A good while ago I identified what I called the C’est Moi! defense of racial preferences. Put forward by ordinary people as well as minor or major celebrities, the C’est Moi! defense says in effect,
I never would have been admitted to [insert selective college name here] or [insert law, graduate, or professional school here], but I was given an opportunity because of my race and now look how successful I am. Thus, others should also be given opportunities because of their race.
Were it not for race-conscious admissions, I would not have been admitted to Stanford or to Boalt Hall [UC Berkeley’s law school]. Affirmative action gave me the chance to reach my highest aspirations. It did not do my homework, take my exams, or pass the bar for me. It simply gave me a chance….
Now in the legal profession, I am an immigration attorney in the border region with a clientele that is predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American. Within this community, I provide pro bono services and educate people about how the laws of this country affect them. I relate culturally and linguistically with my clients. Unfortunately, there are not enough lawyers like me.
Another example involved Donna Britt, a former Washington Post Metro twice-weekly columnist who defines herself as “part of a new generation of African-American journalists who write frankly, and often from personal experience, about racial divisions in America.” She and her contemporaries, she continues, “have been heralded for ushering in a new, more diverse era in mainstream American journalism….” Her contributions will no doubt be fleshed out in “a memoir that will be published by Little, Brown and Company.”
In Diversity? C’est Moi!, I discussed one of her columns, Diversity Benefits All Kinds, in which she recounted the benefits she received from a scholarship for minority students that allowed her to attend journalism school at the University of Michigan, where she became friends with Garth Kriewall, “a self-described ‘white farm boy with manure on his shoes.’” She recently asked him, she relates, “his feelings about affirmative action” and commented on his reply:
Over the years, his college roommates were black, Hispanic and a white Vietnam veteran — “and I had no idea if affirmative action had anything to do with any of them being there.”
Then and now, “Michigan wanting a diverse student population benefits everybody — I can’t see a drawback to it,” says Kriewall. His diverse college contacts “contributed to who I am. Is [the system] unfair to some?
“Any system will be unfair to somebody.”
Britt’s predictable conclusion:
Without the Booth scholarship, I wouldn’t have met Kriewall — or dozens of others who widened my view of America…. [A]ny system that makes friends of farm boys and steel town girls is worth preserving.
Especially, no doubt, since that “system” contributed to whom Former Farmer Kriewall became and contributed to Donna Britt’s wider world view. What’s wrong with a little state-sponsored racial discrimination if it leads to such obviously worthy results?
One final example, Justification For Preferences? C’est Moi!, which discusses then associate director-counsel (later, Director-Counsel and President) of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Theodore Shaw’s admission that without racial preferences he would not have been admitted to Wesleyan University or Columbia Law School.
My response to Shaw, I think, is applicable to all C’est Moi! defenses:
One can readily understand why Mr. Shaw regards his own success as compelling justification for the racial discrimination against someone else required to achieve it, but there may be some benefit in those of us without his interest examining the argument. Let us begin by assuming, with him, that he would not have been accepted at Wesleyan or Columbia without the racial preference he received, although in fact that may not be true. (In the absence of preferences, after all, some minorites are still admitted into even the most selective schools.) Still, there is no reason to assume that it was Wesleyan and Columbia or nowhere. Since Wesleyan found him “qualified,” he presumably would have been accepted elsewhere, and since it sounds as though he was poor he would have qualifed for financial aid. Indeed, he might have wound up exactly where he is, for even the NAACP LDF doesn’t require graduation from elite colleges and Ivy League law schools of its employees. Nor is there any reason to assume that the white’s, Asian’s, or other non-preferred minority’s place Mr.Shaw took would have led a life of sloth and indulgence, contributing nothing comparable to Mr. Shaw’s contribution to the national well-being. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Shaw when I say that, placing his success and contributions on one side of the scale and the principle of non-discrimination on the other, there seems to be no compelling national interest in sacrificing the latter for the former.
Mr. Shaw posted a comment on my post, to which I responded at length here.
The C’est Moi! defense is not limited to justifying affirmative action, and lately it has spread to the debate over illegal immigration. For example, in a fascinating blog post yesterday, Latinos Going Rogue!, Mickey Kaus quotes a Twitter dialog he had with a pro-DREAM Act activist:
RAMOS: @kausmickey I was brought to this country as a kid and grew up here, paid my way through UCLA, please change your mind on #dreamact
KAUS: @ElMati7 Once borders R secure, many things R possible. Enforcement first, DREAM later. But your side doesn’t want secure borders #dreamact
RAMOS: @kausmickey I want to bring down Mexican gangs as much as anyone, but your side must recognize throwing money to build a wall won’t do it
KAUS: .@ElMati7 It’s not just about blocking gangs. It’s about preventing another wave of illegal immigrants, gang or non-gang. U know that.
RAMOS: .@kausmickey eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhh. No mames.
“No mames,” Kaus explained (having Googled it), “means something in between ‘you’re kidding and ‘Oy.’” What it means to me, Kaus continued,
s that Ramos, in good faith, doesn’t understand why anyone would want to keep out unauthorized immigrants who are decent human beings and come to work and aren’t gang members. It’s not that he has counterarguments. He doesn’t acknowledge that there’s a legitimate argument to counter. After all, he’s here. He’s a good, law-abiding person. What’s the problem….”
The problem, of course, is the fact that some people can benefit from discriminatory or unfair policies doesn’t justify the discrimination or unfairness.