Later this week, or next week, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling greatly restricting, or even ending, affirmative action in admissions to public colleges. If this happens, it will be a great pity.
Set aside, for a moment, the explosive issue of black or brown versus white, which underpins much of the discussion about affirmative action. There are compelling reasons to make it easier for young people of all races from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend college. The University of Texas program at the center of this case did just that. Far from being ruled illegal, it should be embraced and promoted as a practical, merit-based model for other states to copy. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely.
Having lived in the United States for almost thirty years, I am always amazed that Americans persist in believing that this is a land of unparalleled opportunity and social mobility. A bit suspect to begin with, the Horatio Alger story has been transformed, over the decades, into a chronic mental block. To well-educated youngsters from affluent backgrounds who know how to work the system, and even to well-educated immigrants such as myself, this is indeed a land of great opportunity. But for all too many working-class Americans—and a lot of them aren’t members of minority groups—U.S. society is less of a launchpad than a glue trap. With their feet stuck to the ground, they have little prospect of ascending very far.