Thomas Sowell

The notion of honoring black ("African American") writers with a special section in bookstores is just one of innumerable fashionable symbolic notions that ignore consequences.

In other situations, the negative consequences of mindless symbolism can be far more serious.

For example, one of the letters in "A Man of Letters" is from my friend and fellow economist Walter Williams, mentioning that he learned of a teaching hospital near him which had an unwritten policy against giving a failing grade to any black medical student.

Similar policies are mentioned in other letters, to and from other people, about double standards for black medical students at other places, including the Harvard Medical School in the 1970s.

Apparently the symbolism of having more black medical students on display was allowed to over-ride consideration of the consequences of sending out into the world under-qualified doctors, at the risk of their patients' lives.

It is not that these consequences are too complicated for the people who run medical schools to figure out. But nothing gets figured out if you don't bother to stop and think about it.

One of the reasons people don't bother to stop and think is that symbolism lets them feel good about themselves. They can go through life leaving havoc in their wake, while enjoying a warm glow of self-approval.

Lower book sales for black writers are one of the milder consequences.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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