Affirmative action is gone. Before I discuss the bad omens in the recent Supreme Court ruling and its popularity among conservatives, I would like to say, the death of affirmative action is not necessarily a bad thing.
Part 1: Lemonade
Almost every account of the modern civil rights movement positions Brown v. Board of Education as the closure of Jim Crow and inception of a new, better world for race relations. Central to progress were two issues–education and desegregation. Affirmative action was so important to generations of Black and Hispanic advocates precisely because it gave people of color access to elite schools with superior resources. The thrill of entering whites-only spaces eclipsed any rational appraisal of what good affirmative action was doing for the Black community as a whole.
But integrating Harvard took tremendous effort and only affected a small number of Black people. These efforts siphoned the “talented tenth” of which W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, away from heavily Black communities where their talents could have provided crucial leadership, to mostly white venues where their advancement depended on making themselves palatable to wealthy classes that didn’t want them there.
Research indicates that the biggest hurdles for Black progress exist in K-12 rather than college. In grammar and secondary schools, particularly the integrated institutions, Black students get suspended, reprimanded, and expelled at higher rates, even when white students are sent to counseling for the same behaviors. As Carla Monroe suggests in her studies, the failure of teachers to understand Black culture causes teachers in multiracial contexts to misinterpret play fighting as authentic aggression, or overlapping speech as defiant interruptions.
A study by Donna Ford shows that in almost every state with a “talented and gifted” program, Black students are underrepresented by margins that cannot be explained by documented differences in performance.
Moreover, Valerie Faulker’s research found that white students tended to be tracked into advanced math classes based on test scores rather than on teacher evaluations. But even when Black students had objectively high scores, subjective evaluations by grammar-school teachers found them inadequate and resulted in their being tracked into less rigorous math classes. Being in the same classrooms with white people doesn’t by itself cure these problems.
Moreover, the romanticization of Brown caused society to devalue Black students who went to schools where there were no white people. A 2004 article by Jerome Morris documents the important work accomplished at all-Black schools left behind by all the counterforces that complicated desegregation, such as suburban white flight. Morris’s work shows that the fascination with desegregation unintentionally caused society to overlook the service provided to Black students in predominantly Black schools where ties to local families, churches, and neighborhood elders stabilized students’ experiences in ways that couldn’t happen in desegregated settings.
Saying goodbye to affirmative action can ideally become a way of saying “welcome back” to those social spheres that desegregation caused us to neglect: the neighborhoods where communities evolved naturally and support networks among people of color that so many studies reveal as key to building up students’ resilience. As America questions the importance of liberal arts college degrees and much of the populace rejects the leadership of the Harvard-Yale elite, it’s a good time to let go of affirmative action.
Part 2: The Lemons
We have to face the bad news as well. The SCOTUS decision was sought and celebrated by the conservative movement not because ending affirmative action might be good for people of color, but rather, because the conservative movement has become increasingly captive to a new brand of white nationalism.
The right wing has long struggled to balance two initiatives: social conservatism which appeals to many Black and Hispanic Americans, versus an abiding anger that many feel about the overreach of racial equality movements. Pro-LGBT libertarians railing against critical race theory and pro-immigration Catholics sermonizing against Drag Queen Story Hour rub elbows at Republican fundraisers. Complicating this precarious balance is the fact that wealthy donors, representing too few people to comprise a constituency, pick and choose when to fuel social conservatism or racial outrage. They decide based on which one, at a given moment, might encourage working-class Americans to sign on to economic policies that benefit the upper class.
Striking down affirmative action will do nothing to solve the fentanyl crisis ravaging working-class whites. The decision came alongside a ruling that blocks Biden’s program to forgive student loans, so middle-class whites suffering under onerous educational debts will not get any relief because more Asians can get into Harvard. Nor will the ruling help to roll back the rising suicide rate among white men, particularly middle-aged ones, who make up 69% of those who take their lives now.
How many white people who can’t get into Harvard will get into Harvard without affirmative action? Not enough to rebuild America’s manufacturing base in white-majority towns in Ohio, Indiana, or Michigan. If white people are sincerely worried about their safety after seeing Rasmussen polls and social media clips of innocent Caucasians mobbed by violent minorities, banning affirmative action won’t help since white people at Harvard generally aren’t in danger and black people at Harvard aren’t punching white ladies on a subway.
