Harris-Perry to Clarence Thomas: ‘You’ve got it all wrong’ on affirmative action

By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 13, 2012 12:50 EDT
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MHP to Clarence Thomas
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On Saturday morning’s edition of MSNBC’s show, “Melissa Harris-Perry,” the host directed an open letter to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on the subject of affirmative action, telling him “You’ve got it all wrong,” and explaining why she feels the program is important for the whole country, not just minority students.

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, in which a white student, plaintiff Abigail Fisher, claims she was denied acceptance to the school because of her race.

Justice Clarence Thomas famously declared that after graduating from Yale Law School, he affixed a 15-cent price tag from a cigar box to his law school diploma, claiming that affirmative action rendered the document worthless.

Harris-Perry chose that as the jumping-off point for her missive.

“Dear Justice Clarence Thomas,” she read to the camera, “It’s me, Melissa. Now, I know you’re pretty excited that you have a chance to end, once and for all, the practice of considering race in college admissions. You’ve been waiting for this moment a long time, haven’t you? I bet you think about it every time you look at your Yale Law school diploma and the 15 cent price tag from a cigar box that you stuck on it to remind yourself that, as you say in your book, affirmative action made your law degree worthless.”

She went on to say that both Thomas and Abigail Fisher have completely missed the point of affirmative action.

“Consider this: It is possible that you didn’t get hired right out of law school because you just weren’t good enough. Just like Abigail Fisher. She was a good student, but she failed to clear the bar of UT’s academic achievement index. Abigail Fisher wasn’t admitted, but a black student didn’t talk her place. It was not her place.”

She went on to say that devaluing the achievements of black academics is in no way the legacy of affirmative action, but that the program brings people of different races and backgrounds together in college classrooms, and thereby fosters communication and understanding between them.

“And here’s something I’ve learned as a college professor,” she said.  ”The measure of merit isn’t the test you take to get into school, it’s what you learn after you’ve been admitted and what do you with that knowledge once you’ve left.”

She asked him to consider his African-American classmates at Yale in the class of 1970.  ”Four are now federal judges. One became a college president. There are partners at the country’s top law firms and two professors of law, including Harvard Law’s first tenured black woman, Lani Guinier. And yes, even United States’ second black Supreme Court justice. Their accomplishments and yours are the real legacy of affirmative action. Contrary to what you believe, Yale’s admission policy was not a failure. It was an undeniable success.”

Watch the clip, embedded via Mediaite, below:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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