Solana, like Keaton and Woods, is not just an Only One but a first — the first in his family to attend college or go to postgraduate school, a background that itself is an argument for affirmative action. Keaton and Woods have that in common, as well as race, though not necessarily politics and experience. She says Keaton leans much further to the left, in part because he came to UCLA law school from all-black Morehouse in the South and she from across town at USC, where she had grown expert at being one of a relative handful of blacks in largely white institutions. Keaton is affable but looks permanently weary; he says his time at UCLA drained him in ways he never expected. "I have to deal with a lot because there are no other black males in the school," he says. "I'm worse now than I was. I used to come on very strong and feisty, but now I feel worn down." He claims he's "not here to educate white people," but that inevitably happens, and it's a cursory education at best. Were it not for the emotional support provided by Students of Color, Keaton doubts he would have made it this far. "I have to deal with a lot of issues by myself," he says. "I have to deal with the statistics of black males in prison in criminal-law class. It's been awful." To add insult to injury, he was once profiled by the campus police as a suspect in a theft case because, he says, he fit a description. Woods says writing the brief changed her; where she once accommodated and even normalized the paucity of color in the legal profession, "now I'm going in the door and aggressively asking, 'Why is there only one black person in this firm?' And I don't care about the response."
But the devil can be in the response, particularly in the response you don't see or hear. I have a white friend who bought a house some years ago and inherited the deed that still contained a restrictive covenant against selling the property to blacks. He professed to be shocked and disgusted by it, yet he never acted to expunge the covenant because, like a lot of people, he likes to believe that what is no longer legal has no effect. Yet ethnic oppression in America has long followed the maxim of physics that matter is never quite destroyed but merely changes form. Solana is entirely qualified to be at UCLA, as I was, but he also says he's lucky ("We just got through," he says with a shrug. "I missed a few arrests"). He feels duty-bound to use that luck in service to the unfinished business of racial equity, which for him — for all of these students — is not a boutique item on a liberal wish list that tatters with age, but the virgin stuff of a fundamental American wish written in our own hand, passed with both contempt and compassion from one era to the next.