I’m not sure why Holbo thinks he should have all the fun when it comes to libertarians and history. Here’s Megan McArdle, earlier today:
Conservatives are, not to overlabor the obvious, marginalized in the cultural elite, even though they are powerful in the political elite. (At least some of the time, anyway). Obviously there’s been an enormous amount of ink shed about why this is, but my experience of talking to people who might have liked to go to grad school or work in Hollywood, but went and did something else instead, is that it is simply hogwash when liberals earnestly assure me that the disparity exists mostly because conservatives are different, and maybe dumber. People didn’t try because they sensed that it would be both socially isolating, and professionally dangerous, to be a conservative in institutions as overwhelmingly liberal as academia and media.
It is indeed hard to be a conservative in American media. One is always wondering, what if I get something wrong? About something important, like maybe a health care debate or a war? Will I lose my job and be subject to public ridicule for the rest of my life? And then there’s the question of what kind of plane to buy, which country club to join, whether to vacation in the Caribbean, central America, or the south of France. It can be terribly socially isolating.
But that’s not why I stopped by today. Here’s why:
It’s actually fascinating to watch the inversion of liberal and conservative positions on this one. Liberals essentially seem to be saying that hey, they don’t all get together in the tenure committee and agree to deny any conservatives tenure. I believe them! But I’m not sure why they think this means that the disparity is therefore not a problem. As I wrote years ago, somewhere, I doubt many bank hiring committees in the fifties got together and voted not to hire any negro bank managers. Yet, somehow, they didn’t hire any negro bank managers.
Exactly—because the system is designed to prevent conservatives, or persons of color, from getting to the point at which they are plausible candidates for tenure or for positions as bank managers:
Why not? Because things like social networks, subtle bias, and tacit norms about what constituted the boundaries of acceptable traits in bank managers did all the work for them. And I doubt they got many black applicants, because after all, why on earth would you bother? Better to try to start a small business, or get a job as a Pullman porter, where you had a realistic shot at making a decent income. A poll of black high school students would probably have indicated a very small number expressing ambitions to fill jobs that realistically simply were not available to non-white, non-male candidates. But this is not evidence that there is something different about blacks that makes them not want to be successful corporate executives.
OK, in fairness to McArdle, she acknowledges that conservatives sometimes have skewed priorities when it comes to structural discrimination:
It is equally maddening that conservatives understand this about potential conservative graduate students, but not about potential black CEOs—and yes, I think this remains a problem today. I’m not sure that affirmative action is the answer, but that’s a different post.
That’s nice about the concern for black CEOs. But let’s get down to business, shall we?
I’ve long been aware that when it comes to academe, conservative is the new black—as I wrote years ago, somewhere. And finally I know why! Because back in the day, black people took stock of social networks, subtle bias, and tacit norms, and decided (being rational beings and all, trying to maximize their happiness) that they were better off starting their own businesses than trying to become bank managers, where they would be socially isolated. Similarly, conservatives avoid academe long before anyone has to turn them down for tenure.
I think it’s true that some conservatives don’t even bother trying to get academic jobs because they perceive academe as a liberal redoubt. I’m still not sure just how many young conservatives out there would really want academic jobs in the arts and humanities, if not for all us obnoxious liberals (after all, that’s where we tend to congregate), but that’s not the point. The point is McArdle’s analogy, which seems inaccurate somehow. I can’t put my finger on it precisely, but it’s almost as if there’s something … missing….
Ah, I know what’s missing! The entire legal apparatus of segregation and Jim Crow! If McArdle knew her pre-Civil Rights Era history better, perhaps, she would remember that conservatives in the armed forces were not allowed to fight alongside their moderate and liberal fellows until 1948, when President Truman issued his famous antidiscrimination order and provoked the “Dixiecrat” backlash dedicated to preserving the second-class status of conservative-Americans. Even as late as 1964, in Holly Bluff, Mississippi, school officials spent $190 for every liberal or moderate student and $1.26 for every conservative. And let’s not even get into the murders of the civil rights workers who fought for the right of American conservatives to vote—or the fact that if we go back a few generations, we will confront a dark period in US history in which conservatives were forbidden to own property. It is easy enough, today, to decry the separate schools, bathrooms, drinking fountains, hotels, recreational facilities, and railroad cars to which American conservatives were consigned. But it’s harder to realize that systemic, legal discrimination of this kind has had intergenerational effects that continue to render conservatives marginal to the cultural elite on campus and in Hollywood.
I suppose McArdle will reply that she is aware of Jim Crow. No doubt she is. But then there’s no way to salvage that analogy between conservatives in academe and black folk in banks. Nor, for that matter, is there any way to make sense of her claim that enterprising African-Americans in the fifties had a realistic shot at making a decent income by opening a small business. Because, as it happens, the fifties were an especially brutal decade for independent black businesspeople. As Terry Anderson pointed out in The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action,
Between 1950 and 1960 the number of self-employed blacks actually dropped by 10,000, black businesses declined by a third, while their unemployment remained at double the rate for whites. According to one report, if the occupational trends of the 1950s did not change, minorities could not expect jobs proportionate to their percentage of the population—in skilled trades until the year 2005, in the professions until 2017, in sales until 2114, and among business managers and owners until 2730.
McArdle’s bit about “negro bank managers” is kind of mordantly funny in this light. As Anderson points out, in 1944, all of 14 percent of white workers responded affirmatively to the question, “Should a Negro be your foreman or supervisor?” That was an all-time high—progress was at hand! But alas, it was a purely hypothetical question, since there weren’t any Negro supervisors, or any Negroes being groomed for management positions, in any integrated institutions in the public or private sector. Even as late as 1963, Ebony magazine found that “two of 3,500 apprentices in all trades in Newark are Negro and in Chicago, where a quarter of the population is Negro, the apprentice figure is less than 1 percent.” And those weren’t the banks, folks, those were the trades. Extrapolating from the trends of the 1950s, the trades would have been integrated by 2005; the banks would catch up at some point in the 28th century.
So yes, I suppose you could say that “social networks, subtle bias, and tacit norms” accounted for the dearth of black bank managers in the fifties. But you’d be running the risk of looking like something of an ignoramus about the actually existing laws, institutions, and relations of power in the period. And then you could try to try to come up with a bizarre analogy between the dearth of black bank managers in the 1950s and the plight of conservatives in contemporary academe. That would be ludicrous beyond belief … but lucky for you, it would be standard fare in a certain sector of elite American media.