Do governments have a duty to reduce racial gaps?

John has demonstrated how the Washington Post lied about a statement Katherine Kersten made regarding racial discipline quotas in the St. Paul school system. The lie appears in an article by Rebecca Tan called “Racial gaps prove hard to reduce.” On the internet, the article is called “Local governments are trying to fix racial inequity. But the path forward isn’t clear.”

John’s attack on Tan’s dishonest reporting is spot on. However, I want to focus on the article’s topic — “racial inequity” and what local governments should do about it.

As used in Tan’s article, “racial inequity” means one racial group performing less well than another. For example, Tan describes how in Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live:

The poverty rate for black and Latino residents is nearly triple that of white residents; Latinos are more than five times as likely as whites to lack a high school diploma or GED; black youths make up one-fifth of the school-age population, yet they account for 3 in 5 juvenile arrests.

The premise of Tan’s article is that local governments have a duty to “fix” such inequalities. But does it? I don’t think so, and Tan never makes a case for why it does.

When it comes to law enforcement, the government’s duty (among things) is to arrest and prosecute those who commit crimes. It should do so without regard to race. Absent evidence of discriminatory policing practices (and Tan presents none for Montgomery County or anywhere else), it should be a matter of indifference to the government whether fulfilling this responsibility means disproportionately more criminal convictions for members of a particular race.

When it comes to student achievement scores, the government’s duty is to provide all students who attend its schools with quality instruction, without regard to race. If the government fulfills this duty but students of one race outperform students of another race, it’s not the government’s fault. No special measures need be taken to reduce the gap, although reasonable measures to address it are commendable as long as they don’t lower standards or come at the expense of non-low achievers.

The remedy for an achievement gap is for those who are achieving less to do what it takes to achieve more. As long as the government isn’t blocking anyone’s achievement, and (if the gap is racial) isn’t discriminating on the basis of race, it has no responsibility to reduce the gap. Nor, as the title of the Post’s article concedes, is there much it can do to reduce the gap — other than perhaps to dumb things down and tolerate misconduct.

The Montgomery County government isn’t blocking anyone’s achievement, nor is it discriminating on the basis of race. One of the few sensible passages in Tan’s article comes from a couple she describes as African-American and originally from Mississippi:

They had worked hard to afford the life that they had now, they said, and they believed others should too. Besides, they added, Montgomery was the most racially equitable place they had ever seen.

Hard work to afford the life one desires. That’s how to combat achievement gaps, racial or otherwise. That’s “the path forward.”

By assuming that the government has a responsibility to “fix racial inequities,” liberals ignore or downplay individual responsibility. In doing so, they help perpetuate the very gaps they say they are trying to reduce.

No wonder these gaps “prove hard to reduce.”

Responses

Books to read from Power Line