Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Gentrification and Affirmative Action

Rachel Cassandra, writing for The Bold Italic, is Sleeping with a Gentrifier. Overall, I really enjoyed Cassandra’s essay about the guilt caused by simply participating in San Francisco’s broken real estate market. However, the way she starts her essay is a little confusing.

I first lived in the Mission 10 years ago. I had holes in all my clothes, a neon-pink studded belt I’d altered with silver rivets and an aimless existence loosely centered on rejecting authority and oppressive systems. With my index fingers, I bang-typed magical-realism stories on my manual typewriter, then Xeroxed them into zines alongside collages with lesbian-feminist messages. Over the next few years, my hair alternated between shaved, Mohawk’d and unevenly cut with children’s scissors.

My rotating housemates included a transgender woman from Iowa, a Goth-chick sex-addict catering server and a dreadlocked anarchist Internet hacker. We spent many Sundays hungover eating brunch at the Mexican restaurant on our corner, speaking in Spanish to the family who ran it. We weren’t Latin American like the families around us, but we tried to respect the neighborhood ecosystem. We felt safe, but two times I was walking with a housemate when someone assaulted her. Arriving home, we’d smell when the crack dealer had just come through. At some point, I couldn’t afford the $450 rent and shared a bed with a housemate. It was 2005. The social media tech boom was still in the womb of San Francisco’s fattening belly.

Here’s my question, though: weren’t you and all your friends gentrifying San Francisco back then? If you couldn’t afford the $450 rent, is that maybe because it kept going up? Maybe there were some new amenities catering to the servers and hackers and essayists.

Cassandra’s essay is wonderful and brutally honest and self-reflective, and I’m absolutely as guilty as she is—albeit on the opposite coast—of participating in a gentrifying real estate market, and all that implies for people less socioeconomically well-off than me. I hope in ten years I’ve grown as much as she has in the past ten; it’s just odd that she indicts her current self but gives her past self a free pass.

On a related note, here’s Tom Ley writing about how awful male writers are, and why they nonetheless get away with being awful despite the fact that women can’t write two sentences without being pointlessly critiqued by a man. Fancy that. He begins by quoting an unbelievably absurd passage by a male essayist, and then tears it apart:

But there is that passage, a piece of bad writing—not bad because it is a bit purple or self-absorbed, but because it is dishonest and obscurantist. It uses the forms of confession and introspection to do the opposite, to gesture vaguely at something even as it labors to conceal it. The passage spreads a fog over all the rest of Phillips’s ocean of observational storytelling: He is on a journey to find answers, but he cannot even bring himself to think about the questions. An editor could have tossed that bit, which purports to be the heart of the story, into the trash can and the reader would have been none the wiser.

You’ve got to read the passage; I was convinced it was satire.

See how I put those two links after one another? Look at how self-aware I am! Need more proof that I’m not one of Those Men? Noted female writer Jia Tolentino published my favorite essay of the week, All the Greedy Young Abigail Fishers and Me. On the heels of this week’s Supreme Court ruling that ‘yes affirmative action college admissions are still Constitutional thanks for asking,’ Tolentino writes about her shameful days as a tutor and adroitly describes the racism institutionalized by our primary education system:

Texas parents—as ability permits, and like parents throughout the country—pay good money to live in good school zones. These schools are “good” in a double and mutually reinforcing sense: they are academically vibrant, supportive, and competitive; they also draw from a wealthy population, which means most of the students are white. As Abigail Fisher’s case, a.k.a. Becky With the Bad Grades v. UT Austin, reminded us: the top 7 percent (formerly 10 percent) at all Texas high schools get admitted to UT’s flagship campus automatically. This means that a second-rate student at a first-rate school, a.k.a. an Abigail Fisher, does not automatically get in. This means that a portion of white kids don’t get the educational success those property taxes were supposed to pay for. The 10 percent policy is implicit discrimination against “good schools,” the party line goes.

Most of the UT student body gets in through the Top 10 rule. The rest—approximately 8 percent, the year Fisher applied—are admitted through a holistic evaluation process, which takes into account things like extracurriculars, leadership, personal essays, and race. This is the part of UT admissions policy that Fisher’s case was challenging. Note that it was easier for her (or the anti-affirmative-action zealot who bankrolled her) to take a margin of UT admissions to the Supreme Court than to envision a version of justice in which she had, along with 92 percent of admitted students, straight-up earned her way in.

Fisher’s case was extra galling because UT denied admission to 168 black and Latino students with better grades than her that year. Tolentino’s firsthand look at the entitlement of the white people involved in the Texas educational system is fantastic.