Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

The truth about ‘affirmative action’

I’ve never cared for the expression ‘affirmative action’, which puts a positive spin on a negative practice: naked, institutionalised racial discrimination – that is, real ‘systemic racism’, which was initiated in the United States long before the expression came into fashion. After all, following the Civil War, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution were expressly added to establish equality under to law for Americans of all races, and a raft of Congressional civil rights legislation has since reinforced this colour-blind principle. Perhaps I risk sounding ungrateful. Still, now the Supreme Court has finally ruled that universities in the US are forbidden from admitting students on the basis of race, my knee-jerk response is: what took you so long?

I have a vivid memory of meeting my father at the university in Atlanta where he taught and strolling to our favourite ice cream parlour for a root-beer float. It was 1973, and I was 16. A certain two-wrongs-make-a-right administrative practice would in due course grow deep, tenacious roots in universities across the country, but this was early days for the novel initiative; it wasn’t yet writ in stone that if you were a liberal Democrat you embraced racial preferences in education, no questions asked. Not only was my Virginian father one of those liberal Democrats, but he’d been heavily involved in the civil rights movement, including marching with Martin Luther King, Jr and participating in numerous race-relations forums in North Carolina and Georgia. For a white guy, he’d got the T-shirt. Though our ideological paths would eventually diverge, as a teenager I followed closely in his political footsteps.

Our intellectual elite no longer believes in meritocracy

I remember that afternoon because it was the first time my father and I talked about ‘affirmative action’, a term I had only just learned. I knew that people like us opposed the Vietnam War and recycled our mayonnaise jars. But

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