Nevertheless, I do feel comfortable judging them guilty of being clueless. There are good reasons to question the moral appropriateness of strong same-race preferences and their close cousin, in-group favoritism. In The American Non-Dilemma, Nancy DiTomaso argues that persistent racial inequality in the United States is not solely or even primarily a reflection of racism and discrimination. Rather, it reflects the fact that whites tend to help other whites without ever discriminating against or behaving cruelly toward blacks and other nonwhites. As long as whites tend to dominate prestigious occupations, and as long as they control access to valuable social resources like access to good schools, the fact that whites, like all people, will do more to help family, friends, and acquaintances than strangers will tend to entrench racial inequality, provided that white people choose to associate primarily with other whites. DiTomaso observes that while Americans place very high value on the idea of equal opportunity, virtually all of us seek “unequal opportunity” in our own lives by leveraging our intimate relationships to achieve our goals, including our professional goals. Yet most of us don’t see the help of family and friends as an unfair leg up. This kind of “opportunity hoarding” is accepted as par for the course.
We could make an effort to eliminate in-group favoritism, but such an effort would inevitably fail, as in-group favoritism is a powerful human impulse. A more sensible course of action would be to do our part to expand the boundaries of the in-group. And by doing our part, I mean doing more than piling on when some minor celebrity or politician is accused of racism, or holding “rednecks” in casual contempt for their (supposedly) backward views.
In “The Duty to Miscegenate,” one of the more provocative Ph.D. dissertations I’ve ever read, the philosopher Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman argues that the fundamental problem with the prohibitions against “race-mixing” that were on the books in much of the United States until the late 1960s is that they strengthened the social stigmatization of people of African descent—not just that they were discriminatory. These legal penalties were not the source of this social stigmatization, and repealing them did not bring it to an end. Whereas discrimination is about denying an individual access to some benefit, stigmatization is about the damage stereotypes can do to our public reputations, and how the fear of living up to, or down to, our race-based reputations can warp our lives. According to Coleman, the surest way to break down stigma is to reduce anxiety about intergroup contact and to fight “emotional and perceptual segregation.”