Glenn Loury and Patricia Agupusi, "The Superficial Morality of Colorblindness: Comparing the US and South Africa"

CSREA Conference Room, Hillel 303, 80 Brown Street

What I Am Thinking About Now: Professor Glenn Loury (Economics) and Patricia Agupusi (Visiting Fellow, International Relations)

Loury and Agupusi argue that – in the presence of continued social segregation and significant human capital spillovers within social networks – the unequal consequences of past racial discrimination tend to persist absent a concerted effort to reverse them. They conclude that “color-blindness” – i.e. official indifference to race in the formulation of public policies – is not a coherent ethical principle. (Strict adherence to it would perpetuate the effects of its own past violation!) Considering the cases of the USA in the aftermath of Jim Crow and South Africa in the aftermath of Apartheid they note that, despite the emergence of formally non-discriminatory legal regimes in both societies, the ongoing racial exclusivity of social networks and informal communities has meant that in neither society do individuals in different racial groups enjoy equal developmental opportunity. However, due to their different histories, demographic profiles, socioeconomic structures and political institutions, the reasons to reject color-blindness and the best response to a history of racial exclusion are not the same in the USA and the RSA. We contrast “preferential” policies that increase immediate access to positions of influence and power with what we call “developmental” policies that focus on expanding long term productive capacities. Though these two policies are not mutually exclusive, Loury and Agupusi argue that when employed to reverse the present-day effects of historical racial discrimination they have very different practical implications, as can be seen by contrasting how they might be implemented in these two societies.

What I Am Thinking About Now is an on-going informal workshop/seminar series to which faculty and graduate students are invited to present and discuss recently published work and work in progress.