Let’s talk about discrimination.

I had a friend, now deceased, we’ll call Millie. Millie grew up in a wealthy and influential family and graduated from law school in the 1930s – a real gender pioneer. But getting a law degree and getting a law job were two different things. Whenever Millie would show up for a job interview the hiring partner would admit that she was well-qualified, but then he would scratch his head and wonder aloud why he should hire Millie when there were so many well-qualified young men who had families to support.

Needless to say, this infuriated Millie, but then she caught a break – World War II broke out and all the well-qualified young men went off to fight. The law firms were desperate for talent and Millie had her pick of jobs. Alas for Millie, even the most destructive of wars eventually comes to an end. All the well-qualified young men returned from Europe and the Pacific and, with the law firms no longer desperate for talent, Millie was let go. She was as incandescently angry about it in 1983 when I first met her as she’d been nearly forty years earlier when it had happened.

I have another friend we’ll call Ed. Ed grew up in a working class section of the city and his father was a cop on the city’s force. Ed had wanted to be a cop since he learned to walk. After graduating from high school Ed enlisted in the army during Vietnam, wanting to train as a military policeman. He and I went through basic training together, we went through Military Policy Academy together, and Ed served immediately under me at every duty station during my army career. Ed was as good a cop and as good a soldier as I ever knew, the sort of guy you’d trust your life to without giving the matter a second thought.

When Ed was mustered out of the army he naturally applied for a job on the city police force. The department’s hiring board admitted that Ed was well-qualified and deeply experienced in police work, but then they scratched their heads and wondered aloud why they would want to hire a white man when they were under a court order to hire women and minorities. Ed was sent packing and he is as incandescently angry about it today as he was when it happened almost forty years ago.

Unfortunately for Ed and people like him, discrimination didn’t stop at hiring practices. Ed’s kids, and now his grandkids, mostly don’t go to college. When they do, they attend no-name schools. They attend lousy high schools and their SAT scores are unimpressive. On paper, their credentials look remarkably like those of many minority groups. If families like Ed’s were members of favored minorities instead of disfavored minorities, this wouldn’t matter – colleges would reach out to them at the very least in the name of diversity.

But it doesn’t happen. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently looked at the demographic makeup of student bodies at the 91 top colleges in America. What they found is that a mere 4% of the students came from traditional working class white families, kids who represent about one-third of the college age population – talk about disparate impact! And it gets worse, because the more selective a college is the lower the percentage of kids from working families you will find on campus. At Harvard, for example, where my wife and son went to college and where I went to law school, the university can’t stop congratulating itself on the efforts it has made to improve diversity. And good for them. But the fact remains that if you dropped a neutron bomb on Harvard Yard this afternoon you wouldn’t kill a single traditional working class kid.

Next up: On The (Inevitable) Donald, Part 5

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