Saturday, November 25, 2006

The 25 Percent Rule

I assume ten thousand bloggers will weigh in this morning on Joe Moroszcz, president of the College Republicans at Boston University, and his proposal for a scholarship available to students who are "at least one-quarter Caucasian" (link). I assume that a fair chunk of these bloggers will point out that almost any American black could pass that 25 percent test, unless he came here last week from, say, Gabon, and maybe then.

I wonder how many will remember how this "percent" stuff became an issue back in the racial-restrictive covenant cases that preceded Brown v. Board of Education. Recall: Homer buys a home with a deed providing that he shall not sell to members "of the Negro race." Homer sells to Byron and the neighbors challenge the sale as violating the covenant. In defense, Byron denies that he is "of the Negro race," and puts the plaintiff to his proof.

It was cute and calculated, but it was not quite as frivolous or obstructive as it might appear at first blush. Think about it: what a way to provoke a full-scale discussion of what it meant to be a "Negro"--to challenge the whole range of social and cultural assumptions that underlie the assertion. It's clear from the record that the proponents understood the cases not least as part of a process of education about race and society.

Moroszcz this morning must feel like the guy at Knott's Berry Farm with his head sticking through a hole in the wall--while a gleeful multitude pelts him with dead cats and rotten cabbages. I wouldn't worry about him: speaking of "a process of education," one of the functions of `campus politics is to bring home to the kinder that if you stir up a hornet's nest, then sometimes you get stung. A satisfying, if ironic, conclusion, might be to see the episode morph into a brand new public dialogue on an old and persistent issue.

[Fn.: I wonder if the "put to their proof" denial these days would pass the Rule 11 threshold condition of good-faith pleading? We're talking "process of education" here, but is that a legitimate function of a private lawsuit? Aside from the racial restrictive covenant cases, I once knew a guy who used the same tactic in a sex-discrimination case--denied that the plaintiff was a woman and put her to her proof. Same case? Different? Ooh, this is beginning to sound like a law school exam.

Oh, and thanks again, Ivan.]

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