The Black Empty Suit

From the archives at VFR, a guess essay by “Joseph Kay”, on the tricks used by Affirmative Action university admittees to appear “smart”, and the disappointments which inevitably ensue.  In part:

Non-university people cannot grasp just how simple it is to fool those wanting to believe that outward appearances signify intellectual ability. This is particularly the case in soft disciplines that do not require mathematics. The clever law student imposter can conspicuously carry around legal tomes, ask “serious” questions whose sole purpose is to name-drop obscure cases, complain about spending too much time in the library, join organizations to build a stellar resume, and otherwise construct a false persona. Success at one level leads to triumph at the next. Few professors have the gumption to flunk a pretender who has successfully fooled dozens of others (con artists use this technique when telling potential suckers about all the others who have bought the scheme). But assuming that the lightweight must be the real thing is painless.

And this paragraph in particular nails the case:

What separates real life, including politics, from the academy is that real life seldom requires the individual to pass a tough test to demonstrate genuine mastery prior to being given a position. Only afterwards, when the candidate is elected or the junior executive hired, are there unexpected “surprises.” At least initially, superficiality always carries the day. A well-tailored, eloquent black office seeker can easily impress audiences by announcing “the declining yield of each marginal investment suggests a cautionary approach.” But the listener can never know if this high-sounding verbiage reflects knowledge, or just a knack for picking up economic lingo. Certainly no media personality will ask if this declining yield still represents a net gain in light of alternative investments elsewhere, or whether the opportunity costs associated with alternatives still warrant investment. If this occurred, the interviewer, not the befuddled black candidate, would be condemned with the withering statement that “No white candidate would be so badgered.” Thus no incentives exists to expose the arriviste.

–The single thing that most struck me in the Bernie Sanders/Black Lives Matter podium was that third black chick, the fat one with the glasses bizarrely waving her arms up and down.  What was that gesture about?  It looked like she was trying to signal, “All hail!” or something.  It looked absolutely retarded.  But it also made me think about Donald Trump’s terrific swipe at Rick Perry, that he started wearing glasses because he thinks it makes him look smart.  This is funny, not only because it’s triumphantly “rude”, but because it voiced exactly what I thought– and what thousands of other people must have thought– the moment we saw Rick Perry 2016 campaigning with glasses on.

Of course, many professors, journalists, and members of the general public would probably be gobsmacked with awe just to hear anybody say, “the declining yield of each marginal investment suggests a cautionary approach”.  For humanities majors, just getting the hang of “opportunity costs” might represent a quantum leap forward into living lives of common sense.  But we do have to ask more of leaders, outside of academe or otherwise.


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