At 35, Washington, D.C. lawyer Kannon Shanmugam could very well have the most impressively perfect career of any living attorney his age: a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, clerkships for Michael Luttig and Antonin Scalia, a stint at the ultra-prestigious Solicitor General’s Office, and now, partnership with powerhouse firm Williams & Connolly.
But the tittering from the legal press about what a fantastic success Mr. Shanmugam is overlooks the obvious: He’s ethnically (East) Indian, and looks almost like Barack Obama.
To be clear, I do not believe for a minute that Mr. Shanmugam is the sort of affirmative action beneficiary who doesn’t have the brains to match his stations. All evidence is to the contrary: The son of University of Kansas professors, he was apparently a talented math student from early on, and entered Harvard at age 16.
But to pretend that there is something inexplicable about his having become the first lateral partner of Williams & Connolly in 22 years is to deny the obvious: He adds the all-important “person of color” to the roster. In a likely helpful twist, he’s a political conservative. You can just feel the self-congratulation oozing from the Williams & Connolly partners, known for tending white and liberal.
Yet to observe the observers, you’d think you’d stumbled onto the crowd in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” No mention of his ethnicity.
As it happens, East Indians are among the more desirable of non-whites in the United States. I am not aware of any high crime rates or other problems they cause, and they often seem to understand even the arguments and positions of white advocates and the racially conscious right. Is it their grounding in the caste system?
Still, they are non-white competitors in a country that is fast losing its white population — and that population is losing its power. Whether elbowed aside by less-talented Hispanics or more-talented East Indians, American whites should be wary. What’s needed is a more explicit in-group feeling that accepts Mr. ShanmugaM for what he is, but would not allow the general derailment of white society that he likely does not oppose.
Christopher Donovan is the pen name of an attorney and former journalist.