We Need Quotas!

May 24, 2019 Updated: May 24, 2019


For progressives who envision a world free of discrimination, in which every identity group enjoys the fruits of prosperity in equal proportions, public life is never-ending frustration.

The problem is that gaps in participation rates won’t close. In my field of literature, for example, 1,465 individuals earned a doctoral degree from universities in the United States in 2017, but only 45 of them were “Black or African American.” In all the fields of the humanities, the rate was even less, 2.8 percent. This result, in fact, marked a decline from 2008 (4.5 percent), 2003 (3.8 percent), and 1998 (3.4 percent).

That disappointing outcome happened, moreover, in spite of decades-long efforts to make the humanities curriculum more multicultural (especially more African American-friendly) and to fashion faculty positions for African American candidates.

Indeed, liberal academics have tried everything they could think of to bring more African Americans into the fields, often crossing laws against race-based hiring, but with little success. Academic liberals are earnest and determined, but each year that passes seems another cause for dismay.

They have to keep trying, though. No 21st-century liberal is happy to see white-collar workplaces with such stark underrepresentation of a race that has a historical meaning that counts to him or her as tragic and poignant. And that goes for other disadvantaged groups, too, including women, who remain underrepresented at the high ends of the workplace, even though they have earned the larger share of baccalaureate and graduate degrees for many years.

The next step is obvious. It was announced the other day by actress Julianne Moore at Cannes, where the film festival was happening. She called it “gender parity”—which seems called for by the fact that only 8 percent of directors of popular films in 2018 were women—and bluntly decreed the equalization of men and women on the screen and behind the camera.

No wishy-washy talk about how important diversity is, no weaselly prevarications of the kind one hears from colleges that justify affirmative action by appeals to “holistic” evaluation of applications. No, Moore had a specific number in mind, a 50–50 split, pure and simple.

“We will have to make major changes to reach parity. That’s just a fact. So, I do believe in quotas. I really do,” she said.

Yes, quotas are next. Because broad cultural pressure for equal representation that we have seen since the 1960s hasn’t worked, 21st-century liberalism must enact changes in different industries by fiat. If the ordinary workings of culture and economics don’t yield the right proportions of black and white, men and women—even in a society generally dedicated to fairness and diversity—sterner measures must be applied.

The good faith of individuals in decision-making positions, be they casting directors in Hollywood or hiring committees in academia (both of which, needless to say, are almost entirely made up of solid liberals), is insufficient to produce the just and proper result.

Everyone must get on board, too, Moore stated: “We will not have gender parity unless everybody is cooperating.”

A statistic must be set, and the deciders must meet it, all of them.

This is social engineering of a familiar kind, one with a sure track record of failure. But a progressive never lets the lessons of the past interfere with the moral demands of justice in the present.

What is noteworthy about Moore’s overt espousal of quotas is, precisely, its candor. In the past, the word quota has had a bad odor even among those who endorse affirmative action, who have tended explicitly to deny that their policies amounted to a quota.

This wasn’t only because the Supreme Court in its Bakke decision of 1978 and the Ricci decision of 2009 had ruled quotas illegal. Also, they knew that public opinion ran against quotas in admissions and hiring. Quotas, most people believe, are unfair.

Maybe it was Barack Obama’s presidency, and particularly its record on LGBT issues, that emboldened progressives to press harder, using tactics that theretofore troubled the majority of Americans. Or maybe the election of Donald Trump caused them so much distress that progressives no longer feel the need to respect the restraints put upon statist and collectivist interventions by the First Amendment. Or maybe liberals are so frustrated by what seems to them a senseless halt in the advancement of identity-based reforms that they would rather sacrifice individuals to the supposed common good than opt to judge people by their singular merits, not their group traits.

But they have to do something, they just have to. The disparate outcomes have to stop. The continued inferior standing of women in Hollywood and of African Americans in academia (one could find other examples) isn’t much different in the eyes of a young social justice type from the Jim Crow South of 1900, when, we might add, women couldn’t vote. They see anything less than fully proportionate representation in corporate boardrooms and in popular movies as nothing but ongoing injustice. If they don’t do something about it, something more than what was done before, well, they have failed their own principles and betrayed everyone else’s hopes.

Quotas are a simple, unambiguous, and binding solution. You must produce this result, they tell decision-makers. No excuses, no rationalizations. We don’t care about details and context and history. Just give us the right numbers. Align your personnel accordingly. From now on, it’s your problem, not ours.

Expect more calls for quotas in the coming months and years. They are the only recourse progressives have at this late day, 55 years after the Civil Rights Act, two years past the second term of the first African American president, and 16 years after the Supreme Court granted affirmative action proponents a little room to play with race categories and produce better numbers on the ground.

As the progressive likes to say, “There is still a lot of work to do.”

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and senior editor at First Things magazine.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.