 2] First, I want to just quickly debunk something that you said. You said that you think, and you said that black people can catch up to white folks and Asian folks in terms of stats, statistics on the SAT. Your book on page twenty actually explicitly says the opposite.  You say, quote, “Black students never catch up to their white and Asian peers.  There aren’t many professions where someone possessing less  than even partial mastery of reading and math will qualify for employment.”  Those are your words.  But I’ll get to my question right now. So  first of all, I find your book to be extremely disrespectful. I find that the fact that you’re here and that you were invited here to be very disrespectful to the black students that were on this campus.  We face enormous discrimination, enormous racism, every single day on this campus.  And to have you sit here and talk to us and talk down on us is terrible.  But I’ll get to my question first.  I just want to point out that your book’s premise seems to lie on the fact that black folks and brown folks are inherently less intelligent and less capable than their white and Asian counterparts. You choose to acknowledge the possibility  that our schools, our resources, our communities are lacking in resources. And yet you say, you say, that is not a factor in our situation. It is, but that doesn’t seem to go for your point.  I just want to tell you right now that your book is racist, your arguments are racist. They are based in eugenics. They are based on ideas that black people and brown people can never compete with white and Asian counterparts.  

My question to you is this, why should we take you, as students of color,  you specifically, are you FedSoc,  Why should we take any of this seriously when it seems that nothing else that you want to do is just peddle racist drivel?  

[HAYWARD] So we’ll, will mark you down as undecided?  Maybe not.  No, no, I know. I know.  You don’t want Heather.  Where do you want to start?  

[MACDONALD] Well, if I believe that blacks can never compete, I would say, yeah, we’ve got to lower standards  because that’s the only hope for getting diverse institutions.  In fact, I believe that if we held single standards and had high expectations that blacks would compete. As to your misreading of, of, from my book,  that was simply an empirical observation about the current situation in a regime of ubiquitous racial preferences.  Right now, you know, you can admit black students with standard deviation below S.A.T.  grades into college. The gap does not close by the end of college. And you can continue that with law schools or medical schools. The gap still does not close. That does not mean that it cannot close, but it has to start earlier. Let me just give you the data that explains why you can have diversity or you can have meritocracy.  You can’t have both. May I? Sure. Briefly, can I?  This is what we’re talking about.  This is what we’re talking about. Okay.  66% of black 12th graders do not possess partial mastery of basic math skills defined as doing arithmetic or being able to read a graph. 66%. The number who are advanced in 12th grade math is too small to show up statistically on a national sample. That is the reality. That is why we do not have racially proportionate institutions. As far as your claim that you experience everyday racism and discrimination on that campus, I would like exact examples and please name some names about the professors, because I can tell you that Berkeley fought like hell to contain its racial preference. So. So having this disagreement is racism. It’s racist to disagree with your point of view. Well, that’s a very, that is a very all encompassing definition of racism. Show me the facts.  Show me the facts that this is a racist institution. 

The fact of the matter is, is that this institution is so desperate to get its number of blacks up that it has desperate admissions standards. If it and it said, if you force us, we do not want to have a single standard of admission because that will lower the of black students on campus.  That, to me, is not a definition of a white supremacist institution. I don’t know how to square that circle. How, how is it that institutions that are fighting  tooth and nail to hold on to racial preferences, including in faculty hiring and promotion, are  because they so want to up  their number of, of underrepresented minorities? How is it that those same institutions are discriminating and are racist? It doesn’t make sense unless we have a little game here and redefine racism. To say blacks are inherently incapable of meeting standards and that’s how they’re racist. That, that’s a discussion I’m willing to have. Not that, that the chancellor and provost, and your faculty at Berkeley,  which I am going to make an assumption here,  these are the most liberal human beings in human history. These are people who want all of their students to succeed or they are not discriminating against you on the basis of your race or your sex. They want all of their students to succeed, and they particularly want the underrepresented minorities to succeed.  

[STAFF] Let me go to the gentleman in the glasses.  Got two more short questions and then I see I put your number three in the queue.  Okay. Yeah. You’re after.  Yes. Yeah.  He he had his hand up before but you’re after him.  

[AUDIENCE 3] You talked early on about how you had sort of this radical Asian experience,  you might call it about your work in inner city communities.  And you claim that you saw people claiming that there were rampant welfare fraud. That black mothers were intentionally having as many children as they could to take advantage of the welfare system, and that there was an epidemic of unemployed young men who were mooching off their girlfriends and wives and or not wives, but their girlfriends and their and their mothers welfare money. Do you have any besides your personal anecdotes, do you have any statistical evidence whatsoever that there’s any sort of  rampant welfare fraud in this country, any, any empirical data for that?  

[MACDONALD] It’s been a long time since I’ve done welfare reform.  But yes, there is when you audit, there is a lot of fraud going on. And I was raising this, I was raising these questions, the statements to say that I simply was experiencing first hand,  without soliciting any of these answers, time and time again. Statements from people in the system that did corroborate, it was not me speaking. These were, these were recipients. You can define fraud as you want. I was not speaking about fraud. I was speaking about the structural way this works, which was to enable a culture of non-work, of, of expectation that one has a right to unconditional welfare without doing any work in advance. I was not this guy that was talking about mooching off of his girlfriend.  That’s not fraud. That was perfectly legitimate. I made no claims about welfare fraud. I think it works well, and having more children is also not fraudulent.  Well, your source.  Well, can I just say so you get more questions. And I used to marinate in the stuff  back in the nineties when welfare reform was happening. So we’re now almost 30 years from big change.  And before that, well, it’s a big I’d actually don’t want to intervene here and derail us. I want to get some more credit card fraud. I mean, the covert benefits there were massively fraudulent  there was a massive fraud system in Minneapolis, California.  Yeah, Yeah.  Cal for a minute.  But Minneapolis was huge. 

