"Where to?" the cabbie asked. "Gonna go by Justice and pick up your boy Brad Reynolds so you can go picket the South African Embassy? Or maybe you two are cooking up something new on job and educational opportunities for poor black folks. Be sure to tell your boy I said hello."
"To begin with," I explained against my better judgment, "the assistant attorney general for civil rights is not 'my boy.' In the second place, I'm headed to my office. And in the third place, I don't get whatever stupid little joke it is you're trying to make."
"Joke?" the cabbie said. "It's no joke; at least it's not my joke. It was Brad Reynolds himself who told your newspaper that he was 'pretty much in lockstep' with Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and the rest of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I know that if Martin were still around he would be demonstrating for better schools and jobs for black people. If Roy were still on the scene, he'd be right there with his nephew Roger fighting against apartheid. So I just assumed that your buddy Brad, being in 'lockstep' with them, would be doing something of the kind."
"He is not my boy or my buddy or my anything," I said. "Just because I say the man has a right to express his views on affirmative action -- even if they are different from the views of most black people -- doesn't make him mine."
"But it says here in your newspaper that his views are not different from most black people," the cabbie said, waving a newspaper clipping under my nose. He says most black folks don't want affirmative action, but most black leaders do. He says it's the leaders who are out of step." "Well, that is what that recent poll showed, isn't it?"
"Don't be stupthe cabbie said. "You can get any answer you want on a poll if you put the question the right way. You ask black people if they believe in being unfair to white people in order to get a job, and they'll tell you no. But you ask them if white people, left alone, will be fair to black folks, and they'll laugh right in your face.
"Brad Reynolds takes the poll result to mean that black folks don't want affirmative action. I take it to mean that they may not want 'preferential treatment,' but with black unemployment double that for white people, they damn sure want a better break than they're getting."
"So black people favor fairness," I said. "Well, Reynolds says he does too, so why are you people so hard on him? Just because he's philosophically opposed to rigid racial quotas?"
"Rigid quotas aren't the problem," the cabbie said. "In fact, it's kind of hard to find any rigid quotas in operation, except where there has been a specific finding of discrimination and a court- orderedmedy. Reynolds is fighting everything that is designed to increase black and female opportunity. That ain't philosophy, my man, that's bigotry."
"Give the man a break!" I said. "Doesn't he make it crystal clear that he is interested in enhancing black opportunity? He only asks two things: that we not help blacks and women by discriminating against white men and that we not place a stigma on blacks by making people wonder if they got their jobs on some basis other than merit. Is that so unreasonable?"
"Let me ask you something," the cabbie said. "Reynolds is a white man, right? And in this country, that's a big help. He also went to Yale, which doesn't hurt, plus he is a member of the du Pont family of Delaware, some of the wealthiest white folks in captivity. Can you imagine how much that goldplated background helped him, how much competition it eliminated for him?
"You think he lies awake nights worrying about whether he was really the best possible person in America to be assistant attorney general for civil rights? You think he feels some stigma because he got some special breaks?
"Face facts, my man. Brad Reynolds doesn't dislike affirmative action; he is a product of affirmative action. What he dislikes is affirmative action for people who are different from him."
Cabbies think they know so much.