The end of affirmative action will not diminish the domination of government by graduates of Harvard and Yale (such as Bush I, Mr. Clinton, Bush II, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Obama, Gov. De Santis, and RKF, Jr.). These people have run the country since before any of us were born and are responsible for everything we find repugnant about the state of present-day America. This brain trust designed Obamacare and proclaimed that men could give birth.
The SCOTUS ruling won’t reduce the wedge between the upper classes and disaffected masses. It will remind Black and Hispanic Americans, particularly those who are Christian, that they are politically homeless. They can’t trust conservatives to stay focused on upholding Biblical principles of the family, but they can trust them to vent white people’s exasperation at people who look like us, no matter how tangential.
Anyone who still believes that Donald Trump had some magical conversion experience and really favored traditional Christian values is not paying attention. The man came to power saying that he wanted to build a wall between the USA and Mexico, while calling himself the most pro-LGBT president of all time. He likes wining and dining the Log Cabin Republicans at Mar-a-Lago. When he got into office he filled his administration with Wall Street bloodhounds while his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, did absolutely nothing in four years to stop the encroachment of radical sexuality in K-12 and higher education.
Trump had four years to address what was happening in America’s schools. His Education department spent four years pushing vouchers. It should come as no surprise that ultra-pro-gay Charlie Kirk is capitalizing on such school choice programs to launch a chain of private Christian high schools “across the nation,” which will multiply the platforms available to his close ally, Rob Smith.
The Supreme Court embodies the contradictions that arose with Trump’s leadership role. Dobbs did not declare that abortion was murder, but rather plugged the whole pro-life movement into the chronic right-wing platitudes about small central government with a disastrous call to send the abortion question back to the states. From Kansas to Alaska, America’s porn-soaked and oversexed populace is sure to vote down anti-abortion laws as soon as the Boomers and Generation X age out of the political system. Let’s not forget that Bostock was a 6-3 decision in favor of protecting trans people. Anyone who thinks the Supreme Court is going to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges or block gay adoption needs to lay off the crack pipe.
The elitist Supreme Court prefers to pay back its conservative base by blocking student loan forgiveness, letting nuns and Hobby Lobby refuse to pay for workers’ health insurance, defending football coaches who pray before games, and shielding small business owners from offending themselves with visualizations of lesbian honeymoons.
Donald Trump’s numerous embarrassments and liabilities were all justified to conservatives because of this precious Supreme Court, but the Court’s last decade tells you all you need to know. Rich people, the managerial class, and proprietors–anyone other than labor or the dispossessed–matter the most. The Trumpian right wing still harbors contempt for people who are poor, victimized, or otherwise perceived as weak. While the conservative base is not rich or powerful, they get vicarious thrills by pronouncing upon politics from a fantasy position on top of an imaginary pyramid, where they get to tell everyone supposedly beneath them that whatever’s wrong is their fault and it’s nobody else’s job to save them.
“Health care is a privilege,” “you shouldn’t have majored in philosophy,” “maybe if you worked out you wouldn’t have diabetes,” and “facts don’t care about your feelings.” These are the mainstays of the swamp that inevitably drowns all of its rising stars in one judgmental purge or another. Just ask Sarah Palin, Milo Yiannopoulos, Steven Crowder, Marjory Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson, Roy Moore, James O’Keefe, Michelle Malkin, or any number of poster children who got consumed by the studied callousness and holier-than-thou preening that qualified them as spokespeople for the right wing in the first place.
We Hispanics should hold no illusions that the left is better. Liberal demons enlist us in reckless social experiments that have nothing to do with us, like calling ourselves “Latinx,” based on the faint presumptions that our struggles are equivalent to the Black civil rights struggle, and that the Black civil rights struggle is really a transferable metaphor for all groups who want something they do not have. Hence the Fourteenth Amendment, Rosa Parks, Little Rock, “I Have a Dream,” and Sidney Poitier all form so many deposits into a bank of hopes and dreams, from which white women, gay white men, white transgenders, immigrants from prosperous Asian countries, atheists, and misfits who author musicals are all entitled to draw in their quest for happiness.
