Feature

Editor's letter: We are not yet blind to skin color

Successful men—such as justices of the U.S. Supreme Court—like to believe they got to the top without help.

When my daughter Jessica began her college search, my wife made the time to take her on 10 trips to schools in a half-dozen states so Jess could get a feel for each one. Karla and I paid for Jess’s extra SAT prep, helped arrange interviews and recommendations, and supported her application process in whatever way possible. Jess has an African-American friend—let’s call her Michelle—whose road to college was a bit steeper. She lives in the projects without a mom and with a dad who is often unemployed, so Michelle works part-time while going to school. Last month, Jess got into an elite private college with merit aid, turning down a host of similar offers. Michelle, who never even considered elite private colleges, will be going to a state college, with need-based financial help. Was this process colorblind? Entirely merit-based? Would Michelle’s future be brighter in a more challenging private college, or would she be “mismatched” there?

Our views on such questions are strongly shaped by our own life stories. Successful men—such as justices of the U.S. Supreme Court—like to believe they got to the top without help. So why shouldn’t everyone? In college admissions and in all other matters, the court’s majority held this week, our nation should strive to be colorblind. But while America has made great progress on race, we’ve hardly become blind to skin color. Paula Deen just caused an uproar by admitting to racial slurs and plantation fantasies (see Talking points), and George Zimmerman is now on trial for shooting a black teen he assumed was a thug. The verdict in that case is sure to bring a fresh eruption of racial grievance and resentment. Colorblind? Isn’t it pretty to think so.

William Falk

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