Friday, December 11, 2015

On Taking Your Pain All the Way to the Supreme Court

The first students to desegregate schools in the South were all excellent students.  It was a no-brainer. If you wanted to prove that black students could thrive and handle themselves in a racist environment, you needed to pick excellent, disciplined students.  Those kids would be the most likely to earn the sympathies of Southern moderates.  It wasn't fair.  It wasn't fair at all.  It's enraging that such concessions were ever necessary.

The woman whose case is now before the Supreme Court is extraordinary only in her extraordinary mediocrity.  She was a good student with a 3.59 GPA in an era of rapid grade inflation.  She did some activities, but doesn't have much of a history of leadership.  Her family wasn't poor.  She isn't the member of any minority, any minority that I can see.  Couldn't they have found the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who worked 40 hours a week outside of school?   The standard claim against affirmative action is its unfairness towards Asian-Americans.  Couldn't they have found a poor white kid with a similar GPA?  After all, one of the other complaints against affirmative action is that it "privileges" middle-class black people over poor white people.  Couldn't they have found someone who didn't land a job with a starting salary of $60,000 after she graduated from another school?  Good god, couldn't they at least have found someone with even a white ethnic background, the great-great- or great-grandchild of Italian or Jewish immigrants?

I get the complaints against affirmative action.  I think they're wrong.  I think they ignore the reality of the world we live in.  Institutions suffer when they roll back affirmative action programs.  It's not just a matter of correcting a historical wrong.  It's about creating a more just and more functional society.

And the fact that this woman is the best the lawyers could find may be the best argument for the policy on the cultural if not the legal level.  There's a certain kind of person who will complain about her lack of success because of a policy that is designed to help others.  There's a certain kind of person who will be so indignant that she didn't get into the school she wanted to go to, she actually will take her argument all the way to the Supreme Court.  That poor white kid who struggles and gets a 3.59 and that child of Vietnamese immigrants may or may not agree with the policy, but by virtue of their life and their background, they won't suffer from such entitlement.  They were taught early on that life isn't fair and they won't expect everyone to hand them everything they want.

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