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Affirmative action has become a monster in America;  Read the review

Affirmative action has become a monster in America; Read the review

When, in University of California Regents v. Bucke, since 1978 US Supreme Court The nine judges drew six different opinions, ruling that universities can consider race as a factor in admissions. The dissent pointed to lingering uncertainty in the debates over affirmative action, which has returned to the U.S. jurisprudence’s highest event in oral arguments.

Even among proponents, there is not always consensus about the purpose of affirmative action.

First, affirmative action could be a form of redress for African Americans after the centuries they spent in slavery, after which they were denied equal protection under the law.

Activists gathered outside the Supreme Court in Washington as justices heard oral arguments in affirmative action cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Photo: Shuran Huang/The New York Times

This is the famous speech Lyndon Johnson At Howard University, he spoke about the injustice of freeing a man who had been chained for years and offered no reparation, even though he was told, “You are free to compete with others.” This is a clear moral argument in favor of affirmative action: that the multigenerational effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws should be exempted, for a limited time, from nondiscriminatory official policies.

But there are problems with this simple argument. This conflicts with a literal reading of the Civil Rights Act. This makes affirmative action a public policy aimed at a relatively narrow population. It suggests that young and ambitious African-Americans need liberal paternalism to get ahead in life, and as Johnson’s logic grows less credible with each successive generation of beneficiaries, it ultimately signals a deadline.

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To respond to these difficulties, a different theory is presented: instead of an argument for reparations, which is clearly linked to slavery and racial segregation, it presents common racial differences as an educational requirement, essential to the university experience that expands students’ mental horizons.

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So it should be a matter for the admissions authorities to consider.

This is a theory proposed by Lewis Powell, author of the Bacchus theorem. She was defended by Sandra Day O’Connor in the Grutter vs. Bollinger, 2003. It has been adopted by universities as an organizing concept, a mantra, a vision of the highest academic good.

This is understandable. The diversity argument reduced affirmative action’s tension with law. As long as any minority could theoretically benefit, it created a larger base for politics. Thus, the impact of affirmative action is softened, and African-American students do not feel paternalistic. Despite O’Connor’s hope that it will be in place by 2028, that doesn’t necessarily represent a deadline: As long as racial disparities persist and diversity remains vital, affirmative action can be defended.

Meanwhile, in the interest of the university, racial diversity promised to be a force for legitimizing meritocracy. By ensuring adequate representation of key ethnic groups, elite schools are freed from the fear that if their graduates do not have America’s face in transition, America may at some point look elsewhere for a ruling class.

But this emphasis on the appearance of graduates points to what has become a fundamental problem with this approach: After decades of rhetoric about diversity, elite student bodies remain as stratified and segregated as ever, it is clear to everyone around the world.

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Class, ideology, and diversity of thought are not blatantly absent among them. Also, the reparations argument aside, the widespread search for racial diversity does not provide a clear answer to the problem identified by Lyndon Johnson, as it would benefit Nigerian upper class youth rather than slave descent.

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All this helps to explain why the discourse of academic diversity inspires so much cynicism. This is one reason for the eternal political unpopularity of affirmative action.

Activists protested outside the US Supreme Court
Activists protested outside the US Supreme Court Photo: Shuran Huang/The New York Times

But the organization actually went into crisis with accusations that universities discriminated against some minority candidates, especially Asian-Americans.

Their case bisected the pan-racial basis of affirmative action. At any given time, we found that not all minorities benefited from enshrined diversity.

The case of Asian Americans drew attention to specific numbers, concrete advantages and disadvantages for different racial and ethnic groups hidden behind the rhetorical language of “taking race into account.”

And in reviving the memory of Jewish quotas at elite American universities, he highlighted the academy’s tendency to prey on self-interested discrimination.

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Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the column’s initial argument even more: that the impact of slavery was deep enough to warrant some remedy, even if affirmative action was the best course of action.

But the question is not just whether the preference given to African Americans in university admissions should continue. The Supreme Court judiciary has become a monstrous monstrosity of elite self-interest and self-aggrandizement, tainted by blatant anti-Asian bias and scarred by intolerable tensions. Whatever comes next, this system deserves to go down.