I am a supporter of affirmative action. The Supreme Court’s decision in Regents of the State of California v. Bakke properly held that racial diversity was a compelling interest that could be taken into account in college admissions. This was reiterated in the Supreme Court’s opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas II.
It’s certainly true that it means someone wins and someone loses, based on race, which understandably seems to offend Equal Protection. After all, if we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race, then we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race. Not against blacks. Not against whites. Not against anyone.
But there are greater variables involved below the surface of the tautology, where race is a proxy for diverse ideas and experiences that contribute to breadth of thought and understanding in higher education. You may not agree, and you’re allowed. The idea that a more diverse student body brings more diverse ideas to the mix and expands the minds and understanding of all students works for me.
New York Times reporter Charlie Savage “exposed” a leaked internal Department of Justice memo that the Office of Civil Rights would shift its attention toward eliminating racial discrimination in college admissions, the lede was that it was about reverse discrimination.
The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.
Nowhere did the document say anything about white applications. That was a facile assumption on Savage’s part, reflecting what he read into the memo rather than what the memo actually said. There’s a lot of that going around, an epidemic at the Times. David French at NRO writes that it’s not about whites, but Asians.
I’d describe it differently. I’d say the DOJ is enforcing the law. And if you think white applicants would be the prime beneficiary of fair enforcement, you’re sadly mistaken. The true victims of affirmative action are our Asian-American citizens.
I remember a conversation with the mother of another epee fencer who trained with my son when both were applying to college. Her son was Asian. Mine was white. I talked about my son’s chances of getting into MIT. She responded, “are you kidding? What are the chances of another Asian kid with perfect grades and SATs getting into anywhere? They’re a dime a dozen.”
In an op-ed, NAACP Legal Defense Fund president and director-counsel, Sherrilyn Ifill, argues against the DoJ shift.
This is a signal that the administration could be preparing to attack affirmative action, although the Justice Department denies this is the case. If this tactic were to succeed, it would be a severe blow to racial justice.
Affirmative action has proved to be one of the most effective tools for expanding opportunity and promoting diversity for students of color. Race-conscious admissions policies have made campuses across the country more representative of our society. In doing so, they have helped remedy inequality created by centuries of discrimination.
The vagaries of racial justice may be euphemistic in that they include some while excluding other “students of color,” such as Asians, Ifill is quite brilliant, and certainly understands the Supreme Court precedent. It’s fair to infer, therefore, that she’s pandering to the feelz of the tribe when her first shot is about racial justice, and her second shot is remedying “inequality created by centuries of discrimination.” She knows damn well that the only justification for this apparent breach of the Equal Protection clause is grounded in the compelling interest of diversity of the student body.
It is a commitment to opening spaces once reserved for whites, and a reordering of power in ways that value African-American, Asian, Native American and Latino lives, voices and demands. Although it has been relentlessly attacked over the past 40 years, affirmative action has undermined the racial exclusivity of our nation’s universities.
Note in the list of the marginalized that “Asian” appears? Asians have suffered because of this zero-sum game. There are only so many seats in the classroom, and once filled, they’re gone. No, not all Asians have tiger moms or ace everything plus play cello (or fence epee). But a disproportionate number do, and it’s not by accident. They work very hard to do well in school. They sacrifice the time they might otherwise spend having fun, playing with friends, getting into a little normal kid-type trouble. It’s not that these Asian kids don’t want to have fun, but they value education and are willing to give up some fun now for achievement later and ultimately a successful happy life.
Is it wrong that people who do everything right, work hard, sacrifice the short term for the long term, find out that there aren’t enough seats in the classroom for them? By Ifill’s argument, they are paying the price for prejudice and discrimination of their ancestors, though for most of us, our ancestors weren’t the ones who did anything to anyone. We came here poor, too. These Asian kids aren’t the scions of slaveholders. Who are they paying for?
There is a larger question as well. Much as we can well appreciate the burdens, the misery, the racism, saddled on minorities, when it comes to your child, what are the chances you will happily forego their admission to Harvard so a marginalized student can take the seat? To consider remedying historic discrimination in theory is one thing. To sacrifice your child for it is another.
And here lies the difference in the argument: if your child doesn’t get into Harvard (or Yale, or wherever it is) because someone of color deserved the seat more, or the same (as in, they were as academically worthy as your child) with the added benefit of bringing diversity that your child wouldn’t bring, you can accept it as being a fair outcome. Everyone understands that they might not make the cut despite their best efforts, and that’s just life.
But if your child is excluded from opportunity because someone who wouldn’t make the cut otherwise but had the requisite skin color, or genitals, or other irrelevant feature, to compensate for what somebody did to another person with the same physical feature many years ago, somebody who is completely unrelated to you, somebody who would have just as likely kept you out of their pristine college as well as them, then this call for racial justice is a price too high to pay.
Affirmative action for the purpose of achieving a diverse student body on campus is long-settled constitutional law, and based upon a rational and compelling reason. And leave Asians off your marginalized list, as they’re working their butts off and getting screwed for it. Let’s not lie about it.