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Let’s face it, research-packed books written by campus-dwelling Ph.D.s are a bore. They may be great for grad students shelling out thousands of dollars for their diplomas, but for the rest of us, who want something to read on the Metro while avoiding eye contact, academic dissertations just don’t compare with People, or with Dilbert.
But We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action’s authors, Georgetown law professors Mari Matsuda and Charles Lawrence III, have written a scholarly book that is Metro-readable, easing my fears of Ivy diploma-toting academics.
We Won’t Go Back makes a proud, humanistic, and intelligent defense of affirmative action; what makes Matsuda and Lawrence’s politics and statistics digestible are anecdotes that illustrate the need for affirmative action in the day-to-day lives of the average Joe, Jolene, or Jose.
“We wanted a broad audience for this book,” Matsuda says. “We wanted working people to read this book at a bus stop.”
Matsuda says the spark that motivated her to write We Won’t Go Back was seeing Newt Gingrich on television saying that affirmative action harmed Asian-Americans. She says she didn’t like Newt speaking on her behalf, especially when most Asian-Americans still support the idea of affirmative action.
Contributing to the book’s accessibility is that much of it is written in the first person, which enables the husband-and-wife duo to avoid falling into the typical liberal trap of finger-wagging and society-condemning. The only point at which the book bogs down is when it becomes unclear just who that first person is. Lawrence and Matsuda never tell you who wrote what, which Matsuda says was their intention; she emphasizes that she and Lawrence, who is African-American, have more in common than their politics: They are both proud beneficiaries of affirmative action, they are both children of parents active during the civil rights movement, and they both feel that more academics should consider using a more personal voice, as the idea of narrative objectivity is losing its merit.
“Our strategy is, as outsiders, to use the narrative voice, which brings attention to the idea that the law isn’t neutral,” says Matsuda, whose father was placed in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. “We wanted to keep ourselves and our genealogy in the book.”Zenon Zawada