Peter Beinart argues in this week’s New Republic that whoever opposes affirmative action on moral grounds must oppose racial profiling on the same grounds. The syllogism runs: opponents of affirmative action base their moral case on “the principle of color blindness”; they often support racial profiling, which isn’t color-blind; therefore they don’t believe in color blindness at all. This sounds wrong: it is wrong. But it will be useful to exhibit the precise fallacy.
My source for this link writes:
Beinart misses the point. If we extend the principle of racial profiling — using actual, genuine, data about groups to help us make better guesses about individuals — to the spheres in which affirmative action operates, we get fewer blacks at prestigious universities. Racial profiling is about reality. Affirmative action is about ignoring reality.
True, but not quite satisfactory. The logical error lies in the term “color blindness.” Color blindness, as used by its advocates, does not mean literal color blindness, the belief that the state shall ignore race in every context, but something very different: the principle that the state shall ignore what is irrelevant. Race, being the most common of invidious criteria, serves as a rhetorical stand-in for all that is usually irrelevant, like religion, or sexual proclivities, or eye color. But Beinart insists on being literal. He takes race blindness, removes it from the context of university admissions, where it’s irrelevant, and transports it to the context of profiling potential terrorists, where it’s highly relevant for the obvious reason that most Muslims are Arabs. This is the fallacy of equivocation. It won’t do.