"The only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box" - Larry McMurtry

We consider now a couple of Supreme Court decisions that show the milk of human kindness has curdled.

"The only helping hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box" - Larry McMurtry
"Why you separate the saints from the sinners, you're lucky to wind up with Abraham Lincoln."

There is an old metaphor for those who benefit from something and want to deny it for those that follow. It involves climbing a ladder and then pulling it up behind you.

Like Governor Abbott, who suffered a grievous accident as a young man that landed him in a wheelchair. He sued and won enough to take care of himself for life, but then supported tort reform to prevent excessive trial awards for others.

Greg and Cecilia Abbott

Or consider a politician whose forbears were refugees or immigrants in simpler times and now wants to deny that to others. Oh, I don't know, maybe your Dad fled Batista's Cuba to find success in the US, or indeed, Canada, where you were born. And later, when you had anglicized your name and entered politics, your opinions hardened.

Or maybe, like me and thousands of other Texas kids, you entered college when tuition at state universities was strictly regulated. That made a college education available to students of the middle class for whom state schools were intended. Kids whose parents, like my electrical engineer Dad (thanks to the GI Bill), could buy a home in a postwar suburb outside Houston and afford college for kids like me.

Yeah, the new TV was the center of the picture back then. 

This is why the two Supreme Court decisions rendered this past week struck home for me.

Affirmative action, admittedly, has been controversial from the start, and on its face, can seem unfair. That is until you add a little context. I entered the University of Houston in 1967. The first black student had been admitted just 6 years earlier. UH sports were integrated in 1964, despite the fact that one-fourth of Houston was African-American.

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Growing up in Pasadena, a suburb of Houston, I never sat next to a black kid in class. There were none. We had a few Mexican families. Our star receiver my senior year, named Mr. Sam Rayburn High School, was a guy named Joe Camarillo. I knew exactly 3 Jewish kids in my high school. It was about as white and protestant a childhood as you could imagine, unless your brother was Edgar Winter.  

Joe Camarillo

Brown v Board happened when I was five. My grandmother taught at a Little Rock high school during the whole integration "crisis." Actually, hard to imagine that simply letting kids go to school is termed a crisis. So the progress everyone talks about - voting rights, equal accommodations, integration, change in marriage laws - all has happened within one lifetime, mine.

And yet, any attempt to offer a helping hand, a leg up, is now considered unnecessary. Thank heavens we have in one generation, erased the legacy of 250 years of slavery, 100 years of official Jim Crow, redlining, separate but equal(?), anti-miscegenation laws, and every other impediment to the life we enjoyed due to an absence of melanin, eh? All in one lifetime. For those whose irony gene is missing, the previous sentence was sarcasm.

And one leading voice in the decision this past week, was Justice Clarence Thomas, a man whose welcome to conservative circles and trips to the Bahamas with Harlan Crow have apparently made him forget about college. Though he didn't write the affirmative action decision himself, Thomas did write a 58-page concurring opinion, saying the foundational policies of affirmative action "fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution and our Nation's equality ideal."

We have overcome.

I think the crucial word in that opinion is "ideal." Thomas was admitted to Harvard Law School in 1971 right after it adopted a 'race conscious' admissions policy, but chose to go to Yale at the exact moment it created its first explicit affirmative action program with a goal of 10% minority enrollment.

A 1991 New York Times article about Thomas reported how "Yale University officials said Thomas was admitted to its law school under an explicit affirmative action plan with the goal of having blacks and other minority members make up about 10 percent of the entering class."

Professor Abraham S. Goldstein, dean of the law school, from 1970 to 1975, was quoted by the Times as saying: "We did adopt an affirmative action program and it was pretty clearly stated."

A 1994 Yale Alumni Magazine article underlines this, stating: "Like most American universities, Yale in the 1960s and '70s embarked on an aggressive policy of affirmative action in admitting and hiring minorities and women."

Thomas himself wrote about the stigma he felt as an affirmative action student.

