I have a client who graduated from Georgetown and then Columbia Law, got a prestigious clerkship, worked at white shoe law firms and now has transitioned into working for non-profits. She’s African-American.

We talked this morning about how she always felt this undertone of “you should be grateful we hired you” at the white shoe firms. She thinks it was a reflection of their bad opinion of affirmative action, that somehow she didn’t deserve her success. I agree with her. My question is “why would you think it was simply affirmative action that got her into your firm? After all, don’t you have standards of work that are required?” So why should she be grateful? If they hired for reasons other than her abilities, isn’t that their problem? She’s doing the work, after all.

Plus, last time I checked, law schools teach the same things to all students. There isn’t a separate track for affirmative action. Either you can handle the material or you can’t. So what if someone got a chance to succeed because s/he was a woman, black, Asian, Latino/a? Either you can do the work or you can’t.

Are there support networks to help non-dominant groups succeed in a dominant culture and environment? Sure. Just as there are groups that help those in the dominant culture succeed. Needing support is a great thing. We try to teach our kids to ask for help, and then somehow when they become adults, it’s “weak” or “incompetent” to ask for help.

I wonder why it’s OK to look down on someone who takes advantage of opportunities. Isn’t that what our market system supposedly is all about? Or are opportunities only for certain people, the ones who control the market?

Once she proves herself, my client will have put one more chink in the wall separating people by race and ethnic background, and gender. The rub? To some people, she will never be able to prove herself. That’s really their loss.