But it’s time at last to reckon with the demons on our right. Five years ago, I believed that “white nationalism” was a strawman invented by the left to discredit traditionalists. Now, I have lost five friendships as conservative comrades have embraced anti-Semitic and white nationalist ideology. Many conservatives have been forced by cancel culture into muddy quarters where they have nobody reasonable to converse with. Driven mad by social isolation they are now freer to share despicable distortions in the open. Thus many who have irrational animosity toward other races have gathered under the conservative umbrella. Some of them, like Scott Greer, are actually white. Some of them, like Pedro Gonzalez, are pitiable minorities who believe implausibly that they can play along with vicious commentators like Ann Coulter without eventually getting burned. Some are hypnotized by theories about low IQs while others have brainwashed themselves into believing that slavery was benign, the United States did nothing wrong in Latin America, and America’s status as a “Christian” nation means that people from other countries, Christian or not, can be treated like the Gergashites, Jebusites, and Hivites in the Book of Joshua.
Conservatives couldn’t end abortion or preserve marriage, but the one gauntlet they were willing to throw down was a move to make sure fewer Blacks and Hispanics attend Harvard. That’s an insight worth holding on to. Perhaps American conservatism is a white supremacist enterprise, just as Joy Reid said it was. As long as we let go of affirmative action as a defining goal, we don’t have to care, because we don’t have to concentrate on getting into white cliques anymore.
Lemons. Lemonade. A glass half empty or half full.
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER READING
Aerika S. Brittain and Deleon L. Gray, “African American Students’ Perceptions of Differential Treatment in Learning Environments,” Journal of Education, vol. 194, no. 1 (2014).
Valerie N. Faulkner et el, “Race and Teacher Evaluations as Predictors of Algebra Placement,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, vol. 45, no. 3 (May 2014), pp. 288-311.
Donna Y. Ford et al, “Nouveau Talented Tenth: Envisioning WEB DuBois in the Context of Contemporary Gifted and Talented Education,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 87, no. 3 (Summer 2018), pp. 294-310.
Lorise Grey, “Impact of School-Based Mentoring on the Academic Achievement Gap,” Professional School Counseling, vol. 23, no. 1 (Sept 2019-Aug 2020), pp. 1-10.
Joe L. Kincheloe, “City Kids-Not the Kind of Students You’d Want to Teach,” Counterpoints, vol. 306, (2007), pp. 1-38.
Roslyn Arlin Michelson et al, “Effects of School Racial Composition on K-12 Mathematics Outcomes,” Review of Educational Research, vol. 83, no. 1 (March 2013), pp. 121-158.
Carla R. Monroe, “Why are Bad Boys Always Black?”, Clearing House, vol. 79, no. 1 (Sept.-Oct. 2005), pp. 45-50.
Jerome E. Morris, “Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth? Race, Class, and African American Schooling and Community in the Urban South and Midwest,” American Education Research Journal, vol. 41, no. 1 (Spring 2004), pp. 66-112.
John L. Rury, “Democracy’s High School? Social Change and American Secondary Education in the Post-Conant Era,” American Education Research Journal, vol. 39, no. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 307-336.
Richard Seltzer et al, “Multiculturalism, Race, and Education,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 64, no. 2 (Spring 1995), pp. 124-140.
Russell J. Skiba et al, “Parsing Disciplinary Disproportionality,” American Educational Research Journal, vol. 41, no. 4 (August 2014), pp. 640-670.
Angelique J. Trask-Tate and Michael Cunningham, “Planing Ahead: The Relationship Among School Support, Parental Involvement, and Future Academic Expectations in African American Adolescents,” Journal of Negro Education, vol. 79, no. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 137-150.
Sabrina Zirkel and Terry M. Pollack, “Just Let the Worst Students Go: A Critical Case Analysis of Public Discourse about Race, Merit, and Worth,” American Educational Research Journal, vol. 53, no. 6 (December 2016), pp. 1522-1555.