Prepare for Disparate Impact

REVIEW: ‘When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives’ by Heather Mac Donald

black lives matter protest
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June 25, 2023

In her latest book, When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives, bestselling author Heather Mac Donald skewers the ideology of "disparate impact"—a "once obscure legal theory that is now transforming our world."

According to Mac Donald, disparate impact—in which any negative or disproportionate outcome impacting black Americans is declared to be a "tool of white supremacy"—has been deliberately developed and leveraged as a cultural tool, targeting "the very fundamentals of a fair society."

Today, she argues, meritocracy, fealty to the rule of law, and even respect for our civilizational inheritance stand in the way of achieving so-called racial justice.

Mac Donald describes 2020 as a potentially "pivotal moment in American history," accelerating the notion that racism defines America. This idea, she believes, is tearing the country apart, with any protest rejected by the same "just believe" mandate used by the #MeToo movement.

Not only that, any roadblock to the achievement of "exact racial proportionality"—with the key to disparate impact being the presumption of racial proportionality with no regard for factors such as behavior and ability—is itself evidence of this same systemic racism.

In When Race Trumps Merit, Mac Donald explores three fundamental areas of American life to support her hypothesis that the country is engaging in a fit of "cultural self-cancellation" that is impoverishing the imagination, stunting the capacity for wonder and joy, and stripping the future of everything that gives human life meaning: beauty, sublimity, and wit.

The first two chapters are dedicated to science and medicine, which were hit "like an earthquake" by the "post-George Floyd racial reckoning" unleashed in 2020.

Mac Donald provides the reader with a deep dive into the racialized nature of today’s scientific community, arguing that American elites have simply moved on from failing to close the academic skills gap by deciding to "break up the objective yardsticks that measure it," including dismantling the system of knowledge underpinning modern medicine. "The result," says Mac Donald, "will be a declining quality of medical care and a curtailment of scientific progress."

Mac Donald then moves on from the world of science and explores the abstract world of culture. Across 10 chapters she explores the pursuit of racial proportionality across classical music, opera, and art.

The problem with this section—compared with the former and latter sections—is that the bulk of the book is dedicated to subjective expressions of art sandwiched on either side by the comparatively objective areas of science and crime. While the critiques of certain artists under the "rise of mediocrity" might highlight the breadth of the blind pursuit of racial proportionality and the erasure of Western culture, it must be said that by placing such significance upon subjective areas of human expression—rather than objective fields of pure meritocracy—Mac Donald is in danger of diluting the strength of her overarching argument.

The third and final section is an emotionally stunning investigation of the effect of disparate impact analysis on the American criminal-justice system, "where every disparity in arrest or incarceration rates is now attributed to racism."

Presenting the decline of New York City into a haven for criminal behavior as an example, Mac Donald argues that two decades of successful efforts to combat crime have been voluntarily cast aside, with the spread of violence and predation erupting as a predictable result.

"Acknowledging the vastly higher black crime rate is taboo," Mac Donald points out, with Democrats preferring to blame the supposed systemic racism of law enforcement or—if necessary—focus on the insidious (and often imagined) presumption of white supremacy.

Under "anti-racism orthodoxy," if we are unable to discuss the root causes of higher black crime—"above all, family breakdown," Mac Donald adds—then the only way we can achieve racial proportionality regarding crime is to stop the penalization of criminal behavior.

As a result, "elite ‘anti-racists’ absolve blacks from responsibility for their actions," Mac Donald writes. "This patronizing attitude is today’s real racism."

Providing the reader with an almost overwhelming trove of pure data—including a moving account of forgotten black victims of gang violence deemed unimportant by the mainstream media and the Democratic Party—Mac Donald proves that criminal violence is the main problem afflicting urban black communities, and not police shootings.

Analyzing the areas of science, the arts, and criminal justice, When Race Trumps Merit is not only an enthralling account of the reality of so-called anti-racism efforts in the United States, but a resolute warning of the dangers of unfettered disparate impact analysis.

"Western civilization contains too much beauty and grandeur, too much achievement, and too much innovation—from advances in the sciences to the blessings of republican self-government—to be lost without a fight," Mac Donald concludes. "It will be lost, however, if disparate impact continues to be our measure of injustice."

When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives
by Heather Mac Donald
DW Books, 320 pp., $28.99

Ian Haworth is a writer, speaker, and former Big Tech insider. He also hosts "Off Limits with Ian Haworth."