Vital Signs

Who's Slave and Who's Massa?

Of all the strange bedfellows that politics attracts, one of the oddest is the enduring liaison between the black civil-rights establishment and white liberal academics. One partner—the academic auxiliary—is most dutiful. It is always there: demanding legislation, concocting dubious constitutional interpretations, justifying quotas, or consoling struggling minority students. Criticizing the civil-rights establishment's agenda invites the anger of a swarm of outraged white professors. By contrast, the civil rights establishment takes academics for granted.

What explains this enduring bond, especially given its one-sided character? Imagine if white academics treated blacks as indifferently as they now treat labor unions. Racial-preference ideology would degenerate into simplistic demands for "a piece of the action." The entire elaborate legal edifice would almost vanish. Black political clout depends on thousands of vocal, energetic, quick-to-mobilize, university-entrenched allies.

Narrow financial self-interest cannot explain the bond. No personal gain comes to white academics who embrace the racial party line. Indeed, endorsement subverts selfish monetary advancement. Lucrative minority faculty appointments, separate "black studies" programs, and race-based channeling of research funds impose costs, not benefits, on white academics.

What about cultural affinity? Have white...

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