On Thursday morning (July 29), the U.S. Supreme Court did what we spent months bracing ourselves for: It ruled against race-based affirmative action in universities.
The ridiculously conservative high court ruled on two cases – Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. vs. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina – just ahead of its summer recess. SFA founder Edward Blum, despite being a septuagenarian who should be focused on minding his retired business somewhere, has made it his life’s mission to keep us woebegone Negroes away from institutions of higher learning.
It is now unconstitutional for colleges and universities to use race as an explicit factor in admissions. Universities can, however, continue to institute programs seeking diversity, and prospective students can (and should) discuss how their ethnic background shaped their upbringing in entry essays.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the 6-3 majority, said the Harvard and UNC programs "lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping."
This result is not a surprise given that Donald Trump installed three conservative justices – all of whom have probably asked Ketanji Brown Jackson at some point if they could touch her hair – during his single, destructive term. It’s just another reminder to loathe Trump voters (and non-voting Trump opponents) almost seven years later.
As expected, the decision will most profoundly hurt Black, Latino and Native American folks, the demographics most challenged by America’s pernicious and enduring achievement gap. It should, at once, enrage and not surprise souls that Clarence Thomas, the court’s most right-leaning justice, would sell us out considering his longtime crusade against affirmative action that’s not dissimilar from Blum’s.
Proving the efficacy of race-based affirmative action is not why I’m here – it’s been done time and again, books have been written on the topic and I’ve witnessed its enduring positive impacts in the lives of dear friends and associates.
I’m also not here to argue about the ideological or moral issues of affirmative action with its opponents, because my answer will always and forever be “White supremacy.”
I’m here to remind everyone of an unimpeachable truth: affirmative action policies are still legal in colleges and universities… just not ones designed to benefit us.
For starters, preferences for legacy applicants – or the children of graduates – have long been a staple of university admissions about which most folks don’t blink an eye – until Thursday’s decision. As Black folks are far less likely than White people to have parents and grandparents who attended college, it should come as no surprise that legacies don’t often benefit us.
The children of college staff and faculty have also historically received priority admissions; imagine the thorny ethics that come with a student of a president or provost attending a university…but the court had no problems there.
There’s also the ultimate driver of potential enrollment: Being the applicant of someone who has, or is willing to, cut a large check. Just about any university worth its salt will respond to greased palms and erected buildings with an acceptance letter…including Harvard.
These you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-enroll-yours enrollment games are generally completely legal; Becky with the Full House being sent to the pokey for committing fraud to secure her daughters’ enrollment into University of Southern California is the anomaly that proves the rule.
Unlike race-based affirmative action, which has (for obvious reasons) been challenged in court for the better part of half a century, there’s little fuss in the legal system regarding these other admissions priorities because they largely benefit white people. Blum won’t come after legacy admissions because the folks funding his organization are likely products of it.
(This is, of course, why Thomas keeps his mouth closed about these special interest enrollments – being in bed with billionaires is old hat for him.)
According to a 2019 National Bureau of Economic Research study, 43 percent of white students admitted to Harvard came from donors or legacy applicants, and nearly 70 percent of all legacy applications to the school were white. However, fewer than 16 percent of students at the university are legacies or the children of staff or donors.
Generally, the admission of a given student to a given university is a deeply subjective process, and no two go about it the same way. But if universities that are already fleecing us for our coins make efforts to level the playing field for ethnic minorities in a society that has historically disenfranchised and marginalized us, those efforts should be applauded. If you’d like, we don’t even need to call it “reparations.”
The court’s decision is indeed a profound loss. But if there’s even a sliver of a silver lining, there’ll be no more pissed-off White people blaming us for not getting accepted to their university of choice.