"You had to prove yourself every day because the presumption was that you were dumb and didn't deserve to be there on merit."

"Every time you walked into a law class at Yale it was like having a monkey jump down on your back from the Gothic arches...The professors and the students resented your very presence."

"As much as it stung to be told that I'd done well in the seminary despite my race, it was far worse to feel that I was now at Yale because of it."

The hypocrisy here is staggering, but sadly, not completely surprising. And as far as progress, one of the many black colleagues I have worked with over the years in journalism once told me that every time you walk out the door, you know that you will be reminded in a thousand subtle ways, of your race. Forgive the use of the word, but as former Attorney General Eric Holder once said, "I may be the Attorney General. But when I walk out of the federal building and hail a cab, to the driver I'm just a nigger in a suit."

Yeah, but it's a really nice suit, so you have that going for you. 

Thank goodness our colorblind Constitution means those days are over, officially, as of this week.

As to the other decision, the one on tuition reimbursement, we who enjoyed affordable college tuition have gotten pretty cavalier about kids today and the costs they face.

I ran my 1967 tuition at the University of Houston through the inflation calculator, and a year today at Cougar High, if inflation were the only factor, would be $2200 a year. My electrical engineer father could afford that, even today. But something happened in Texas back in 2003.

Texas state universities are or, were, largely funded by the state and designed for kids who couldn't afford Rice, Baylor or SMU. So the cost was held down to make it possible for kids like me to afford college. My dad and I had a deal. He paid tuition, I worked and paid for my apartment. Of course, every time my crappy Austin-Healey broke down, his end of the deal got larger.

But, damn. I looked good in it.

But in 2003, the colleges needed more money and, by now, the Republican majority in the legislature was pharisaically averse to raising taxes. They decided to "deregulate" state college tuition. By deregulate, they meant to pass the buck to students and/or their parents. And state schools tucked that ball under their arms and ran for daylight.

So, when Gregg Abbott got his degree from UT in 1981, his tuition, was just over $3400 in today's dollars. Mine at UH in 1967, as mentioned, was about $2200 in 2023 greenbacks.

Now they are about $12,000 per year at both schools. Many families, like mine, made going to college practically a sacrament. You were going to go, period. Now, that goal for your child involves costs that would have been unthinkable for my, or even Greg Abbott's parents. So money is borrowed, and a cottage industry has sprung up offering those loans and then collecting on them. President Obama and his wife Michelle, only paid off their loans in 2004. Granted, they didn't go to UH, but still.

So, the actions of government and greedy institutions created an untenable situation for prospective students, and now those two find the idea of helping them unthinkable. So, marriage, kids, a house, all these things we simply considered the next steps will have to wait for, who knows how long? And all of those life steps help the economy. But, hell, a guy can't even buy an old Austin-Healey these days since they are collectible.

Yep, the 400 million that would involve is a lot of money, but not as much as the money the government loaned businesses during the pandemic under President Trump, which ultimately cost twice as much since the loans were forgiven. What changed attitudes in the interim? The party affiliation of the President, to put it bluntly.

The PPP introduction. Now this was good free money, not for snot-nosed kids.

You could make all the same tuition arguments about the Paycheck Protection Program under Trump. You chose to go into business, you knew it was a risk, why should people who aren't in business subsidize you? But now, it is somehow un-American to help kids who want a better life with more education? The ones with the loans are frankly, the poorer kids since Sasha and Malia didn't need any extra cash.

So, that's my beef. We who enjoyed this fool's paradise of a country want to pretend it was available for our minority friends to the same extent, and to college kids today. It wasn't and isn't. But that doesn't really matter when you have an election to win, now does it?

Roger Gray has toiled at the journalism trade since 1970 and his first radio news job at KTRH in Houston. Over those woefully misspent years, he has worked in radio, TV and written for magazines. He was twice elected President of the Texas Automobile Writers Association and was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He covered the first Persian Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Oslo Accords in Israel and peace talks in Ireland. He interviewed writers, actors, politicians and every President from Ford to George W, and none of them remember him.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.