Open mouth, insert foot… Scalia style!

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I was well on my way to putting the finishing touches on my next piece, “Merry Christmas, oops did I offend someone?” when Scalia opened his mouth last week.

You see, Supreme Court (ugh, I bite my tongue as I say this)“Justice” Antonin Scalia opened the door so I decided to walk in and name the 900 pound pink elephant lurking in the back of the room; the ultimate conversation stopper, the big, bad boogey man in the national equality conversation…Affirmative Action!

Now if the words Affirmative Action rankle you, don’t run, don’t hide, don’t deny it. Hey, we understand. So feel free to reach into the medicine cabinet for some extra strength Excedrin. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

You see, Affirmative Action has a way of raising the ire of folks who have bought into the twin myths of meritocracy and color blindness and believe that discrimination no longer exists…and point to the existence of an African American President as proof positive.

The truth is that since its inception, Affirmative Action, despite its original intent and questionable results, still evokes the heebee geebies on the part of those who are threatened by it, your garden variety whiners of “reverse discrimination,” but remain tellingly silent when it comes to “forward discrimination” against women, people of color and now Muslims.

Now some of you may be familiar with a case that set what many have called a landmark precedent for affirmative action in college admissions Fisher v. University of Texas. Others maybe not. So the gist of the case is should higher education institutions have programs aimed at building racial diversity on campus? The Supreme Court is preparing to decide on Fisher v. University of Texas, and last week Scalia ignited a firestorm and national outrage with the following opinion:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well…”

Now to affirmative action since that’s really what’s at stake here.

The term “affirmative action” was first used in the United States in “Executive Order No.10925“, signed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, which included a provision that government contractors take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” In 1967, gender (parenthesis mine for reasons you’ll see shortly) was added to the anti-discrimination list.

With that as a brief history, I’ve always found it interesting, and disingenuous, how affirmation action has been used as the whipping boy to undercut legitimate efforts to open doors of opportunity to those who have been denied those opportunities. You see, the game has been to shroud the words with the specter of “racial quotas,” and join those words with “for blacks,” – “unqualified” blacks that is – and bingo, the effort moves from concrete action to lip service.

Need proof? Just go back and look at how the media and general public discourse has treated the issue of Affirmative Action over the years and highlight the number of times the words “for African-Americans” appear in the same sentence or next paragraph. And while you’re at it, count the number of times the words “women,” “Asian,” or “Latinos,” “Veterans” and other groups covered by Affirmative Active are mentioned.

So go ahead. We’ll wait.

You may also notice that these conversations are absent of other forms of “affirmative action” in the forms of set aside seats for children of influential alumni, large financial donors, with the “right” last names (dare I say “Bush”?) despite their sometimes less than stellar academic records. (And speaking Texas, Google ex-governor and ex-presidential aspirant Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A&M, another top tier university). Hum, affirmative action programs? Well, as the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

Now let’s talk about the results of Affirmation Actions efforts nationwide, the place where things get a tad funky. Fair warning – you might want to have your stress medication nearby.

You see if one takes a hard look at the results of affirmative action, in pure numbers, the group that’s benefited the most from affirmative action programs has been, get this…. white women. Hello. Are you still there? Don’t deny. Don’t accuse me of playing the “race card.” The facts are the facts.

And here’s the other arguable fact.

White men have by default been even larger benefactors of affirmative actionsince many of them married these same white women who benefited from affirmative action through opportunities previously denied to them. Thus many white men saw their total household incomes rise as a result of their marrying “affirmative action wives,” and were suddenly able to send their kids off to schools like the University of Texas, buy that new BMW and vacation in Europe.

Okay, let’s return to “Fisher v. University of Texas that’s on the docket. 

Where will this all end, who knows. But I think that we can safely assume that final votes will be along ideological lines; for example, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an admitted proud beneficiary of affirmative action, will vote against striking it down and (more tongue biting here )“De Justice” Clarence Thomas, another benefactor of affirmative action (and Scalia bosom buddy) will lead the charge to kill affirmative action programs.

In the end, let me be abundantly clear with the following “laxative” for critics of Affirmative Action: yours truly would love nothing better than to see Affirmative Action come to a necessary end. I kid you not. However, I want to see it end the moment discrimination against women and people of color ends. Sorry but one cannot have one and not the other.

Okay, now, where was I before Scalia’s “OMIF” (Open Mouth, insert Foot) moment? Ah, here it is, the final draft of my “Merry Christmas, oops did I offend someone?” 

Stay tuned!

(c) Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller, trainer, executive coach and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He also serves as contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, the American Diversity Report, is a frequent blogger with New York-based Catalyst and member of the Cross Cultural Academy. His articles have appeared in the Huffington Post and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He can be reached at or

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