[HAYWARD] Let’s can we come to order?  And you have the floor, ma’am.

[AUDIENCE 4] Hi. I really want to thank you for coming. No. I’m very serious. I really do want to thank you for coming. You have every right to be here. You have every right to speak your mind, to write a book, to do all the things that you’ve done. What I would encourage you to do, because we are all here learning. I would encourage you to do a little bit more research on these things.  And by research, I don’t mean like the Hill or whatever you see on Instagram. I mean, like speak to scholars of color, not just blacks, speak to other people who are from all over the world. And then maybe it’ll make sense, the context we’re coming from. You said, how could we possibly be in an institution that’s racist; sweetheart, the name of the school represents that. They just changed it, like ten minutes ago. There was a time that most of the people standing in this room would never be allowed on this campus. And I’m telling you that we didn’t get here by wanting it. We worked hard, hard, hard. So for me to be here at this school that I pay to go to, that I worked hard to get into, and to listen to you say blacks this, blacks that, and welfare mothers and all this other extra bullshit, saying that Asian students, all  like all the things you’re saying I think can be solved by education. And I encourage you to get yourself educated so you don’t want to in an uncomfortable way.  Thank you.  

[MACDONALD] Thank you.  Thank.  Were you referring, by the way, to the hall name change?  I think. Well, I, I’m not sure people are aware that Boalt Barclay, as it is pronounced in England, for whom the city and university was named, was not only a slave owner, but donated his slaves to Yale University when he left the country.  So there we go.  I would just, could you give me an example?  I mean, there’s again, I am never, ever going to deny that the brutality of this country’s history, I mean, these Southern whites, and it was also in the north, but these were, these were absolute barbarians.  But can you give me an example now of how you’ve been discriminated  against at Boalt Law School by your faculty? Okay, let’s give her the microphone back.  Just one quick example.  I want to have one last question, and if I can, if you want to.  

[AUDIENCE 1] All of us have experiences, you know, so. All right.  Now, I got this last year trying to come on campus, trying to go to school.  

[MACDONALD] What’s that got to do? Which is what statement?  Wait a minute.  How does, how did the faculty discriminate against officers trying to go to class?  

[AUDIENCE 1] Yeah, it’s in the way that I would look. I am an Ivy League student. Honors graduate, right. Here ,right now I was black and you’re asking me about if there is discrimination on this campus?  

[MACDONALD] Give me an example. 

[AUDIENCE 1]  I can give you a whole bunch of examples. Don’t play that shit.

[MACDONALD] They were asking for your photo ID. 

[STAFF] I’m sorry to have to come up.  

[AUDIENCE 1] Why would you ask?  Why do you need it? 

[MACDONALD] But I couldn’t because I couldn’t hear them.  That was it.  You are all right.  

[STAFF] They, I, that gentleman here had his hand up.  Would be the last question.  If we can do it quickly, know we’re out of time.  

[AUDIENCE 1] Really? Ah. Oh, shit, man. 

[STAFF] I’ve actually let him ask the question at least. And for the record, so to speak.  And I guess we do have to be out of here,  so. Yeah, there’s just.  

[AUDIENCE 4] Hi, I’m Cameron. There’s a lot of people who pointed this out. There’s a lot of hiding behind statistics that we all know that statistics can lie. And as you sort of mentioned  with the political science background, I have one as well. They’re very misleading and they don’t really paint the whole picture. And I think you also sort of avoided a lot of nuance when talking about, well, X because x, Y, that can’t be racism. How is it that that’s the only answer?  It’s, it’s complicated. I think, I think you acknowledge  that there’s a legacy of, history of slavery, an exclusion of non-white groups, even Eastern European groups who were once considered non-white in conventional American society. And I think that, that can’t not factor in. I think that you really avoid the question of, huh, merit. Who decides what merit is? Institutions that are predominantly white, that have historically been predominantly white and male. Are we sure that those are colorblind?  Are we sure that those don’t have some unintentional bias, even intentional bias? People don’t have full control over their minds and their biases. And to sit there and say, well, racism is dead, we have a bad past, but it’s okay Now. It seems a little reductive of the real deep seated issues.  

[MACDONALD] I think that’s a valid perspective.  You know, it is very, as I say, it is hard to believe that we could have switched to that degree from white privilege to what I would call today black privilege. And you guys are going to go nuts at that term. I send it out there with knowledge,  but I would say that standards are not racist.  

[HAYWARD] Well, hey, ladies and gentlemen, let it never be said that we don’t end on a high note. Thank you all very much for coming. Outside of the institution. 

[MACDONALD] See, I want people to trust their institutions, but I also want our institutions to be trustworthy. Neither part of that is working right now. Maybe that’s where we end. I think we’re out of time.