Occupy Wall Street and Affirmative Action

The protests -- and Abigail Fisher's lawsuit -- remind us that inequality affects white people, too.

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Getty Images

Now, should the child of a wealthy suburban family accept that they might cede their place at a good school to someone who made the best of growing up lower-middle class or below, without access to many Advanced Placement classes or SAT coaching? I say yes, and disagree sharply with anyone who sees no room for addressing societal inequality in this manner.

But a preference policy that truly sticks, requiring no sonorous double-talk about squishy notions like “redress” from the left, and attracting no grouchy claims of “reverse racism” from the right, will be one under which all members of the American social contract can be sure that what is being addressed is inequality rather than melanin.

To be black is not, after all, automatically to be a poster child of inequality. It’s time to get comfortable admitting that these days, not all black students have lived lives that justify admissions preferences — and that those whose lives don’t justify affirmative action constitute a vast group. Why should a black student raised by two doctors, or a school principal and a middle manager, be preferred over a white one with better grades and test scores?

Watch out for two common responses here. The first is the “diversity” bit. Try telling a black student to her face that she deserves admission for being diverse, and note that she won’t like it. Also ask her, if she is a middle-class or affluent black person, precisely what the nature is of the “diversity” she contributes — and then ask the committee admitting her on that basis the same question.

Ask the members of that committee to name a single university where race-based preferences were discontinued and admissions of brown students dropped to too few to constitute a community. Having a perceptible and vigorous black community on a campus — even if not as large as it was in the ’90s — doesn’t require race-based preferences.