July 3, 2023

affirmative action

After this week's Supreme Court affirmative action ruling, I kept seeing persuasive snippets of Justice Jackson's dissent and decided to go to the source:
image.png (Justice Jackson's dissent starts on page 209 of the .PDF)

It was my first time reading a Supreme Court opinion; I think I previously felt I didn't have the legal expertise to read what was sure to be dense and out of my intellectual reach, and that I'd need a journalist or legal scholar to decipher the meaning. It turns out a Supreme Court opinion (like this one written by Justice Jackson) can be compelling, educational, and accessible. Read it if you have a minute, but here is my summary along with my favorite quotes: 

Starting out with two imaginary candidates, she grounds the entire issue of race-considered admissions in the immediate and historical lived reality of the people this court case concern: 

Imagine two college applicants from North Carolina, John and James. Both trace their family’s North Carolina
roots to the year of UNC’s founding in 1789. Both love their State and want great things for its people. Both want to honor their family’s legacy by attending the State’s flagship educational institution. John, however, would be the seventh generation to graduate from UNC. He is White. James would be the first; he is Black.

After placing these two men in our mind, she is able to weave a concise, yet detailed (but non-exhaustive) history of the 150 years of systematic and systemic economic suppression that has happened specifically to Black people in this country after slavery; the laws and regulations created specifically to hold Black people behind any other racial group, based on race

Black people were exceedingly unlikely to be allowed to share in those benefits, which by one calculation may have advantaged approximately 46 million Americans living today.

The point is this: Given our history, the origin of persistent race-linked gaps should be no mystery. It has never been a deficiency of Black Americans’ desire or ability to, in Frederick Douglass’s words, “stand on [their] own legs.”

Returning to John and James, she highlights the obvious: that an admissions process that takes race into account isn't tit-for-tat or putting anyone at a disadvantage based on their race (which is the claim of the majority decision).

It is hardly John’s fault that he is the seventh generation to graduate from UNC. UNC should permit him to honor that legacy. Neither, however, was it James’s (or his family’s) fault that he would be the first. And UNC ought to be able to consider why.

To demand that colleges ignore race in today’s admissions practices—and thus disregard the fact that racial disparities may have mattered for where some applicants find themselves today—is not only an affront to the dignity of those students for whom race matters.

UNC recognizes that race—like any other aspect of a person—may bear on where both John and James start the admissions relay, but will not fully determine whether either eventually crosses the finish line. 
"With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces “colorblindness for all” by legal fiat."
"And, ultimately, ignoring race just makes it matter more."

I believe this challenge to and striking-down of affirmative action is blatantly anti-Black, and am angered by the ways Asians have been pulled in and used as pawns by white supremacists. Based purely on my name and educational background, I've received a number of hate-mongering mailings over the past year or so asking for my support of the anti-affirmative action effort. I've been shocked at how wide a net these activists have been casting, and the bold assumption that any person with an Asian name who went to an Ivy League would be in agreement (especially when polling doesn't support this assumption). 

In a a recent NPR story, Sally Chen with the group Chinese for Affirmative Action said: the "myth of affirmative action being harmful to Asian Americans is creating a deliberate racial wedge between communities of color". To that point, I strongly urge Asians in the US (and everyone, tbh) to read up on Asian-American cultural history, and to learn about other times in history Asians have been used as a pawn in anti-Black systems. Ellen Wu's book The Color of Success serves as a fantastic, eye-opening re-framing of the "model minority" narrative that's been largely accepted and unquestioned:

The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority by Ellen D. Wu