Does “mismatch” help explain militant black fragility?

How should we explain the fact that black student militancy is now manifesting itself in the disruption of campus libraries and demands for postponement of exams? Here’s one plausible explanation: mismatch is to blame.

“Mismatch” refers to the fact that, due to aggressive race-based admissions preferences, many African-American college students fall short of the white students with whom they attend school in terms of the credentials most closely associated with academic success — high school performance and SAT scores. As such, they are less likely to succeed academically than their white counterparts. Through no fault of their own, they are running uphill (to the extent they choose to run).

Exams are the main mechanism that, in many classes, separates high performing students from average and poor performing ones. Studying is an important mechanism through which highly capable students convert their potential into high performance.

Most colleges do what they can to reduce and mask the disparity between the performance of affirmative action admittees and their better-credentialed peers. Grade inflation means that below average performers can still get decent-sounding grades. Courses in which little more than mastery of politically correct jargon can yield an A or A-minus are offered. On a more salutary note, tutoring and writing assistance are available.

In the end, however, students admitted due to racial preferences surely understand that they are at a competitive disadvantage. This realization is likely to have adverse psychological consequences for some.

If so, some of the more mystifying aspects of the militant fragility become easier to explain. Why does this movement insist that its members’ mental health is in jeopardy? The fact that someone, somewhere on a sprawling campus used the “N” word seems like an insufficient explanation. The fact that these students are competing with students who have a built-in advantage seems like a better one.

Why has “white privilege” become such a catch-phrase? It’s minority students who have the privilege of attending a college that, but for their race, they would not be admitted to. For that matter, it’s minority students who apparently have the privilege of verbally abusing white students in explicitly racial terms without, from all that appears so far, facing disciplinary consequences.

To be sure, the typical white student had more advantages growing up than the typical black student, and these advantages in some cases are for life. But as I understand it, the “white privilege” mantra claims that the privilege adheres in “whiteness” itself, regardless of economic or family circumstances.

If there’s a concrete and universal “white privilege” on campuses that appear superficially to present the quintessential level playing field, the privilege lies in the competitive advantage whites enjoy as the result of mismatch.

Why the constant call for “safe spaces.” Black students aren’t being assaulted. But they reasonably feel insecure about their status because, typically, they are not well-positioned to succeed academically, in relative terms.

Why the focus on libraries? Arguably, it’s the outgrowth of disgust that white students aren’t joining black students on the front-lines (presumably, after a suitably abject confession of their white privilege). But the extreme, obscenity-laden hostility manifested in Dartmouth’s library last week suggests that there is more to it. Mismatch supplies the “more.”

Finally, why the focus on exams? That’s an easy one if my thesis makes sense.

I don’t mean to say that all of the militant minority students are mismatched. Non-affirmative action minority admittees can be swept along. Indeed, some may assume leadership roles; spearheading militant protests can be a heady experience. And, of course, some students who are mismatched in theory will, in practice, match the requirements for success at their college quite nicely in practice.

Still, it’s worth considering whether mismatch helps explain the militant black fragility that seems to be sweeping across our nation’s campuses. Assuming the fragility part is a genuine, not a scam, mismatch likely plays a role.

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