Affirmative action is a state-sanctioned "connection"—a way to get in the door for those not fortunate enough to have traditional connections. Most members of minorities with whom I have discussed the issue believe that anyone who can benefit from affirmative action should take maximum advantage of the opportunity and not feel guilty about it at all.
"Country clubs, private high schools, and the connections that come out of them are like affirmative action for underachieving white people," a black judge told me on condition of anonymity. He marveled at how some Americans object to affirmative action on the grounds that it allegedly gets unqualified minorities into top jobs. He believes that the "old boy network" is the oldest form of affirmative action—and the worst form of affirmative action because it operates almost completely independent of intelligence or ability. "How many rich white fathers got their dumb sons good jobs while laughing it up with friends on a golf course?" he wondered. "Affirmative action generally overcomes disparities in educational opportunity, not disparities in intelligence. But connections can even overcome disparities in intelligence," he added.
This is an important point that all of us should keep in mind when we play a connection. There can be a backlash, and the doors will close quickly if you are not up to the task. People are watching you—many of them resentfully—and they are waiting for you to fail as soon as you play the connection card. So you can use a connection to get into the door, but the standard by which your performance is measured after that may be higher than if you had never used the connection at all.