Colby Bohannan, president of the Former Majority Association for Equality, has set up a scholarship program for white males. To qualify, you have to be at least a 25 percent Caucasian, have demonstrated a commitment to education, achieved at least a 3.0 grade average, show financial need, and document a positive contribution to the community. Bohannan’s official reasoning is that white males are the only group that doesn’t have a scholarship dedicated to them. He is, he says, righting an injustice.
To me, it smells like a stunt. Bohannan probably thinks the scholarship will open a larger debate about the fairness of race, ethnic or gender restricted scholarships aimed at diversity or affirmative action. The news media, predictably, has taken the bait, and he has been making the rounds of cable news shows, where he is typically pitted against a spitting-mad advocate for one minority group or another. Bohannan just sits and smiles and says that he doesn’t object to any of the other scholarships; he just thinks its time for white men to have one too. Meanwhile, the moldy arguments of his adversaries tend to make his real point. For example, one of those condemning Bohannan actually cited the thoroughly discredited statistic that women make 77 cents compared to every dollar earned by a man….the Dishonest Statistic That Will Not Die.
Of course, I may be giving Bohannan too much credit. It’s certainly possible that he’s just an idiot. After all, the terms of his supposedly white male scholarship would fit a large percentage of self-identified African-Americans in the United States, including Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Derek Jeter, and, of course, Barak Obama. Still, the question to be answered here is: is this scholarship ethical?
Of course not. How could it be? Discrimination by race and gender is prima facie unethical, unless it can pass muster through a valid utilitarian calculation. Bohannan’s calculation is no more sophisticated than “they do it for everyone else, so why shouldn’t be have a discriminatory scholarship too?”, a “two wrongs make a right” argument. Excluding Americans from programs, honors and benefits based on factors that have nothing to do with their ability or “the content of their character” is undemocratic, a violation of our national values, and an inherent insult to anyone who doesn’t qualify.
The same verdict applies to most, if not all, other scholarships that are restricted to racial groups or women. It applies to racially restricted awards programs too. Why are there still women-only scholarships, when there are more women in college and graduate school than men, and they are excelling? Why are there Pride Awards, or programs like BET Honors….or, for that matter, why is there a BET? These artificial divisions perpetuate bigotry and bias now, and encourage divisive groups like the Former Majority Association for Equality. Academic scholarships, without compelling reasons to the contrary, should be color and gender neutral, and based on ability, achievement, character and need.
At least the other scholarships and programs once had a legitimate rationale for their existence, even if it may have expired. Not Bohannan’s scholarship. If it is serious, it is unethical, and if it is a stunt, it’s wasting our time.