The Twilight of Affirmative Action or the Trappings of the WSJ’s Rhetorical Storehouse of Editorials?

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at Washington and Lee University recently in a symposium honoring her friend Justice Lewis Powell. Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial about the event (which I link below) continues the paper’s characteristic investment in less than rigorous coverage of diversity related issues which is disappointing when one considers its cogent coverage of economics and business. But then again, perhaps national economics and business demands a myopic understanding of race and diversity in order to allow the neoliberal logic of labor dispersal, outsourcing, and capital accumulation to sustain its hegemony in the political sphere.

Justice O’Connor, who upheld the 2003 University of Michigan’s Law School’s right to use race in its admission decisions, famously noted that “The court expects that 25 years from now the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Apropos of Justice O’Connor’s statement, and its reiteration in her own talk at Washington and Lee, the WSJ piece quoted another symposium attendee, UCLA law professor Richard Sander, who countered Justice O’Connor’s 2003 preemptive and cautionary assertion. The paper quotes Sander as saying that “minority law students in California who attend law schools at which their academic credentials do not match the credentials of other students are less likely to pass the bar exam than they would have been if they had attended less prestigious law schools where their academic credentials would have been closer to the norm.” If this is so, then the logic at hand assumes that Blacks and Latinos should not occupy the spaces that more meritorious candidates should occupy, thereby forcing them to take the bar exam over again but this time without the benefit of institutional pedigree. Fascinating logic. It’s as if all Latinos self identify as such, and as if all “coloreds” better make way for better, brighter minds of presumably lighter stripes.

I suppose it’s alright for those better and brighter minds of privileged institutional and class pedigree, like the late John F. Kennedy, Jr., to be allowed to take the bar exam over and over again as John John infamously did on more than a few occasions. After all, the assertion allows the writer or writers — with rhetorical expediency the piece cites no author save the auspices of the WSJ — to not only dismiss Affirmative Action but to claim that its prerogatives have been injurious to equality. What the piece doesn’t note, of course, is that the civil rights act of 1964, which established that racial discrimination of any kind is illegal, meant to secure the non-discriminatory treatment of all citizens in all settings; education included. This meant, of course, equality of schooling. Now that we see the erosion of Affirmative Action’s initial gains as the result of a seemingly inclusive notion of “equality” we are left with racism’s legacy adorned anew in the trappings of a cynical “equality for all.” Indeed, nowhere in the piece does anyone lament the practice of legacy admissions in education. These “specially protected” spots for the likes of our own President Bush (Yale Class of 1968) never seem to factor in the absolutist logic of the new and now unabashedly literalist conception of “equality for all.”

If equality for all were truly the concern of the WSJ then its beneficiaries should logically be held accountable for their inability to create more equitable business environments. The type of business environments that creates equal educational opportunities for a better prepared business force and citizenry well before professional school. But that can’t happen when editorials from one of the nation’s most prestiges papers can’t produce an author or authors for it’s concerned piece on “equality for all” and the legacy of Affirmative Action. The WSJ’s seemingly reasoned editorial on the “twilight of Affirmative Action” is, through the expediency of authorial metonymy and its purported martyrs, a cheap rhetorical conceit.

Getting Beyond Race
Justice O’Connor ponders the twilight of affirmative action.

Indeed, the video below is emblematic of the bread and circuses related to the constant death-blows being inflicted on diversity as a concept and as a practice. The question is: How can we rise to the occasion without legitimating the banter that passes for engaged and honest cultural critique?

The Twilight of Affirmative Action or the Trappings of the WSJ’s Rhetorical Storehouse of Editorials?