Michael Gerson writes, “Institutions should be able to address past and present injustice through some forms of affirmative action, including the aggressive recruitment of minorities and the use of race as one factor among many in subjective admissions and hiring decisions. But denying earned benefits because of race alone is an injustice that will never solve an injustice.” I take it that the key distinction for Gerson is that it is ok to use race as “one factor among many” rather than “alone.” Many people, including Supreme Court justices, have reasoned similarly. But I have never seen the appeal of this way of thinking.
First of all, we should note that this pinky-on-the-scale approach is light years away from a lot of affirmative action in practice. Ward Connerly once told me that in California’s state universities before the 1996 ballot initiative mandating colorblindness, the same test score that got a white applicant an automatic rejection could get a black applicant an automatic acceptance. Second, if race is going to matter at all in these decisions, then in some cases it is going to be the decisive factor: Someone is going to get a slot over someone else because of race, and either that’s okay or it isn’t.