The Time for Affirmative Action
A Review of the Supreme Court’s Historic Ruling
This may be a good Supreme Court after all.
In short order the Court has protected religious liberty, rejected one of Biden’s attempts to buy re-election, and did away with some of the race-based discrimination plaguing higher education.
It was the higher education decision (Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College) that proved to be most controversial, and may prove to have the broadest consequences.
As The New York Times put it:
The decision all but ensured that the student population at the campuses of elite institutions would become whiter and more Asian and less Black and Latino. It was also expected to set off a scramble as schools revisit their admissions practices, and it could complicate diversity efforts elsewhere, narrowing the pipeline of highly credentialed minority candidates and making it harder for employers to consider race in hiring.
The reaction to the decision has been remarkable. President Biden, for example, a white man who once argued against desegregation because it could lead to the creation of “a racial jungle,” now argues that colleges “should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America.”
Senator Warren, a white woman who pretended to be part Native American to steal a job slotted for a person of color, adds “I won't stop fighting for young people with big dreams who deserve an equal chance to pursue their future.”
One of the most viral reactions to the Supreme Court’s affirmative action ruling came from another supposed white woman --- perhaps a bot -- who called the ruling a “TRAVESTY” because “No Black person will be able to succeed in a merit-based system which is exactly why affirmative-action based programs were needed. ”
My thoughts, as the son of a man who had to step off of the sidewalk when a white person approached are that there was a time for affirmative action.
1960 was such a time. In 1960, when my father was 21 and working in a department store which wouldn't allow him to eat with his white co-workers at the store’s segregated lunch counter, the Black poverty rate was at 55% and the percentage of Blacks (25 and older) who had a 4-year college degree was at 3.5%
Affirmative action has been credited by some with raising the percentage of African Americans with a 4-year college degree to 22% in 2014, an astounding 528% increase. Furthermore, some argue that affirmative action may have helped reduce the percentage of Blacks in poverty. That percentage stood at 35% in 1969, in 1999 it is 24.9% -- a nearly 29% decline.
Some however dispute these findings. Dr. Thomas Sowell, in his brilliant book, Affirmative Action around the World wrote:
The history of blacks in the United States has been virtually stood on its head by those advocating affirmative action. The empirical evidence is clear that most blacks got themselves out of poverty in the decades preceding the civil rights revolution of the 1960s and the beginning of affirmative action in the 1970s. Yet the political misrepresentation of what happened—by leaders and friends of blacks—has been so pervasive that this achievement has been completely submerged in the public consciousness.
Nonetheless it is indisputable that many of our nation’s most prominent people of color have benefited from affirmative action. Justice Sotomayor, for example, the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court, wrote in her memoir,; My Beloved World, that she gained admittance to Princeton University and Yale Law School because she was a beneficiary of affirmative action.
However, not all successful people of color have needed or wanted help, as Justice Sotomayor admits she did. My friend and AACONS co-founder Marie Stroughter, an African American who homeschooled her three now college-aged kids, explains here in our recent live stream how her family navigated the temptation of affirmative action.
Even many of those who get an academic opportunity from affirmative action may find that opportunity does them more harm than good. Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote in Affirmative Action around the World:
Among black students in colleges and universities, those admitted under lower standards face a higher failure rate and those admitted under the same standards as other students graduate with their credentials under a cloud of suspicion because of double standards for minority students in general.
A recent text I received from a Black professor friend underscored what Dr. Sowell meant by having one’s achievements placed under “a cloud of suspicion:”
Affirmative action has always tainted my accomplishments and I resented it very much. I got into graduate programs with a 4.0 GPA undergrad and stellar scores on standardized exams and yet my white colleagues silently assumed I was an affirmative action recipient even when I was academically more qualified than them. I hope this ruling helps to rectify that perception.
Dr. Sowell also writes, “Instead of gaining the respect that other groups have gained by lifting themselves out of poverty, blacks are widely seen, by friends and critics alike, as owing their advancement to government beneficence,” but it's more than that. Friends and critics have not only been seeing African Americans as advancing due to government beneficence, they are also seeing African Americans as advancing at the expense of other minorities.
Jon Wang has become one of the symbols of this perception. Wang is an Asian American teen, the son of Chinese immigrants, who graduated from high school with a 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT and a 4.65 high school GPA. Yet he was rejected for admission by every “top-tier” school to which he applied, including Harvard. According to Wang "I gave [Students for Fair Admissions] my test scores, and then they must've ran the model on that… [they] told me I had a 20% chance of getting accepted to Harvard as an Asian American and a 95% chance as an African American.”
Jon Wang’s story isn't unique. In fact it seems representative. According to Kenny Xu, president of Color Us United, the standard for admission is lowered for Black students. He argues “an Asian has to score 273 points higher on the SAT to have the same chance of admission as a Black person.”
If you go to my local library after the nearby high school lets out, you may see every table filled with mostly Asian kids in study groups, or being tutored in subjects that are often not being taught at their grade level, or studying for an SAT test that’s years away. They aspire for the American Dream and see an elite education involving a prestigious Ivy League university as a necessary stepping stone to achieving that dream.
Unfortunately, that dream is too often stymied by universities like Harvard doling out their limited number of acceptance letters to legacy students and academically inferior African American students. It is a cruel irony that affirmative action has become a vehicle by which Americans could be discriminated because of their skin color.
There was a time for affirmative action. That time is not in 2023.