During the past decade, an academic movement called critical race theory has gained increasing currency in the legal academy. Rejecting the achievements of the civil rights movement of the 1960s as epiphenomenal, critical race scholars argue that the dismantling of the apparatus of formal segregation failed to purge American society of its endemic racism, or to improve the social status of African Americans in discernible or lasting ways. The claim that these scholars make is not only political; it is also epistemological.
Is there a middle ground on affirmative action, an oasis between radical color-blindness on the right and racial quota-mongering on the left? As President Clinton prepares to unveil his conclusions on the subject, it's hard not to sympathize with his political predicament, but hard also not to anticipate his speech with a sense of dread. Having raised expectations so dramatically, he no longer has the luxury of embracing contradictory positions, or retreating into euphemisms. But is his task impossible?