When Race Trumps Merit: How the Pursuit of Equity Sacrifices Excellence, Destroys Beauty, and Threatens Lives. September 7, 2023


To what extent is America racist?  After the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, prestigious American institutions, from the medical profession to the fine arts, pleaded guilty to “systemic racism.” How else explain why blacks are overrepresented in prisons and underrepresented in C-suites and faculty lounges, their leaders asked?  The official answer for those disparities is “disparate impact,” a once obscure legal theory that is now transforming our world. Any traditional standard of behavior or achievement that impedes exact racial proportionality in any enterprise is now presumed racist. Medical school admissions tests, expectations of scientific accomplishment in the award of research grants, the enforcement of the criminal law—all are under assault, because they have a “disparate impact” on underrepresented minorities.

In this Hayek Group talk, Heather MacDonald will present ideas in her most recent book, When Race Trumps Merit, providing an alternative explanation for racial disparities. It is large academic skills gaps that cause the lack of proportional representation in our most meritocratic organizations and large differences in criminal offending that account for the racially disproportionate prison population.

The need to understand the true causes of racial disparities could not be more urgent. Federal science agencies now treat researchers’ skin color as a scientific qualification. Museums and orchestras choose which art and music to promote based on race. Police officers avoid making arrests and prosecutors decline to bring charges to avoid disparate impact on minority criminals.  Come to this talk to hear Heather MacDonald provide detailed evidence of how disparate-impact thinking is jeopardizing scientific progress, destroying public order, and poisoning the appreciation of art and culture.

Speaker: Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and a New York Times bestselling author. She is a recipient of the 2005 Bradley Prize. She writes on a wide range of topics, including higher education, immigration, policing, homelessness and homeless advocacy, criminal-justice reform, and race relations. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, and The New Criterion. Mac Donald’s newest book is When Race Trumps Merit.  She is a frequent guest on Fox News and other TV and radio programs.

Mac Donald holds a B.A. in English from Yale University, graduating with a Mellon Fellowship to Cambridge University, where she earned an M.A. in English and studied in Italy through a Clare College study grant. She holds a J.D. from Stanford University Law School.  Now a nonpracticing lawyer, Mac Donald previously clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and was an attorney-advisor in the Office of the General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a volunteer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She has frequently testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees.

Mac Donald has received numerous awards for her writing, including

  • Civilian Valor Award (2004), from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
  • Integrity in Journalism Award (2008), from the New York State Shields.
  • Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration (2008), from the Center for Immigration Studies.
  • Quill & Badge Award for Excellence in Communication (2012), from the International Union of Police Associations.
  • Excellence in Media Award (2016), from the State Troopers Coalition.
  • Excellence in Media Award (2017), from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
  • Kenneth Y. Tomlinson Award for Outstanding Journalism (2017), from The Fund for American Studies.
  • Heroism Award (2017), from the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association.
  • Law Enforcement Patriot of the Year (2018), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) Foundation
  • Peter Shaw Award (2019), from the National Association of Scholars (NAS).
  • Lady of Grace Award, Police Holy Name Society of Nassau County (2019).
  • City Journal Award (2022)
  • Jeane Kirkpatrick Prize for Academic Freedom, Encounter Books (2022)

You may be interested in one or more of her previous works.  They include The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture (2018), which argues that toxic ideas first spread by higher education have undermined humanistic values, fueled intolerance, and widened divisions in our larger culture. The War on Cops (2016), a New York Times bestseller, warns that raced-based attacks on the criminal-justice system, from the White House on down, are eroding the authority of law and putting lives at risk. The Burden of Bad Ideas (2001), a collection of Mac Donald’s City Journal essays, details the effects of the 1960s counterculture’s destructive march through America’s institutions. In The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s (2007), coauthored with Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga, she chronicles the effects of broken immigration laws and proposes a practical solution to securing the country’s porous borders. In Are Cops Racist? (2010), another City Journal anthology, Mac Donald investigates the workings of the police, the controversy over so-called racial profiling, and the anti-profiling lobby’s harmful effects on black Americans.