Bad Symbolism

Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, a.k.a. the racial affirmative action cases, will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, 1 April.

Now, doing anything of this nature on April Fools' Day is unfortunate. But it gets worse. Local fans of racial affirmative action have scheduled a series of remarkably ill-thought-out events for the week.

First up, there's the march on the Supreme Court. As far as I can tell, trying to put this sort of political pressure on the Court concedes that Supreme Court rulings are "political" in the partisan sense; part of the legal argument here, though, is supposed to be that the Court should be apolitical and stay out of the racial affirmative action debate. If you're going to have a rally, why not march on one of the political branches, such as, oh, say, Congress, where there's actual a fierce fight going on over the political composition of the judiciary.

If you don't want to go down to Washington, though, there are plenty of things you can do up here on campus. Wear all black next week, for instance. Huh? Wouldn't a combination of many colors be more appropriately symbolic of the value of racial diversity? And, more to the point, shouldn't the black (of mourning, one presumes) be reserved for the if-and-when of the actual ruling ending state-sponsored race-based educational affirmative action?

The message I'm hearing from the wear-black mandate is "We know how the Supreme Court will rule, and we don't like it, but we know we can't stop it, so therefore we are sad." But that message is a terrible message for a protest, because it's so damn passive.

But wait! There's less! We're also supposed to wear gags to class on Tuesday. If questioned about it, we're supposed to hand out literature instead of speaking. Excuse me while I gag in disgust.

As an initial matter, there will be no questions, beacuse everyone on campus knows about the gag plan by now. I can see it already: packs of kids walking around in gags handing out flyers to each other. Ellen Jamesian campaigns work when people in the audience don't already know why you're not talking.

On a symbolic level, though, this just isn't a gag issue. On-campus military recruiting was plausibly a gag issue: the gags stood for the enforced silence of gays in the military. But conceptualizing racial affirmative action as a free speech issue is such a confusion among categories I wouldn't even know where to begin.

Going around all day on one's knees, now that would symbolize the end of race-based affirmative action. ("Talented minority students are kept down by past and present racism.") Staying home would be appropriate, too. ("Racial minorities will be excluded from the academic community.") But gags? Gag me with a spoon.

Now, I'm for race-based affirmative action, but as previously noted I have some issues with the ways in which it's usually defended. And with tactics like these, who needs the Supreme Court?