Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stuart Taylor Jr. Doesn't Suck (for now)

In my last post I was rather worried that Slate "Breakfast Table" column between their senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and legal scholar Walter Dellinger would suffer by the addition of National Journal and Newsweek writer Stuart Taylor Jr., who was brought in as a conservative voice on the rather horribly (imho) decided cases today by the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) to give an alternate perspective on achieving racial integration.

Lo and behold, I don't entirely disagree with him. (Though at my old job, we usually followed that with "What, so then, do you AGREE with him, because those are the two traditional choices?") He recommends integration based on socio-economic factors which will encompass race to a large extent because race has been a primary axis of socio-economic discrimination in the US in the past (and present). I totally vibe this idea, except it always makes me feel nervous because I never want well-meaning (or otherwise-meaning) people to then be lulled into thinking we can thus remedy all racial inequality. Using economics as a proxy works because of the effects of past racism, and so using it as a rubric to solve present racism can only, I think, go so far. Dellinger does a good job of pointing out the limits of Taylor's opinion, as well as the limits to the SCOTUS opinion, and surprisingly, he helps convince me that the University of Michigan's now-invalidated old method to promoting racial diversity in their undergraduate admissions may actually have been correctly criticized -- in that they required the U to decide who belongs to what race, a very fraught and loaded business that large institutions have not previously been known for their goodness at.

In the end, Dellinger makes the good point that "[Justice Kennedy's] opinion [upholding some theoretical future uses of race in promoting integration] looks good only by comparison with the plurality opinion of the chief justice."

And in an end point I won't get into here, from Karen Brodkin, author of How Jews Became White Folks,
Conventional wisdom has it that the United States has always been an affluent land of opportunity. But the truth is that affluence has been the exception and that real upward mobility has required massive affirmative action programs.
In other words, as I think I often paraphrase her, or remember from a different part of her book: "There is little doubt that Affirmative Action can work to diminish disparities for discriminated classes. Indeed, nothing else ever has."

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