Proving that no conservative can say something so wrong that they can’t later be published in the Wall Street Journal, today’s WSJ features an op-ed by Shelby Steele, author of A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. In his op-ed, Steele repeats the tired right-wing claim that any minority named to a position of prominence must owe their success to the color of their skin:
What is most notable about the Sotomayor nomination is its almost perfect predictability. Somehow we all simply know — like it or not — that Hispanics are now overdue for the gravitas of high office. And our new post-racialist president is especially attuned to this chance to have a “first” under his belt, not to mention the chance to further secure the Hispanic vote. . . .
The Sotomayor nomination commits the cardinal sin of identity politics: It seeks to elevate people more for the political currency of their gender and ethnicity than for their individual merit.
Ironically, Steele’s claim that Sotomayor lacks the “individual merit” necessary to succeed on her own was published the same day as an interview with former Princeton University President William Bowen, who describes Sotomayor as a “woman of enormous ability” who “was going to succeed and going to thrive wherever she was, in any setting.” Moreover, his claim that a successful woman of color must owe their position to racial preferences is far from the most troubling aspect of Steele’s op-ed. Indeed, buried deep within Steele’s piece is a startling window in to the right-wing’s anti-civil rights agenda.
One of the centerpieces of federal civil rights law is the ban on disparate impact discrimination. In 1964, Congress passed a law forbidding race discrimination in hiring, but it soon became very clear that racist employers rarely leave a paper trial proving that a job applicant was turned down because of their race. The ban on disparate impact discrimination was a response to this reality, intended to “smoke out hidden bigotry” by forcing employers to justify practices that have an adverse impact on minorities.