Justice Sotomayor came to San Francisco and inadvertently made the case that affirmative action terribly unfair — and, moreover, that people are right if they believe, not that it gives qualified minorities a chance, but that it handicaps non-minorities at the expense of any minorities, qualified or not.
What we don’t like is a system that says to completely ordinary kids who make no specific effort: “You! Yeah, you. Although you are undistinguished in all relevant ways, you’re going to get a leg up simply because of your race.” In the old days, that sentence, more fully written, read “Although you are undistinguished in all relevant ways, you’re going to get a leg up simply because you’re white.” Looking back now, we realize how heinous it was to spread opportunities unevenly simply because of race.
Yet that’s precisely what affirmative action does — spread opportunities unevenly because of race. The government, rather than being magisterially even-handed, has taken sides. Instead of funding scholarships for accomplished young people, it funds scholarships for racially appropriate people (emphasis mine):
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in town Monday to promote her newly released memoir, said she couldn’t talk about affirmative action because of a pending court case. In the next breath, she talked about what it had meant to her – admission to Princeton and Yale Law School and the launching of a legal career.
“I was given the chance to get to the start of the race and it changed my life,” the 58-year-old justice told a sold-out Commonwealth Club audience at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.
When she entered Princeton on a scholarship in 1972 despite unspectacular test scores, she recalled, the school was in only its third year of admitting women and had barely a handful of minority students.
Isn’t that nice for Sotomayor? She got into Princeton despite the fact that she didn’t qualify. And doesn’t it just suck for the hard-working white or Asian kid who, in that same year, had spectacular test scores (not to mention good grades), but was nevertheless barred from Princeton because Sotomayor took her place? If Sotomayor had been a brilliant student, it’s probable that none of us would have cared that she, a kid from a dodgy New York neighborhood, was granted admission over a kid from somewhere suburbia. What grates is that Sotomayor hadn’t earned her place academically.
I recognize that Sotomayor’s opportunity came about in 1972, when affirmative action was meant to be a quick fix — a head start — to make up for the decades of discrimination that immediately preceded those first few years of affirmative action. What rankles is that, two generations later, we’re still giving a hand up to mediocre people in the name of race. In other words, we’ve institutionalized racism just as certainly as those Jim Crow people did. We now frame it affirmatively, in that we boast that we’re pulling some people up, as opposed to pushing other people down, but it’s the same thing: too often race, not merit, determines who gets to grab the educational and employment gold ring.
Sotomayor seems like a nice, hard-working woman, although I couldn’t disagree more with her approach to the law. She also seems like someone who benefited from an inequitable program at a time that at least gave some credibility to the program, but who now seeks to use the extraordinary power granted to her to make Leftist Jim Crow laws a permanent part of America’s racist landscape.
*I’d originally written “economically disadvantaged children,” and then thought, “Why am I cluttering my writing with this lardy PC jargon?” So I changed it to “poor children,” which makes the point just fine.